There are a lot of factors that go into how much fuel NASCAR cars use. Each team must include these factors in their fuel calculations to figure out how much their cars need. You may wonder how much fuel NASCAR cars use in their nine-month season and the answer is a complex one.
NASCAR cars use over 100 gallons of fuel per weekend, depending on the size of the track and length of the event. They use a special type of fuel called 98-Octane Green E15, supplied by Sunoco. However, the exact amount fluctuates with the fuel’s density, which is an ever-changing variable.
Below, we explore how NASCAR teams figure out how much fuel their cars require at each event. We will also see how easy it is for teams to miscalculate just one variable that can lead to disastrous consequences for their car. Read on for all you need to know on NASCAR fuel use.
What Fuel Does NASCAR Use?
In the past decade NASCAR have used Sunoco’s Green E15 fuel. This 98-octane fuel contains a special blend that gives it a greenish appearance, hence the fuel’s name. Sunoco supplies its fuel to each of NASCAR’s top three divisions that include the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series.
Sunoco replaced 76 as NASCAR’s official racing fuel in 2004 and until 2011, NASCAR’s fuel used lead. They are also the official fuel supplier of the ARCA Menard’s Series, which NASCAR also owns. When you watch a NASCAR pit stop unfold, you will notice they use huge red gas cans instead of a pump.
This Sunoco racing fuel is specifically designed for NASCAR only. It would be a bad idea to put it into your own passenger vehicle. However, NASCAR is not the only racing organization that has chosen Sunoco as its official fuel supplier. The company fully customizes its fuel to fit the needs of each motorsports organization they supply.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and regional grassroots racing organizations across America are two of many organizations that followed NASCAR’s lead in partnering with Sunoco.
How Big Is A NASCAR Fuel Tank?
A NASCAR car’s fuel tank holds 18.5 gallons. However, their red refueling cans only hold 12 gallons, meaning more than one may be needed at a pit stop. A NASCAR car’s fuel tank holds more gas than your typical compact passenger car, whose capacity maxes out between 12 and 13 gallons.
NASCAR cars can use over 100 gallons of fuel per race. Sometimes the gas man will use multiple gas cans to fuel their driver’s car in a single pit stop. Each gas can is capable of holding 12 gallons of racing fuel. Combine that with the number of pit stops a driver makes and it adds up to a lot.
To illustrate things, the NASCAR Truck Series runs races roughly half the length of their Cup Series counterparts. Each truck used 70 gallons of fuel on average at the Chicagoland Speedway.With a 12-gallon gas can, divided by 70, that equals 5.83 cans of Sunoco racing fuel.With 36 drivers, each using an average of 70 gallons of fuel, you get 2,520 gallons used at Chicagoland in total.
Time Magazine once concluded NASCAR Cup Series cars would use a combined 5,375 gallons of fuel for the 2015 Daytona 500. This estimate occurred one season before the NASCAR Charter System came into play.
To get the amount of fuel used per car, take 5,375 and divide that number by 43. On average each car would have used 125 gallons of fuel for the race. During this time period, NASCAR was using the Gen-6 car, which took the same type of fuel as the Next-Gen Car that debuted in 2022.
The above numbers for both the Truck Series and Cup Series are one-race sample sizes. NASCAR Cup Series races may last for 500 miles, or they can be as short as 300 miles, which you see at the New Hampshire track.
Race distances may vary but shorter races do not necessarily mean fewer gallons of fuel used at the event. Since surfaces and racing strategies differ depending on the track, you may see a single NASCAR car use even more fuel in a 300-mile race than they would at a 500-mile race like Daytona.
With each new generation of cars, NASCAR can also choose to use different types of fuel, or even change the size of the fuel tank.
How Much Fuel Do They Put In The Car During A Pit Stop?
The amount of fuel put in a NASCAR car during a pit stop varies during the race. Early on they want to pit as little as possible so you will see 1.5 cans of fuel added. As lighter cars are always faster, drivers try to get just enough fuel to finish the race from their final pit stop.
NASCAR pit stops can be the most exciting part of the race. If your favorite driver is winning and enjoying a good run, they may lose track position because of one small mishap during a pit stop. They can also speed down the pit lane and earn themselves a penalty.
Behind every pit stop comes a strategy that the drivers, crew chiefs, and pit crew members agree upon. This strategy may call for two tires or four tires, necessary car adjustments, and either a splash or a full tank of fuel.Depending on the pit strategy, you will see a variance of the total amount of fuel used. So, when does the time call for more fuel, and when does it call for less?
During green flag pit stops during the race’s first two stages, you will see drivers and their teams opt for more fuel. Their goal is to run as many green flag laps as possible without taking a pit stop, so it is here you will see the traditional four-tire stop with 1.5 cans of racing fuel added.
Cars that run closer to the front of the pack will almost always opt for this strategy until well into the third stage. They realize that they are fast enough to work their way through the field even if a prolonged pit stop sets them back a few places.
These are also drivers who can often save fuel during prolonged stretches under the green flag as they make their way to the front. Usually, they will get behind a teammate or a car of the same manufacturer and work their way through the field. This draft effect alone will save some fuel.
As the third stage of the race reaches its final 25 to 50 laps, you will see drivers strategize to use less fuel. Lighter cars are always faster cars, so during the final pit stop of the race, drivers try to get just enough fuel to finish and hopefully win the race.
This is often the time of the race where you see non-traditional pit stops. Teams may choose to change just two tires instead of four unless the other contending teams opt for four tires. However, the one constant is the limited amount of fuel.
At most, drivers will get one can of racing fuel. If their team believes they can get away with a half-can or even a splash, they will inject even less fuel. But the crew chief needs to be sure their driver can cross the finish line before they run out of gas.
NASCAR teams calculate the needed fuel by weighing the gas cans before and after each pit stop. When they get the difference of the weight, they know how much they put into the car. This, combined with the estimated miles per gallon, is used to calculate how much fuel is needed at each pit stop.
As a race nears its conclusion, teams should know how much fuel is in the gas cans and how much a car needs by taking the amount of fuel added at the previous pit stop divided by the fuel’s density (6 lb/gallon for Sunoco at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, for example).
This reveals the number of gallons of fuel injected into the car. Suppose the crew placed 70 lb of fuel into the tank at the previous pit stop. Their calculation would look like this: 70 divided by 6 equals 11.67 gallons of fuel in the car at the previous stop.
Toward the end of the race, the pit crew and crew chief use these calculations, plus the estimated number of miles per gallon, to calculate how much fuel their driver needs to cross the finish line and earn a win.
Unfortunately, it is easy to miscalculate the above. This is because fuel density fluctuates with temperature changes. In the example above, a fuel density of 6 lb/gallon of Sunoco fuel is not set in stone, and the slightest change in temperature can affect the density.
If the temperature dropped from 77 degrees to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, the fuel density would rise to about 6.01 lb/gallon. And if the team missed the temperature change, it would throw them off toward the end of the race.
Take the same equation, but with the density at 6.01 instead of 6.00: 70 divided by 6.01 equals 11.64 gallons. Since density changed along with the temperature change, the driver is getting less fuel than the crew thought they were putting in, leading to the driver running out of gas before the race ends.
To accurately weigh a gas can and determine the density of the fuel before and after each stop, teams must constantly pay attention to the temperature. If not, they will get an inaccurate number which could cost them during the final laps of a race.
NASCAR cars get between 2 and 5 miles per gallon. The exact amount will vary depending on how often the driver needs to switch between gas and brake pedals.
You may notice that your passenger car’s miles per gallon fluctuates depending on the type of road on which you’re driving. If you are driving on a highway, you will see that your car gets more miles per gallon. But if you are driving around town or in close quarters, you get far less.
This is because, when cruising on the highway, your foot is not constantly switching between the gas pedal and the brakes. Instead, it’s more consistent on the throttle, pressing down and easing up when necessary, which saves fuel. The same thing goes for NASCAR cars.
If they ride near the front, it allows them to use as little braking as possible going around the turns. Instead, they ease off the gas earlier into the turn, and that raises their number of miles per gallon closer to the higher range of five.
NASCAR teams do not spend anything for the gas they use for racing. This is due to the exclusivity deal with Sunoco. However, they still need to fuel their transport trucks to get between races and to the shop with all their cars and gear, which they do pay for.
Running a NASCAR team costs around $400,000 per week, which over a 38-week season adds up to over $15 million. It’s unclear how much of this is spent on gas, but with so much to transport between venues, it is not an insignificant sum.
These 18-wheeler haulers get an average of just 6.5 miles per gallon with a 300-gallon fuel tank. Suppose a team must travel 1,000 miles from their headquarters to the next track. When gas prices are high, as they were in 2008 and 2022, it can cost NASCAR teams at least $1,500 for a single week.
Since there are 36 regular season races and 39 events in total, that number can significantly add to the overall travel budget that all NASCAR teams must account for. If the $1,500 listed above is the average price of hauling a car to and from the track, it would cost $54,000 per season per 18-wheeler.
Unfortunate events like the Great Recession in 2008 and the Ukraine Crisis of 2022 resulted in higher prices. However, during times of little to no crises, NASCAR teams will not feel as much of a burden at the pump while they haul their rides across the country.
So, when you see high gas prices, remember that although NASCAR cars get free Sunoco racing fuel for their respective events, they too must pay those same prices to fuel their haulers that you also pay at the pump. And when you are enjoying lower prices, so are the NASCAR teams.
There is a lot of fluctuation as to how much fuel NASCAR cars use depending on the situation. Miles per gallon will change along with fuel density and pit strategy. The exact amount of fuel used in each race and each season will vary, but on average each car will use over 3,800 gallons per season.