When you ask if NASCAR drivers ever use the brakes, you need to consider several scenarios. Ask yourself what track type these drivers are racing at, how steep the banking is, and how wide or narrow the turns are. With this information, you can estimate if NASCAR drivers need to use their brakes.
NASCAR drivers use the brakes at every race. However, they brake substantially less at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, rarely using them on green flag laps. At some short tracks and road courses, you will see NASCAR drivers using the brakes far more often, even when racing under green.
Below, we cover everything there is to know about braking in NASCAR, including what kind of brakes the cars use and how braking differs from track to track. We also discuss when drivers brake during specific portions of the race and whether drivers use different braking systems at different tracks.
NASCAR cars use disc brakes that are made of magnetic cast iron or steel. This braking system is lighter than those found in the average production vehicle and features a ventilation system for cooling. NASCAR allows teams to have varying braking systems as each driver has a different braking style.
NASCAR cars are nothing like production cars, starting with the way teams build them. Manufacturers like Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota do not build these cars on assembly lines. Instead, they send teams the components, and that is it. Since NASCAR cars differ from their street legal equivalents in many ways, it is easy to assume they also differ in their brakes.
Your street legal car uses brakes that are powered by a hydraulic system. The hydraulic system requires brake fluid to work. When your foot presses the brake this fluid releases into the system, resulting in your car slowing and ultimately stopping.
NASCAR cars use disc brakes. These brakes must be made of magnetic cast iron or steel. Teams must place brakes on each wheel, and they cannot measure higher than 12.72 in/32.31 cm. Each car must also contain the latest type of brake pads available to meet the highest standards possible.
NASCAR’s braking system is much lighter than those used in your production vehicle. The lighter the car, the faster it can go. Therefore, to achieve the fastest speed possible, NASCAR teams use components that keep the cars close to their minimum allowed weight.
This braking system also features a ventilation system. NASCAR cars are notorious for reaching extremely high temperatures, which can cause braking fluid and other components to overheat. The ventilation system prevents this issue from occurring by providing some air flow.
NASCAR allows for teams to use differing braking components in their systems, assuming they remain within the organization’s specifications. Components like brake pads, disks, and ventilation systems can change depending on driver preference from race to race.
NASCAR is more flexible with their braking system requirements because they know that each driver has different braking styles. In the interest of safety, drivers are best left off to their teams tailoring their braking systems to conform to those unique styles.
NASCAR drivers do use their brakes, but they use them minimally. How often a driver uses the brake will also depend on the type of track they are racing on. They are used during caution flags, to avoid a collision, and for pit stops. Braking too often could cause safety hazards for other drivers.
When you are out driving a road car, pushing the brakes when you reach a turn is second nature. Most of us move our foot from the throttle to the brake without giving it much thought. The major difference between ourselves and NASCAR drivers is that we aren’t driving roughly 150 mph/241 kph around ovals.
So, if we are using our brakes when we approach turns, we may think NASCAR drivers must be doing the same. Especially with all 36 to 40 cars driving at high speeds down the racetrack. However, NASCAR drivers do not use their brakes as often as you may think. They will use their brakes when a situation calls for it, but this varies from track to track.
In NASCAR, the fastest car wins the race. With that said, it shouldn’t surprise you that, regardless of if they are racing on ovals, superspeedways, or road courses, drivers are going to use their brakes minimally. Whether drivers will use their brakes depends on the track, but if they can help it, they will not push the brakes into a turn. Instead, they ease off the throttle.
Furthermore, intense braking is not feasible when racing against 35 to 39 other drivers at high speeds. Have you ever driven in tight traffic and had someone slam their brakes? It can quickly cause serious issues for several cars behind them. Now imagine that situation in a NASCAR race with speeds up to 180 mph/290 kph.
Luckily, many tracks contain sufficient banking and wide turns, which help eliminate the need for constant braking, if any braking. However, you will see drivers use their brakes more often on short ovals with less banking and on road courses, where both banking and turning degrees vary.
How often NASCAR drivers use their brakes depends on the type of track they are on. However, NASCAR drivers brake as little as possible, doing so only when necessary. Drivers will still need to brake during a race for pit stops, to avoid collisions, or during a caution flag.
NASCAR drivers may use their brakes more often at certain tracks as opposed to others. However, whether drivers are racing at short and intermediate oval tracks, superspeedways, or road courses, there are a few common times when they must use their brakes.
During a caution flag, drivers must brake to slow to a designated speed limit. They must also use their brakes at times to avoid hitting another car during a crash. However, sometimes their spotters will instruct the driver to either race high or low to avoid colliding with another.
Finally, NASCAR drivers will use their brakes when they need to slow down for pit stops. They will also need to slow or stop when NASCAR deems the track conditions too undesirable to continue a race, such as when racing officials show drivers the red flag.
How often NASCAR drivers brake on oval tracks depends on the specific tracks. Oval tracks vary in size and banking. They can measure 1.5 to 2.0 miles (2.4 to 3.2 km) in length, contain high banks, and wide, sweeping turns. Or, these tracks can sit between 0.5 to 1 mile (0.8 to 1.6 km) with less banking.
For larger, steeper-banked tracks, expect far less braking from NASCAR drivers than when they race on smaller tracks with less banking.In fact, because some of these smaller tracks are so short, like Martinsville, for example, drivers are forced to use the brake more than they do the throttle.
Constant braking on short tracks like Martinsville gives the cars more leverage when they turn. NASCAR drivers average between 6 and 7 seconds pressing the brakes on each turn, totaling 12 to 14 seconds of brake time per lapat one of NASCAR’s oldest tracks.
Increased banking helps NASCAR cars maintain their speeds when they decelerate into turns. Therefore, at tracks like Atlanta and Texas, which are two ovals that have steep banking, drivers can get away with minimal braking. If they time things right, they may even be able to decelerate into the turn.
Since shorter tracks require more braking, short tracks require larger brake calipers. Intermediate-sized ovals require medium-sized brake calipers since drivers may or may not need to brake, depending on the race’s circumstances.
Another braking system factor that changes from track to track is the front disks. Some tracks will call for larger diameters that do not exceed NASCAR’s specifications while other tracks call for smaller discs. Disc thickness will also vary per track.
NASCAR drivers rarely use their brakes on superspeedways. NASCAR considers Daytona and Talladega superspeedways, and they measure 2.5 and 2.66 miles (4.1 and 4.3 km) respectively. Both Daytona and Talladega have massive 31 and 33-degree banking, allowing cars to maintain a great deal of speed.
Since these tracks are so large, you will only see drivers use the brakes when the caution flag waves or when they take a ride down pit road. However, these tracks are also notorious for The Big One, a crash that can sometimes involve two-dozen cars.
When The Big One strikes, expect drivers to slam the brakes to avoid colliding with other cars and ultimately crashing out of the race. This is not desirable, as such braking can damage the car’s braking system. However, it is worth the risk if it means keeping the car in one piece.
Since drivers use the brakes so minimally during races on superspeedways, they will keep one foot on the brake pedal one lap before they take to pit lane. They do so to help heat the brake disc and this, in turn, prevents an issue referred to as called thermal shock.
How often NASCAR drivers use the brakes on road courses varies as they can use the brakes on certain portions of the track. For example, at the Sonoma Raceway, turns 7 and 11 require extended use of the brakes. Another example is the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), which has several tight turns.
A good estimate is that a NASCAR road course race requires the driver to use the brakes 30 percent of the time, with the other 70% on the throttle. The more narrow turns on each road course, the more they will use their brakes.
Drivers will not use their brakes to the same degree on wider turns as on narrow turns. Remember, road course banking varies from track to track. Therefore, if the drivers approach a wider turn with less banking, you should expect them to brake more.
NASCAR cars do not have ABS. NASCAR prides itself on being a demonstration of driver skill, meaning they do not allow driving assists of any kind. Therefore, you will not see components like traction control on a NASCAR car because it provides drivers with an unfair advantage.
Something that sparked controversy in the early 2000s when some NASCAR teams accused others of slipping traction control devices onto their cars. The dilemma is that NASCAR also prides itself on safety, and components like traction control would call for a safer ride overall. But, given the unfair advantage it brings, NASCAR bans both traction control and Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS).
Given the current rules and previous controversy that tractional control caused, don’t expect to see traction control or ABS in NASCAR any time soon. With no ABS, traction control, or other driver assists, NASCAR can honestly claim its races are won and lost purely on driver skill.
NASCAR drivers will use the brakes in specific circumstances. At some tracks like Martinsville, using brakes is a must. At superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, which have very wide turns and steep banking, drivers only use brakes when under caution or when they drive down pit road.
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