Are NASCAR Cars Automatic Or Manual? (Full Guide)

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With so many new technological advancements in the sport, you may wonder whether NASCAR cars have switched to automatic transmission. In 2022, NASCAR rolled out the Next Gen car and they made significant changes to the gearbox, leaving many fans wondering if NASCAR cars are automatic or manual.

NASCAR cars are manual. While the transmission is in a new location and has shifted from a four-speed to a five-speed sequential in the Next Gen car, they have yet to switch to auto transmission. This is not a huge deal since NASCAR drivers rarely need to shift gears during a race.

Below, we will outline the drastic changes NASCAR made to its transmission when they unveiled the Next Gen car. Despite these changes, NASCAR continues to leave some things as they are. We will also reveal two primary transmission features the Next Gen ride has kept.

Are The NASCAR Next Gen Cars Automatic?

The NASCAR Next Gen cars are not automatic. Though there have been many changes over the Gen-6 cars, the manual transmission has been kept as the drivers prefer it, and it leads to better racing and entertainment for the fans. The main upgrades have been to the cars’ aerodynamics and aesthetics.

NASCAR’s Next Gen cars have several new features. The most notable of which include improved aerodynamics and downforce packages designed to expel excess air from under the car. This helps keep the cars on the ground and it reduces the risk of them barrel rolling during a crash.

The improvements also allow for smoother transitioning into the turns and onto straightaways, and they allow safer side-by-side racing and passing. Given the improvements in downforce and aerodynamics, you will notice the cars ride higher than their Gen-6 counterparts.

Aesthetically, they better resemble street legal Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs, and Toyota Camrys. The cars also feature in-car rear view cameras, higher spoiler positioning, and a new gearbox.

Some Features Remain The Same

NASCAR never totally overhauls their cars unless they deem those rides to be dangerous. For example, the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) changed radically from the Gen-4 model. Instead, they opt to involve feedback and ideas from drivers, teams, and owners so they can create the safest car possible.

The Next Gen cars are rear wheel drive (RWD) since it provides a more equal power distribution, and their drivers prefer it for more control. The OEM V8 engine stayed, and its targeted horsepower clocked in at 670 in non-restrictor plate events.

The car’s manual transmission is another feature that remained the same. For decades NASCAR drivers have preferred manual transmission over automatic, prompting NASCAR to maintain the three-pedal, manual transmission model in the Next Gen ride.

Why NASCAR Cars Are Manual Transmission

While automatic transmission is efficient for most of the U.S. population, NASCAR drivers do not like it. Like RWD, drivers feel they have more control with manual transmission over automatic, since the latter lets the car choose the best transmission at any given moment.

Also, NASCAR cars cost an astronomical amount to build and maintain, which is why teams need big-time sponsorship. NASCAR must uphold various safety measures, but they also need to consider ways to keep its organizations from breaking the bank. Manual transmission is one of those ways.

Transmission Placement

The Next Gen cars also have a new transmission placement. This calls for the transmission, axle, and rear differential in one working unit, dubbed the Transaxle. In the older cars, the transmission was attached to the engine’s rear, a rear axle, and a steel driveshaft.

NASCAR’s goal was for its cars to save weight, which wasn’t feasible under the transmission’s previous location. Changes to the driver’s position in the cockpit, which places them closer to the center of the car, further necessitated NASCAR to relocate the transmission.

Not A Big Deal

You may think the lack of automatic transmission is a safety concern. However, whether automatic or manual, it is not a huge deal for NASCAR drivers to worry about pushing and pulling a gear shift throughout a race.

This is because they don’t often need to. Unless the race occurs on a road course or a track that requires drivers to slow significantly into the turns, they often leave the car in fourth gear, or fifth in the Next Gen car.The only times drivers usually need to shift gears include during cautions, entering and exiting pit road, and occasionally, shifting into reverse.

What Gearbox Do NASCAR Cars Use?

NASCAR cars use a 5-speed gearbox that replaces the old 4-speed used in the prior generations of cars. The traditional H-shaped box is gone, replaced by the P1334 manual sequential shift transaxle gearbox. The shift lever is floor-mounted and allows drivers to shift up or down by one gear at a time.

This new gear box simplifies things for drivers. They only need to pull the lever back to shift up or push it to shift down. If they need to shift into reverse, drivers will pull upward. It is also considerably lighter than the previous arrangement.

Improvements In NASCAR’s Product

Input drop gears let NASCAR mandate gear ratios, which is believed to have improved the racing product. The increased flexibility called for fewer adjustments between tracks. Since NASCAR is continually expanding their schedule to include more road courses and even dirt races, another result with this flexibility is lower costs. This is something NASCAR teams and organizations love.

Overall, the new gearbox further led to decreases in shift times. With a more rigid drivetrain, the Next Gen car allows more power behind the rear wheels, more efficient turning, and shifting. Expect the new sequential transmission to remain a staple of NASCAR for decades.

Have NASCAR Cars Ever Been Fully Automatic?

NASCAR cars have never been fully automatic. While each new generation of car has made improvements to safety, costs and racing, some things have remained constant. The Next Gen car is the first to use a 5-speed gearbox instead of a 4-speed one, but they’ve always used manual transmission.

NASCAR’s Next Gen car is also known as Gen-7, meaning six previous designs graced the track since NASCAR started as Strictly Stock in 1949. Each new generation of cars called for both safety improvements and ways to create faster, cheaper, yet more efficient rides.

NASCAR’s Generation 1 Car, active from 1949 to 1966, implemented seatbelts and heavy-duty axles to better protect drivers. As with the Next-Gen rides, NASCAR prohibited teams from modifying a car too much to gain unfair advantages, much as they do with manufacturers in modern times.

One look at the Next-Gen car compared to the first few generations will tell you just how much things have changed both inside and outside the car. Despite the changes, some aspects of the cars remain the same. The engines are one example. Since NASCAR started, teams have used V8 engines. They have also always used manual transmission, mainly the four-speed variety until the Next-Gen car.

Why NASCAR Always Used Manual Transmission

Earlier, we mentioned that NASCAR cars use manual transmission because of driver preferences and cost-effectiveness. In some motorsport organizations, you may see 8-speed gearboxes dominate the landscape, but NASCAR has never been interested.

The choice of manual transmission goes far beyond just their drivers’ preferences. Some sources say it is a tradition, but in actuality, NASCAR would be pushing for its drivers to accept a change to automatic transmission if they felt it was in their best interest.

Many NASCAR drivers were not keen to use the HANS device until after the 2001 Daytona 500. But NASCAR also mandated it and other restraints in the interest of safety. While they take driver preferences into consideration, they also have the final say in making necessary changes.

Therefore, as of the Next Gen car’s debut in 2022, and the previous generations, NASCAR has never deemed it necessary to switch to automatic transmission. Until NASCAR sees the change as necessary, they will not switch to auto.

Do NASCAR Cup Cars Have A Clutch?

NASCAR Cup cars do have a clutch. The Next Gen cars have continued operating with a 3-pedal system. However, NASCAR drivers do not need to engage the clutch when shifting gears. NASCAR drivers can use rev matching to switch gears without the clutch.

The same does not hold true for road vehicles. Whether you are driving a car, truck, van, or commercial vehicle that requires manual transmission, you must engage the clutch before you shift to a different gear.

NASCAR drivers, although their cars have traditionally contained a clutch pedal since the sport began, can use other methods than simply engaging the clutch pedal to shift. Due to drivers using left foot braking, it is not ideal for them to have to engage the clutch as you would in a road car.

Driver Convenience

It is convenient for drivers to refrain from engaging in the clutch throughout a NASCAR event to shift gears. While they mainly keep their cars in the highest possible gear given the limited variance in speed at most traditional ovals, there are times when it is necessary to shift gears.

Road courses require right turns and turns at varying degrees. It would be impossible for a driver to keep their car in the same gear when they work their way through the chute at Watkins Glen or the hairpin at Sonoma.

Since many NASCAR drivers practice the technique of left foot braking, which they believe lets them maintain their speed better, continually pushing in the clutch at some road courses and select ovals to downshift could put their safety and the safety of other drivers in jeopardy.

Shifting Gears Without The Clutch

Rev matching is the most popular and preferred method. However, the downside to rev matching is that it has a steep learning curve. When you look at the dashboard on your car, you will see an RPM gauge. NASCAR cars do not have these, nor do NASCAR cars have speedometers.

The driver must match their speed with their RPM. If you tried this in a passenger vehicle with the RPM gauge and speedometer present, you may find this rather challenging. Now imagine how challenging it is to drivers without the gauge.

Drivers must be able to have a good sense of feel for their car. Once they believe the speed and RPM match, they will shift up or down, allowing for a smoother transition than pushing the clutch pedal to shift.

They can also use a dog clutch transmission. However, the higher the speed, the more unreliable they may become. The upside is that they don’t generate much friction, which makes them a cost-effective alternative to rev matching and safer than engaging the clutch pedal.

The Clutch’s Location

Although NASCAR kept manual transmission for its cars, they made significant changes to it. However, one change NASCAR did not make was the clutch’s location, which rests to the left of the brake pedal. Just as you would engage in the clutch on your passenger vehicle with your left foot, NASCAR drivers do the same on their cars if the event arises where they need to use it.

Some racing series have what is called a paddle shifter built into the back of the steering wheel. This is something you most notably see in Formula One, and it allows the driver to shift up and down without engaging in a traditional clutch.

Final Thoughts

The NASCAR Next Gen cars have a sequential manual transmission. Drivers prefer to keep things manual, and as of the Next Gen era, NASCAR sees no reason to change the transmission. It will likely only change to automatic gearboxes if it improves driver safety.