Why Honda (IndyCar) and Chevrolet and Ford (NASCAR) Have a Whole Lot Of Work To Do

Well into the 2016 season, one manufacturer is killing it in both series.

bySteve Cole Smith|
NASCAR photo

Today’s racing is all about parity: Brands are homogenized to the point where it’s hard to distinguish one from the other, all in the name of giving everybody a Level Playing Field.

Which is interesting, because racing has never been about a LPF. It has been about one team, one brand, one driver, gaining an advantage over the others through cunning and hard work and talent and, of course, spending more money than anybody else. And cheating. There’s always cheating.

So while NASCAR and IndyCar struggle to hang onto their manufacturer identities, they still have a problem: So far, a third of the season in, one manufacturer is running away with NASCAR. And in IndyCar, going into the most important race in the known universe, the Indianapolis 500, one brand has completely skunked the other out of every win, every pole position.

Today’s NASCAR race, the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover, was a case in point: A pair of Chevrolets gamely tried to track down the leader, Matt Kenseth, in a Joe Gibbs Toyota, but failed, giving Gibbs and Toyota their seventh win of the 12 races this season, including the Daytona 500.

And since all four Gibbs drivers – Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch – have wins, all four will be going to the Chase for the Championship, where a win means you’re in. Though Martin Truex, Jr., in the Furniture Row Toyota, doesn’t have a win yet, he has dominated twice, including today at Dover. His team, beginning this year, has an alliance with Gibbs Racing.

Previously dominant Chevrolet has three wins with two for Kevin Harvick (in photo above, and he's still the points leader) and Jimmie Johnson. Ford has two wins, both with Brad Keselowski, who has not run that well this season, but has largely used superior racecraft to get to victory lane.

Especially interesting is that of the 12 races, only four teams have won – Gibbs, Penske, Stewart-Haas and Hendrick.

All this has to be causing some pants-peeing at NASCAR – after all, the season started out just right, with Toyota winning Daytona, Chevrolet winning Atlanta, and Ford winning Las Vegas, but turned into a Toyota party. Will NASCAR tweak the rules to help Ford and Chevrolet, or will those two manufacturers manage to speed up on their own?

In IndyCar, the parity news is even worse. With the field approximately split between Chevrolet and Honda, Chevy has won all five races leading up to the Indy 500 – St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Long Beach, Phoenix, and Saturday, the road course race at Indy. Chevrolet has also led qualifying at all five races.

This doesn’t mean Honda is slow – the fastest lap of the race Saturday was by ex-Formula One driver Alexander Rossi in the Honda-powered Andretti-Herta number 98 – but like NASCAR, what team you are on seems to be a major factor. Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya have four wins between them, for Team Penske. With one win is Scott Dixon of Target Ganassi. Helio Castroneves doesn’t have a win, but that Penske driver has two poles.

So with NASCAR and IndyCar both going into the profoundly important Memorial Day weekends next, they have some work to do if they want to restore parity to the fields.

Or not: They could just let the losing manufacturers figure it out on their own. Racing got by fine with that for 100 years or so.