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Does NASCAR Always Go Left? Do Drivers Ever Turn Right?

You may wonder if NASCAR always goes left because it may seem as though they are racing on ovals every time you tune in to an event. Further, NASCAR’s most distinguished tracks all comprise four left turns. Therefore, you may wonder if NASCAR always goes left and if drivers ever turn right. 

NASCAR does not always go left and drivers do turn right. NASCAR has slowly branched out from its traditional oval track roots, with the NASCAR schedule now containing 6 road courses with more possibly coming in the future. However, most tracks still comprise exclusively of left turns. 

Below, we will reveal why NASCAR drivers always turn left on ovals. We will also touch on the idea of whether NASCAR would race clockwise on ovals, before discussing if NASCAR cars are simply designed to go left. 

Why Do NASCAR Drivers Always Turn Left On Ovals?

NASCAR drivers always turn left on ovals as this keeps the driver (seated on the left inside the car) further from the SAFER barriers around the track. This makes it safer in a crash. It’s also simply because that’s how NASCAR races started racing in the early days, and they’ve stuck with it.

Safer To Race Counterclockwise

You may ask why it’s safer for drivers to race counterclockwise on ovals all the time. After all, other NASCAR critics will claim they do not watch the sport because they are not interested in watching cars turn left for 3-5 hours. 

But racing counterclockwise is actually a safety measure since it further separates the driver from the wall in the event of an accident. Normally, if a driver hits the wall, they do so on the passenger side, which helps prevent injuries and fatalities from occurring in the sport as they’re more protected from the force of the initial impact. 

Not Always Effective

However, there have been unfortunate cases in which drivers have spun and either crashed head-on or driver’s side first into the wall. This is what occurred during the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1997 when John Nemechek spun and hit the wall on the driver’s side, which unfortunately caused him to suffer fatal head injuries. 

While practicing for the 2003 Pontiac Excitement 400, Jerry Nadeau spun and wrecked in a similar fashion as Nemechek. He suffered head, rib, and lung injuries in the crash that ended his NASCAR career. 

Despite the bleak outcomes of Nemechek’s and Nadeau’s accidents, the one positive is that NASCAR took even more safety measures during the 2000s. One of these included SAFER barriers to be installed at the tracks, which are built to absorb more of the impact. 

Another upside is that the CoT boasted a fair number of safety features, such as more centered driving cockpits and shock absorption that helped prevent fatal and career-ending crashes. NASCAR realized that keeping a wider barrier between the driver and the wall was not enough, and they responded accordingly. 

Would NASCAR Ever Race Clockwise On Ovals?

NASCAR would likely never race clockwise on ovals, as the main reason they race anticlockwise is to do with safety. Keeping the drivers further from the barriers around the track makes them less likely to suffer the bulk of any impact, and so going the other way would remove this safety aspect.

Since the Next Gen cars have the driver’s seat situated toward the left, odds are that NASCAR will never race clockwise on ovals unless they make drastic changes to the cars. One of the changes would be for NASCAR to require teams to build the cars so that the driver cockpit is situated toward the right. 

It’s All To Do With Safety

This would position the drivers further from the SAFER barrier, and although safety is one reason NASCAR never races clockwise on ovals, another reason is that drivers have a better view of the track, and therefore, other competitors, when turning left instead of right given the left-leaning position of their cockpit. 

But you may realize that racing clockwise on an oval will take an extreme learning curve for NASCAR drivers, regardless of their experience. In fact, the more experienced they are, the more likely they will need to practice racing clockwise since racing counterclockwise is second nature to them. This would all just be unnecessary.

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR drivers do not only turn left, but they do only go anticlockwise on oval tracks

• This is for safety purposes, to keep drivers further from the barriers around the track

• NASCAR will likely never hold clockwise races on oval circuits

Are NASCAR Cars Designed To Only Turn Left? 

NASCAR cars are not designed to only turn left. The Next Gen car, introduced in 2022, is far less skewed than its predecessors and is designed to turn both left and right. With 6 road courses on the NASCAR calendar and more likely to come in future, NASCAR cars now turn right more often than ever.

NASCAR Next Gen cars have much less skew than their predecessors and they are built to turn both left and right. One reason is that, with the advent of the Next Gen car, NASCAR has far more road course races on its schedule than with the previous generations of cars, with plans seeming to indicate more coming in the future.

The Next Gen car, since it is well-versed in road courses and, starting in 2023, the Chicago Street course, it turns right as easily as it turns left. But that wasn’t always the case. For decades, NASCAR raced on just two road courses. Starting in 1989, those road courses were Sonoma and Watkins Glen, and before that, they raced at Riverside. 

The Idea Of Skew

While you see this to a much lesser extent with the Next Gen car, NASCAR cars used to be noticeably skewed. At first glance, you may not have noticed, but once you knew the skew was there, it was always noticeable. 

The skew basically presets the car to drive at a predetermined angle, that angle being to the left at an oval NASCAR track. The front angle of the car pointed slightly to the right, which was the result of NASCAR teams mounting the rear axle toward a specific angle despite the chassis pointing straight. 

This gave the cars an aerodynamic advantage, and it also gave them an easier time turning left. Further, they raced faster and were also easier for the drivers to handle. Teams actually tried to keep skewing the cars back in February in the practices leading to the 2022 Daytona 500. However, NASCAR put its foot down and made immediate rule changes to straighten out the cars. 

Do NASCAR Drivers Ever Turn Right?

NASCAR drivers do often turn right, but only on road courses. There are 6 road courses on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and all of them contain both left and right turns. However, on oval circuits, NASCAR drivers do only turn left, and this is for safety reasons more than anything else.

For decades, oval tracks dominated the NASCAR scene. But from 1989 to 2017, NASCAR did turn right at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, with each comprising seven right turns. In 2018, NASCAR introduced the Charlotte Roval to their schedule, which granted drivers an additional six right turns, bringing the total to 20 for the Cup Series

In 2021, NASCAR introduced the Daytona Road Course for a one-off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also introduced Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Road America (2021 and 2022), and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course layout. 

COTA gave NASCAR nine more right turns, with Road America providing an additional nine. The Daytona Road Course gave drivers another six right turns, and finally, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course provided an additional seven right turns. Since 2021, NASCAR drivers have turned right more than ever before in the sport’s history. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR drivers do not just turn left, although this is the case on ovals

• On road courses, drivers can turn right as many as 9 times per lap

• While NASCAR cars used to be skewed for left-turn-only oval track performance, that skew was removed in 2022

Final Thoughts

NASCAR does not always go left, but most of its Cup Series tracks comprise left turns only. Starting in the 2020s, more road courses emerged on the NASCAR schedule. With so many road courses, NASCAR cars need to be just as capable of turning right as they are of turning left.