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Do NASCAR Drivers Shift Gears?

NASCAR cars travel at very high speeds, but there are times when drivers need to slow substantially in the event of a caution or a narrow, low-banked turn. Because of the sudden shifts in speeds, you may therefore wonder if NASCAR drivers ever shift gears. 

NASCAR drivers do shift gears in every race. They must shift gears when slowing down during a caution or when pitting. While there are times they do not need to shift gears during green flag laps, low-banked tracks require more shifting, and road courses may require 1000+ gear changes per race.

Below, we’ll elaborate more on how often NASCAR drivers shift gears during a race. We will also talk about whether NASCAR cars are manual, and what type of transmission the Next Gen cars have. We will also talk about why there are times NASCAR drivers do not shift gears under green flag conditions.

Are NASCAR Cars Manual?

NASCAR cars are manual, and the Next Gen cars introduced in 2022 use a 5-speed sequential manual transmission. This is in contrast to the 4-speed H-pattern manual transmissions used on the previous generations of NASCAR cars. 

In 2022, NASCAR introduced the Next Gen car. This new generation of the car did away with many of the old technologies like truck arms and the four-speed gearbox. Many other components changed, like the wheel size, location of the exhaust pipes, and the car’s overall look returned to resembling what you would see at a dealership. 

One aspect of the cars that did not change, however, was the fact that the cars remained manual. Although automatic transmissions may appear to be more desirable, NASCAR drivers collectively dislike auto, opting instead for manual. 

Despite the dramatic shift that the Next Gen car brings to the table, NASCAR listened to the drivers’ input, and it was something they did consistently when running test sessions for the Next Gen car. They listened to the drivers’ input regarding aspects like engine/spoiler packages and regarding the exhaust pipes’ ultimate location at the doors instead of the rear of the cars. 

Manual Transmission On The Next Gen Cars

NASCAR Next Gen cars have a different type of manual transmission than what they had on the Generation 6 cars, and it also differs from the transmissions used on all the previous generations. They comprised an H-pattern, four-speed transmission, but you will find a new five-speed, sequential transmission on the Next Gen car

This transmission contains a simple push-pull mechanism. To shift down, they push the gear stick forward, and to shift up, they pull the gear toward them. There is also a reverse gear that the driver can access by lifting the gear shift

Do NASCAR Cars Have A Clutch?

NASCAR cars do have a clutch, as they make use of a manual transmission. While the cars have a clutch pedal like a manual road car does, NASCAR drivers usually opt to use rev matching to shift gears rather than using the clutch.

Any time you look at a road vehicle that possesses a manual transmission, you will notice a third pedal to the left of the brake. This is the clutch, and most drivers of manual cars need to use it to shift gears. Therefore, you will find a clutch on NASCAR Next Gen cars. 

Despite the presence of a clutch though, NASCAR drivers rarely use it. This is because an alternative exists called rev matching, which allows for a faster, smoother transition between gears when required. Rev matching involves matching the car’s speed with the engine speed before shifting.

REV Matching Is Not Easy

This is not an easy task in a road car, but in a NASCAR car, it is even tougher because there are no speedometers, and not even tachometers. The average driver would most likely not have the skill to rev match in a NASCAR car, even if they master the technique in a road car. Given the lack of speedometers and tachometers, it is also a learning curve all NASCAR drivers face. 

However, as NASCAR drivers are among the best in the world at what they do, it eventually becomes second nature to rev match even without the luxuries of a speedometer. This requires drivers to have a feel for the car, and to shift gears at the right time to avoid any negative effects on the transmission. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR cars make use of a 5-speed sequential manual transmission

• The cars also have a clutch pedal

• However, most NASCAR drivers opt to use rev matching to change gears instead of the clutch

Do NASCAR Drivers Ever Change Gears?

NASCAR drivers do change gears at every race, but how often they are required to change gears depends on the type of track they are racing on. Some tracks require drivers to change gears at almost every turn, while other tracks only require drivers to shift gears during specific circumstances. 

Regardless of the track, there are times when drivers need to shift gears. Whether they are at Daytona, Martinsville, or Watkins Glen, NASCAR drivers must shift gears when they enter pit road, and they must also shift during the parade laps or when the caution flag is out. 

The reason behind the lack of need to shift gears is that many tracks on the NASCAR circuit allow cars to run at fairly constant speeds, forcing them to slow very little when diving into a turn. This allows drivers to stay in one gear for most of the race. However, this isn’t always the case, as some tracks on the circuit may call for a shift in gears at multiple turns. 

How Many Times Do NASCAR Drivers Shift Gears?

NASCAR drivers may only shift gears about 100 times during a race on an oval track, accounting for pit stops and caution periods. However, on a road course, the many turns and braking zones often require NASCAR drivers to shift gears more than 1000 times per race. 

There are three types of NASCAR tracks when it comes to determining how often drivers must shift gears under the green flag: fast tracks, flat tracks, and road courses. Each track varies in how often they force drivers to shift gears. And to understand why this is the case, let’s explore each type of track individually. 

Fast Tracks

You may have heard the term “fast track” during a NASCAR broadcast, but you may not know what it means. Any time you hear someone describe a track as fast, they are referring to tracks with high banking. The higher the banking, the faster the track. Talladega and Daytona are famous for their high banking, and it is no surprise that they are the fastest tracks in NASCAR. 

Fast tracks can be as large as Daytona, or as small as Bristol, often regarded as the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Bristol’s turns range between 26 and 30 degrees, qualifying it as one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks despite its small size

Flat Tracks

Other tracks are slower, or flat tracks, and they are tracks with little banking. The lesser banking means drivers must slow down and in some cases shift down as they dive into the turns, before shifting up in gears when they hit the straight. 

Pocono Raceway is a good example of a flat track, with its highest banking being 14 degrees, while Turn 2 and Turn 3 sit at eight and six degrees respectively. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is another good example, with bankings between two and seven degrees. 

While flat tracks do not allow for the high turning speeds that fast tracks do, they still provide an exciting element to racing because they will challenge the driver when they dive into the turns. This is further the case when a track features narrow turns, like Martinsville

Road Courses

In recent seasons, the NASCAR Cup Series has dramatically increased its number of road course races from just 2/3, starting in 2018. From 2021-onward, NASCAR has expanded its number of road courses to at least six per season, with a street race scheduled for 2023 in Chicago. 

Since road courses contain varying banking and turns, drivers will shift gears often, whether they are at Watkins Glen, Sonoma, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), or even the Charlotte Roval. Given the number of times road courses require NASCAR drivers to shift gears, it is easy to speculate that road courses are not the strong suit of many drivers

At one point in NASCAR history, this was more noticeable because there were times when teams would employ Road Course Ringers (drivers that excelled particularly on road course) in favor of their normal drivers. Now that NASCAR rules have changed when it comes to who accumulates points, you see very few Road Course Ringers in the 2020s. 

In contrast, other drivers have mastered road courses and, in doing so, have also mastered the art of rev matching and the timing of shifting gears. Whether drivers fare well at road courses or not, you will not come across any other type of track on the NASCAR circuit that requires drivers to shift gears as often as a road course. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR drivers shift gears at every race, but they may not always shift gears during green flag laps at some tracks. Since NASCAR tracks are either fast, flat, or road courses, their degree of banking and turning ultimately determine how often NASCAR drivers must shift gears during green flag laps.