The Beginner’s Guide To NASCAR (The 6 Key Things To Know)

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The fastest motorsports are usually the most exciting, and NASCAR definitely provides both speed and thrill. It attracts millions of viewers every single year, and it’s one of the most famous sports in the world. So, what do you need to know about NASCAR?

The 6 key things to know about NASCAR are:

  1. The history of NASCAR
  2. The cars used in NASCAR
  3. NASCAR tracks
  4. How NASCAR races work
  5. The rules of NASCAR
  6. What makes NASCAR so unique

No matter if you are a big fan of NASCAR, or if you have never watched a race in your life, I will go through everything you need to know so that you can understand what is going on and enjoy watching the races – or enjoy it even more than you already do!

The 6 Key Things To Know About NASCAR

1. The History Of NASCAR 

NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, and it has been around for more than half a century. It is one of the most popular motorsports in the world, and one of the fastest. It has a rich history, one that owes its roots back to the quest to set land speed records in the 1920s and 1930s. However, it also owes a lot to the bootlegging of whisky!

Back in the early 1900s, there was the prohibition in the USA, which banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. This drove bootleggers (those who made their own liquor) to sell it on the black market. They needed to distribute their illicit booze and they needed to do this without getting caught by the police. So, they also needed fast cars to transport their whisky.

They found good combinations of small size and fast speed, and this allowed them to evade the police with ease. It then became popular to race these vehicles, and to see who had the fastest car. This morphed into local and national races that were officiated, and then a mechanic by the name of William France Sr entered one of the races at Daytona.

From there, discussions resulted in the creation of NASCAR in 1948. The first competitions were held over 52 dirt tracks, and then by the 1960s there were purpose-built race cars that were made to drive around some of the more modern looking tracks that you might associate with NASCAR today.

2. The Cars Used In NASCAR

The cars used in NASCAR are known as stock cars. These are cars that were originally production vehicles available to buy but are now very highly modified to the point that they often look nothing like their street counterparts. At the moment, the cars in the NASCAR Cup Series are Generation 7 or “Next Gen” cars, but we will talk more about the different series later.       

The Next Gen car is specifically designed to look more like the street counterpart of each model, with many teams using cars from three manufacturers; Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet. The cars are designed with many different safety, aerodynamic and downforce components, which are essential with the cars driving at speeds close to 200 mph (320 kph).

The Construction

The bodies of the cars are made from sheet metal, and there are roll cages made from steel tubing to keep the driver safe in the event of a crash, and to help keep the weight down. The cars essentially have nothing in them besides the driver’s area with a seat and steering wheel, and there are not even any doors on the cars used in NASCAR.

The cars also have various different aerodynamic and downforce packages, which help to keep the cars stuck to the track as they go around at such high speeds. In the event of a crash, the cars have several key safety features in place that make sure the driver is kept as safe as possible. There are various crumple zones, minimizing the force felt by the driver.

Safety First

The cars also have a set of flaps on the roof that open up if the car goes into a spin. These apply extra downforce on the car, preventing it from flipping over. The tires also have what is effectively a second tire inside the outer one, which is inflated and, in case of a puncture to the outer tire, allows the driver to bring the car to a controlled stop.

The tires themselves are filled with nitrogen rather than just air, as nitrogen expands less when heated and doesn’t have the moisture content that air does, which can create inconsistencies in the tire. With the cars driving so fast, the tires warm up very quickly, and with nitrogen used inside them, the mechanics can have more control over the wear of the tire and how much it expands over the course of the race. NASCAR regulates which types of tire are used on which track.

The Tires

Like other motorsports, there are various types of tire that can be used, ranging from the soft ones, which provide more grip but wear down faster, to the harder compound tires. These do not offer as much grip as the soft ones, but they can last much longer than the soft tires. The tires are sometimes called slicks, as they do not have treads, unlike your normal road car.

The cars have engines with a size of just under 6 liters, which is much more than your average road car. In fact, this is much bigger than most race cars too. The engines can produce up to 670 horsepower on shorter tracks and 510 on superspeedways.

Two Different Cars

The different tracks, which we will discuss in more detail below, call for different car specifications. For this reason, teams will have two cars: one for the short tracks and one for the long tracks. On the short tracks, the car can make full use of its 670 horsepower, but the nature of these tracks means drivers don’t reach as high speeds as they do on longer ones.

Limited Power

The longer tracks also differ from the shorter tracks as they use tapered spacers with smaller holes. This is an add-on to the cars that prevent them from using their maximum power, as it limits the amount of air that can be sucked into the engine. This is used as a safety precaution to keep top speeds under control, and it limits the cars to around 510 HP.

3. NASCAR Tracks

There are about 30 different tracks that NASCAR uses across the USA. These tracks vary in design and in length, but the most famous ones are perhaps the traditional oval tracks. These are also the most common, and they are extremely exciting to watch. NASCAR tracks can attract more than 100,000 spectators to each race.

Not Just Ovals

There are not just oval tracks however, as there are also road courses that are packed with corners and chicanes. These make for very interesting races, and they are often in the short tracks category as I described in the previous section. However, the most famous tracks in NASCAR are the speedways and superspeedways.


A speedway is usually defined as a track more than a mile long. Anything longer than 2 miles is classified as a superspeedway. There are currently only two of these, with the Daytona International Superspeedway and Talladega Superspeedway being two of the most popular tracks on the NASCAR calendar. The Daytona 500 is the first and most famous race of the season.

4. How NASCAR Races Work

There are four main series in the NASCAR lineup, although there are many smaller ones too. The most well-known one is the Cup Series, which is usually what people think of when they think of NASCAR. There are also the Xfinity Series, the Truck Series, and the ARCA Menards Series as well. This article’s focus is the Cup Series.

In the Cup Series, there are 36 races which take place over the course of about 10 months. The first 26 races make up the traditional season, and then the last 10 races are the playoffs. Before each race, the drivers must take part in the single-car qualifying events. These use timed laps to decide the grid positions for the actual race.

The Points System

There are various points systems in place that determine the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series Drivers’ Championship. The races can have up to 40 cars taking part, and each race is split into 3 stages (although the Charlotte race has 4). These stages are made up of set numbers of laps, which can vary in number depending on the track.

Stage three is the final leg of the race, and the points awarded at the end of this stage go from 40 points for the winner, down to 1 point for those that finish in positions 36-40 (there are also bonus points for the top ten in the other stages). The points scale down for those in between, much like the points system used in Formula 1. The regular season ends after 26 races, with the top 16 drivers going through to the Playoffs.

The Playoffs

The first nine playoff races are split into three rounds, and although there is the usual pack of 40 drivers, only the top 16 from the regular season can score points. So, it is effectively a race within a race, and the other drivers are there to keep things interesting, as well as to provide sponsors with some extra screen time and give the teams a chance to test their cars for the next season.

After each round, made up of 3 races, 4 drivers are eliminated from the points standings, and this leaves just 4 drivers in contention for the championship in the last race. Although the pack is full, with up to 40 drivers in total, it is only these 4 drivers that are competing for the championship. This makes the season exciting to watch from the first race to the last.

5. The Rules Of NASCAR

As with all motorsports, there are plenty of rules that need to be followed in NASCAR. Similar to most other motorsports, NASCAR operates a penalty system, which penalizes drivers for driving dangerously or breaking the rules. There are drive through penalties, which require you to slow down and drive through the pit lane, and penalties that make you start at the back of the grid too.

Pit Stops

There are lots of rules regarding the pit stops, as the drivers will need to make several over the course of the long races. Unlike in Formula 1, the cars can be refueled during pit stops, alongside tire changes and any other necessary adjustments. There are usually 5 pit men working on the car at each stop, but in some instances there may be 6.

The Different Flags

Flags are used in NASCAR just like in many other car races, with one of the most commonly seen being the yellow flag. This indicates that there is a problem somewhere on the track, and there should be no overtaking and a pace car will be sent out. A red flag means the race is being stopped and the cars usually park in the pits, while a black flag means a driver must pit immediately and finish their race, and it’s usually if they’ve broken a rule.

6. What Makes NASCAR So Unique

NASCAR is a very unique motorsport. The series has been surrounded by controversy over the years due to major crashes that have often resulted in fatalities. These events have brought in major safety precautions, such as the roof flaps that I mentioned earlier.

However, the cars themselves also help make the sport unique, due to the fact that they essentially have nothing in them besides the driver. There aren’t even any speedometers in NASCAR cars, and so in order to the gauge the speed limit of the pit lane, the pace car at the start of the race drives at that limit, and the drivers use their RPM on the tachometer to gauge it instead!

A Lot Of Skill Required

This requires a lot of skill, and that is one thing that NASCAR drivers have a lot of. The speeds regularly top 180 mph (290 kph), with the fastest speeds recorded sitting well above 200 mph (320 kph). This provides quite the spectacle for the fans, and it means the drivers need to be both brave and very skilled in order to maintain control of the car.

The races often take more than 2 hours, and this puts a lot of strain on the cars and the drivers. The car gets very hot, and the drivers may lose several pounds of weight just down to the amount of water lost through sweat. This makes keeping hydrated during the race a big challenge, and drivers often use pitstops to grab a drink, and some limit dehydration by taking salt tablets before the race.

There’s no doubt that NASCAR drivers are some of the most talented on the planet, and they help to make it one of the most exciting motorsports to watch!

Final Thoughts

NASCAR is one of the most popular motorsports in the world, and it’s not just a big hit in the USA. To many, NASCAR may seem boring at first sight, with the cars going round in circles. But clearly there is a lot more to NASCAR than first meets the eye, and hopefully you’re now prepared to watch your first race and understand a bit more of what’s going on!