NASCAR racing games have always been a great joy to play. I often reminisce of a time when NASCAR Heat 2002 was all the rage, and my poor PS2 sounded like it was about to take flight! Luckily, there are some great NASCAR games out there, old and new, that bring that nostalgic feeling right back.
The 9 best NASCAR games are:
- NASCAR Heat 5
- NASCAR Heat 4
- NASCAR 09
- NASCAR The Game: Inside Line
- NASCAR Heat 3
- NASCAR Racing 2003 Season
- NASCAR 21: Ignition
- NASCAR Kart Racing
Below, we discuss these games in greater detail and give some valuable information you should consider so you can ensure that you pick the best game for you.
The 9 Best NASCAR Games
1. NASCAR Heat 5
Released: 2020 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: 704Games
NASCAR Heat 5 is a fantastic return to formula with its grounded NASCAR-focused gameplay that is all about going fast and avoiding the carnage that ensues. Heat 5 features a nostalgic career mode that lets you progress from the smaller scale feeder series all the way up to the coveted NASCAR cup series.
This is the best NASCAR game on the market thanks to its balance between fun gameplay and realism. There's a huge variety of cars and tracks, and you can enjoy playing against up to 40 other players online.
Multiplayer pits you against up to 40 other players in a race to the finish. There is also same-screen multiplayer as an option for those who want to play some couch co-op with a friend. Multiplayer races in this NASCAR game are chaotic as ever and far more intense than your average race against AI.
Ultimately, the multiplayer offers you a classic NASCAR experience that you can enjoy with other players online, but there isn’t anything too innovative here.
Graphically, Heat 5 plays it safe here, and instead of focusing on the environments surrounding the track, it focuses more on the tracks themselves and the car models, both interior and exterior. Car models look detailed, and interiors are authentic to their real counterparts.
Cars And Track Variety
NASCAR Heat 5 features 34 officially licensed tracks with some household names like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Each track feels unique, and the handling of vehicles is unique depending on the surface of the track.
There are over 100 official drivers that are playable, and each has their own unique-looking vehicle authentically replicated within Heat 5. Each vehicle is distinguishable from each other, and no two cars feel the same.
- Large variety of tracks and cars
- Nostalgic return to old school NASCAR formula
- Authentic tracks and realistic handling
- No dynamic weather system
- Crash physics aren’t very impressive
Released: 2008 | Platforms: PC | Developers: iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations
iRacing, while not strictly a NASCAR title, offers one of the most realistic and professional NASCAR racing experiences available on PC. It is a professionally recognized sim racing game in a subscription service format that offers realistic racing with authentic rule sets and is ideal for serious sim racing enthusiasts.
Graphically, the game hasn’t changed much since its initial release. While the game is graphically simplistic, this sim is anything but simple. Vehicles’ interiors and exteriors look authentic and are realistically replicated within this sim. The lighting is good, but nothing to write home about.
Car And Track Variety
iRacing has been out for more than two decades now and has accrued a wide selection of authentic vehicles from various motorsports as well as a large variety of tracks. Each track is an accurate representation of its real-life counterpart.
Vehicles have also been replicated with extreme precision, even down to the handling of each individual vehicle. There are more than 100 vehicles and tracks for you to enjoy.
Road To Pro
iRacing is unique in the way that you can make a legitimate career in racing cars. Sim racing has gained a big enough reputation that professional drivers can make huge money from racing, whether it be from high-profile sponsorships or winning tournaments.
While many games have career modes where you simulate the career of a professional racer, iRacing can lead to a genuine and successful sim racing career!
- Most realistic racing experience available
- Online tournaments can yield real prizes
- Authentically replicated vehicles and tracks
- Subscription-based format can be expensive long term
- Most tracks and vehicles are locked behind a paywall
- Dated graphics
3. NASCAR Heat 4
Released: 2019 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Monster Games
NASCAR Heat 4 is a beloved title by NASCAR fans, and it largely fixed any issues that there were in previous games in the series. Those who want a grounded, realistic game and, most importantly, a faithful representation of NASCAR will be happy with NASCAR Heat 4.
Graphically, Heat 4 looks great. Reflections and lighting look good but are more realistic and restrained than some other titles. The particle effects are what really caught my eye. The dirt courses particularly look amazing. Dirt and mud are kicked up by other cars and make racing, especially in cockpit view, an incredibly immersive experience.
Car And Track Variety
There are 38 varied tracks available for you to race on. Tracks that are based on real-life tracks are authentic and accurately replicated in Heat 4.
The list of playable cars is limited, and I would have liked to see a more varied list of playable vehicles. Tracks themselves look great, and each vehicle is unique both visually and in the way they handle.
Heat 4’s career mode is a very in-depth replication of a real NASCAR driver’s career progression. You can join a team or run your own team. Managing money earned from racing is important as you hire staff and improve your team and facilities. It’s a more engaging experience than we’ve seen before, and NASCAR fans will be happy with what’s on offer here.
- Detailed career mode
- Large variety of realistic tracks
- Handling of vehicles is unique and realistic
- Not a substantial number of cars on offer
- Track environments aren’t anything special
4. NASCAR 09
Released: 2008 | Platforms: PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: EA Tiburon
This one will be a nostalgia trip for some of you out there. NASCAR 09 offers an incredibly fun NASCAR racing experience with stunning visuals for the time that even hold up to today’s scrutiny.
This is an old but gold NASCAR game, making it ideal for those that want to head down memory lane. It looks great considering its age, and it features a beginner friendly game mode, so it's very easy to pick up and play.
NASCAR 09 features very impressive graphics for its time. The lighting and shadows, for instance, could easily compete with even Heat 4’s lighting system. Car interiors particularly look great even by today’s standards, but the exterior car models do look dated. However, Reflections and shadows both within the cockpit and on the exterior of the car look great.
Car And Track Variety
There are 22 tracks on offer based on real tracks and are realistically replicated in NASCAR 09. There are only four playable vehicles within NASCAR 09, and each one handles in a unique way, but the small variety of vehicles does leave a lot to be desired.
There are two driving styles that players can choose from: Normal and Pro. The normal driving style is specifically designed for beginners or those not as experienced as other racers. Pro mode is designed for advanced racers that want a more challenging and rewarding experience. The career mode is simply a collection of races in a season, and there’s not much depth to be found here.
- Lighting and shadows are great for its time
- Authentic and accurately replicated tracks
- Beginner-friendly driving style option
- Weak career mode with little depth
- Tiny number of playable cars
5. NASCAR The Game: Inside Line
Released: 2012 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox / Wii | Developers: Eutechnyx Limited
NASCAR The Game: Inside Line offers a fantastic dose of nostalgia. The graphics for the time were good, but there were certainly games around in 2012 that were far superior graphically. The damage depicted on vehicles looks great. However, smoke effects and debris particles are both excellent looking for the time.
This game is an excellent choice for those that want a blast from the past. It still looks great and feels fun to play, and there are lots of cars and tracks to enjoy racing on.
The graphics overall are decent considering its release date, especially interior car models, but lighting and shadows leave a lot to be desired. Smoke effects look great, and damage physics are excellent. Sound design is excellent, and combined with the cockpit view and impressive interior design of the vehicles, an immersive experience is guaranteed.
Car And Track Variety
There are 16 drivers and cars available for you to race on 23 officially licensed tracks that all look realistic and accurately represent the tracks as they are in real life, minus some environmental differences. Cars are upgradeable as you earn money through the career mode that’s available.
Cars feel unique from each other and controlling them requires skill. However, the game is forgiving, especially in regard to spinning out, as regaining control is fairly easy.
While in career mode, you will get sponsorships that increase your available money for upgrades and for buying new parts. The career mode isn’t anything super in-depth, but it does its job in replicating the progression of a NASCAR career.
- Great damage physics and particle effects for the time
- Realistic and officially licensed tracks
- Interior cockpit view is immersive and realistic
- Not a substantial number of tracks
- Graphics may be too dated for some
6. NASCAR Heat 3
Released: 2018 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Monster Games
NASCAR Heat 3 was released at a time when people were getting bored of NASCAR racing titles. NASCAR Heat 3 set out to fix this problem by adding a slightly more in-depth career mode than they had done previously, like the one we see today in NASCAR Heat 4 and 5. The Career mode lets you choose to join a team or create your own team, similar to what Heat 3’s sequel set out to do.
Running your own team is, of course, more challenging and offers us a more in-depth look at how NASCAR operates. You hire staff as well as train them. You spend the income you have accrued from completing races on training fees. The better the staff that you have on your team, the better your vehicle will perform in a race.
Graphically Heat 3 looks similar to Heat 4. The graphics overall are certainly passable, but sadly it is simply beaten by most other triple-A racing games released at the same time. The track surfaces and track environments look good, but car models, lighting, and reflections leave us wanting more.
Car And Track Variety
There are nine playable vehicles in NASCAR Heat 3, and each handles uniquely and is distinguishable from each other. There are 37 tracks in total available for you to race on, and each one is realistic looking and, most importantly, great fun to race on.
- Engaging career mode
- Decent variety of tracks and vehicles
- Graphics are poor in comparison to other titles
7. NASCAR Racing 2003 Season
Released: 2003 | Platforms: PC | Developers: Papyrus Design Group
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season was an extremely impressive game for its time. Its realistic physics and impressive graphics for the time solidified it in NASCAR gaming as one of the best.
This game has some excellent graphics and driving physics considering its age. It's perfect for those that want a nostalgia trip, but it's also a great option for those that just want a fun racing game to play.
Graphically, in 2003 it was an extremely good-looking racing game. By today’s standards, it may look dated, but the interior car models and vehicle physics still look great today. It should also be noted that NR2003 Season is very mod-friendly, and things such as physics, car models, and graphical fidelity can all be altered.
Car And Track Variety
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season features 43 playable cars, but this is infinitely expandable with the use of mods. NR2003 Season also features 23 realistic tracks to race on, making for hours of fun.
- Large variety of vehicles
- The physics are very good
- Realistic vehicle handling
- Graphics are dated
- Controls may need remapping as they are unintuitive by default
8. NASCAR 21 Ignition
Released: 2021 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Motorsport Games
Visually, NASCAR 21 Ignition looks stunning with the game being powered by Unreal Engine 4. The career mode is straightforward as you simply qualify and then race through a number of races with the goal of gaining a reputation. The game’s overall reception was poor at release as there didn’t seem to be much content to consume.
This is one of the newest NASCAR titles, which means it has some of the best graphics of any game on this list. But along with the great looks, it's a game that is truly focused on fun.
However, the actual racing part of Ignition is great fun and is extremely accessible for beginners. This title is certainly more of an arcade racer than a realistic simulator, but NASCAR fans will be happy with this faithful replication of NASCAR racing.
Graphically, NASCAR Ignition looks great. Weather effects look realistic, reflections look great, and car models, both interior and exterior, look realistic and are immersive.
Car And Track Variety
There are 26 official tracks authentically replicated in NASCAR 21 Ignition. All these tracks are beautifully rendered in Unreal Engine 4 and are a blast to race on. There is a large variety of vehicles to race with, and each feels unique in handling, and both exterior and especially interior car models look fantastic.
- Stunning graphical fidelity
- Game is more focused on fun than simulation (may be a con for some)
- Large variety of vehicles and official tracks
- Poor career mode that lacks any depth
- Not a lot of innovation compared to other titles
9. NASCAR Kart Racing
Released: 2009 | Platforms: Wii | Developers: EA/EA Tiburon
Now this one is focused on pure, simple fun. This is certainly not a realistic depiction of NASCAR racing in the real world, but what NASCAR Kart Racing excels at is offering an incredibly fun arcade racer ideal for all ages. If you have played Mario Kart before, you’ll see some immediate similarities between the two.
For those that just want a bit of chaotic racing fun, this is the perfect choice. It's the definition of an arcade NASCAR racing game, and it's a great one to play with friends.
Just like Mario Kart, there are item pickups that you can use to gain an advantage during the race, boost ramps on the track, and a unique slingshot mechanism that you can use to shoot yourself ahead in the race. It’s a fun take on the arcade kart racing format that Mario Kart had pioneered for years prior to this game.
- Great fun with friends
- Unique take on arcade kart racing with a NASCAR spin to it
- Great for all ages
- Graphics are dated
- Obviously not a very realistic racing game!
Summary Of The Best NASCAR Games
|NASCAR Heat 5||Those after the most up to date NASCAR racing experience|
|iRacing||Sim racers seeking realism above all else|
|NASCAR Heat 4||Gamers looking for a detailed career mode|
|NASCAR 09||Beginners looking for a blast from the past|
|NASCAR The Game: Inside Line||Those looking to break out the old PS3 or Xbox 360 for some oval racing fun|
|NASCAR Heat 3||Anyone looking for an engaging career mode that can be picked up pretty cheap|
|NASCAR Racing 2003 Season||Those after a real nostalgia trip with a game that has a lot to offer|
|NASCAR 21: Ignition||People looking for a fun NASCAR gaming experience more than a realistic one|
|NASCAR Kart Racing||Those that want the familiar arcade karting experience with a NASCAR twist|
Best NASCAR Game For PC
The best NASCAR game for PC is iRacing. iRacing offers the most comprehensive and realistic NASCAR experience available on PC, satisfying even the most hardcore sim racing enthusiasts. iRacing has been used by professionals for years now and has become the gold standard for competitive sim racing.
iRacing is also compatible with most if not all racing peripherals on the market, and the game’s force feedback delivery, as well as its adjustability among a range of other settings, is fantastic. This makes it the best choice for those looking for a realistic NASCAR racing experience.
Best NASCAR Game For Console
The best NASCAR game for console is NASCAR Heat 5. The game is visually stunning, and it features a fun career mode that lets you rise from the bottom to the top, simulating your own NASCAR heroes’ journeys. There’s also a super fun multiplayer game mode that is great to play with friends.
While the game offers a classic NASCAR racing experience that emulates that of the best NASCAR games from years gone by, it puts a unique spin on things and offers a great looking game that is excellent fun to play as well.
Best NASCAR Game For Android/iOS
The best NASCAR game for Android/iOS is NASCAR Heat Mobile. While it’s not a realistic racing title, its large variety of cars and tracks make it a fun pick-up-and-play-style game with lots of replay value. The graphics aren’t the best, but they do the game justice on a small mobile phone display.
The gameplay loop is simplistic but rewarding. Vehicles are upgradeable using a currency that you earn as you play, and while there are microtransactions, as with any mobile game these days, they are not overly intrusive.
Accelerating and braking are done automatically. Overall, in a sea of third-party mediocre mobile racing games, NASCAR Heat Mobile offers an authentic NASCAR experience through and through.
Which NASCAR Heat Game Is Best?
The best NASCAR Heat game is NASCAR Heat 5. It offers the most comprehensive and uncompromising NASCAR experience out of all the NASCAR Heat games. Graphically, it is the most impressive-looking NASCAR Heat game available today, and the racing experience is very enjoyable too.
While NASCAR games aren’t traditionally known for being the most realistic sim racing games out there, Heat 5 can be configured in such a way that even the most serious of sim racing enthusiasts can find a challenging and ultimately rewarding game here.
The environments are not as detailed or atmospheric as the environments found in some other sim racing titles out there, but the tracks, lighting, and car models look fantastic. There is some controversy around the fact that Heat 5 is extremely similar to Heat 4, but ultimately Heat 5 offers a more feature-filled and complete NASCAR racing experience than Heat 4.
Which NASCAR Game Has The Best Career Mode?
The NASCAR game with the best career mode is arguably NASCAR Thunder 2004. This game, while dated now, offers you the ability to not only race your favorite tracks, but also maintain your team by signing sponsors and hiring crew members. The game has plenty of events to play through as well.
Even though the game was released in 2003, NASCAR Thunder 2004 still holds up as an excellent racing game, largely because of this immersive career mode. From gaining respect from other drivers to taking on drafting and blocking challenges, this is a great choice for those that put a focus on career modes and replayability.
Which NASCAR Game Has The Best Crash Physics?
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season has the best crash physics and while it may not look visually impressive due to the age of the game, its crash physics, and how the cars behave once struck by another vehicle, is very realistic. It’s also an incredibly fun NASCAR racing game to play.
Even though this game is now almost two decades old, its crash physics are still miles better than other NASCAR games released today. For instance, while NASCAR 21 Ignition may look visually far superior to NR2003 Season, its crash physics are depressing at best. Vehicles in NR2003 Season, if turned over at great speed, will often get airborne and cartwheel off the track.
One thing to note that shouldn’t be overlooked is NR2003 Season’s ability to utilize mods. Many mods are available for the NR2003 Season, including mods that enhance crash physics and improve upon how the vehicles behave. This makes it one of the most user-customizable experiences available, and the crash physics, while already very impressive, can be improved upon further.
How To Choose A NASCAR Game
The platform you wish to play on will have a big impact here on your choice of game. Some of the greatest NASCAR games available to this day are on much older platforms such as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 2 and may not be as readily available as other PC titles on our list.
iRacing, for instance, is a fantastic PC title that allows you to perfectly replicate the NASCAR experience in an extremely realistic and graphically pleasing format. However, for a more NASCAR-focused game such as NASCAR 09, a PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360 will be necessary. We include the platform that the game is available on under every game on our list above.
Realism Or Just Plain Fun?
If you are someone who strives for immersion and realism and to get as close to the real thing as possible, titles such as NASCAR Heat 5 or iRacing will certainly be more up your alley than others on our list. If you are someone who wants to just have an enjoyable time without the stress that comes packaged with realistic simulated NASCAR racing, then NASCAR Kart Racing is a great choice.
While NASCAR Kart Racing may not be the most accurate depiction of NASCAR racing by any means, it is heaps of fun to play, especially with friends, and is an arcade racer through and through.
Are Graphics Important To You?
If what you want is the prettiest racing title that allows you to authentically replicate NASCAR racing with jaw-dropping visuals, older titles aren’t going to cut it for you. In these cases, it’s best to opt for one of the newer games.
Choosing the best NASCAR game can be tough, as there are lots of excellent options out there. For the most realistic simulated racing experience, look no further than iRacing. If you want a Faithful NASCAR-focused title, then NASCAR Heat 5 will offer you a great authentic NASCAR experience.
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