Some sports fans claim NASCAR is rigged by pointing to events over the years that seem to be fit for a Hollywood movie. These events range from favorable calls to manipulating races, which may leave new fans wondering if NASCAR is rigged.
NASCAR is not rigged. While it sometimes appears scripted and rigged, with so many events, it’s fair to argue seemingly scripted events are coincidental, and NASCAR did not fix an outcome. It’s highly unlikely that events could be rigged, with around 40 cars being involved in each race.
Below, we will discuss whether NASCAR is scripted to allow favorable outcomes for drivers they feel will bring in money and ratings. We will explore the most prominent events from the 1980s to the present-day and debate whether or not NASCAR is in fact rigged.
NASCAR has a long history of coincidences that have led some to believe the sport to be scripted. And one such instance occurred at the 2022 Daytona 500 when Austin Cindric, who drives for Team Penske, won the race on Roger Penske’s 85th birthday. A pretty weak claim, but a claim nonetheless.
Another coincidence came in July 2001 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona just months after his dad, Dale Earnhardt, died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Dale Jr. also brought back the Number 3 car for cameo appearances at the Xfinity Series level and won two races in it.
Fans point to the above events as scripted. However, the most notorious of these events in recent memory came at the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series finale.
In the 2020 NASCAR Cup season finale at Phoenix, Chase Elliott won the race and the championship. NASCAR, which has struggled to bring in viewers and money throughout the 21st century, would have benefited more from Chase Elliott winning the NASCAR Cup.
Chase Elliott won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award annually since 2018. His dad, Bill, won the award a record 16 times. Further, a championship for Chase would draw interest since he and Bill would be the third father-son duo in history to win the NASCAR Cup.
In October 2020, many fans paid particular attention to the fact that NASCAR admitted to missing a call that would have penalized Elliott at the Kansas Speedway. Elliott’s championship at Phoenix also symbolized a “passing of the torch” since it was seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmy Johnson’s last race.
It’s easy for both NASCAR fans and non-NASCAR fans to point to the feel-good story that was and cry foul. However, as of 2021, Hendrick Motorsports won nine out of the last 16 NASCAR Cup Series championships.
Hendrick Motorsports has long received top-notch funding and sponsorships. And since its inception, the racing organization has lured top drivers. Johnson was one of those top drivers, having won seven championships. And Elliott has never finished lower than 10th in the standings since 2016, so it was hardly coincidence that he continued to perform well and win the championship.
All sports, NASCAR included, are television shows. And this fact has led many to believe that NASCAR and its professional sports contemporaries are rigged to some degree. For example, if a heavy underdog wins too many races, it puts sportsbooks nationwide at risk of losing massive profits, and many see this as reason for sports to be rigged.
Other fans believe NASCAR is rigged because of what they call “phantom yellow flags.” These often occur when someone spots otherwise unseen debris on a racetrack. And while debris can damage cars, many fans question just how much damage small pieces of debris can cause, and the yellow flags seem to have an apparent unnecessary effect on the race.
There are also the infamous competition cautions. None of these were more notorious than the 2008 Brickyard 400, which drew a caution every 10-12 green flag laps on average.
However, while the track surface for the 2008 event necessitated the need for competition caution because of tire issues, competition cautions can also force the field to race in tighter packs. This could, when carried out properly, call for closer, more entertaining finishes, and so while it’s not the direct result that appears rigged, but the entire event seems scripted for more entertainment.
Competition cautions became commonplace in NASCAR with the addition of three stages, where Stage One and Stage Two each comprised a quarter of the race. Stage Three made up the race’s final half. The Coca-Cola 600 went a step further as NASCAR divided their season’s longest race into four stages.
NASCAR also deems races ‘official’ following the second stage, in the event of inclement weather. Stage winners receive 10 bonus points, while the rest of the top ten also receive bonuses, with nine points awarded to the second-place finisher while a driver who finishes in tenth gets an additional point.
People who think NASCAR is rigged point to stage racing not just for competition cautions to keep races closer, but also to keep more prominent drivers competitive.
They claim stage racing allows NASCAR’s biggest stars to, in the event they crash out of a race, receive more points than they otherwise would. And the more points they receive, the higher they remain in the standings and the better their odds of making the NASCAR playoffs.
The Call is one of the most controversial aspects of NASCAR in which officials “look the other way” if specific cars gain an advantage deemed unfair during a race. However, because it’s in NASCAR’s best interests for the car belonging to a more popular racing organization to gain such an advantage to win or place highly, they tend to get “the call” more often than lower ranked teams.
Not only have fans voiced their beliefs that NASCAR is rigged, as drivers have also hopped on board. Tony Stewart once compared NASCAR’s product to WWE, while further accusing them of “playing God.”
Bill Elliott recalled Richard Petty’s 200th win in 1984 that occurred when the latter’s personal friend and then-incumbent President Ronald Reagan attended the race. Going back through past NASCAR seasons, fans also pointed out that drivers whose primary sponsor doubles as the track’s or the race’s sponsor win such races more often.However, this just comes down to who is fastest on the day.
While it’s easy to argue that NASCAR is rigged or scripted since its rule changes can favor more prominent drivers and organizations, it’s also easy to argue that the rule changes make NASCAR fairer and more entertaining.
Going back to 2004 when the Chase for the Cup started, why would fans have tuned in if their driver had little to no chance at winning the championship? The Chase for the Cup ensured that at least the top ten, and nowadays the top 16, have a fair chance at winning the NASCAR Cup.
The original Chase for the Cup gave all drivers within 400 points of the leader a fair chance to win the championship. This was something that wasn’t feasible under the system used from 1971 to 2003 and it could have hypothetically allowed the points leader to win the Cup with little challenge.
NASCAR has since improved its playoff structure, where a field of 16 drivers qualify and are eliminated every three races. The field narrows from 16 to 12 after three races, from 12 to 8 after six races, and from 8 to 4 after nine races. NASCAR’s version of the Final Fouris dubbed the Championship Four, and they each have a fighting chance to win the NASCAR Cup.
It’s also easy to argue that stage racing has called for a fairer product, and not a rigged product like many people claim. Unfortunate things happen during a race. Engines blow, a winning driver gets caught in a big wreck, and weather can even play a factor.
Stage racing divides larger races into smaller races, and it allows drivers who would otherwise lose points despite having a fast car at least earn something for their team’s efforts.
Despite the examples given throughout this article, it’s also important to remember that coincidences exist. NASCAR has been around for over 70 years, and there have been thousands of races.
Of course, there will be instances where cars with the same sponsor as the event or the track will win. Probability laws dictate that coincidences will happen, and the NASCAR officials will miss, and inadvertently give calls, to more popular drivers on occasion. That’s just human error and it occurs in every sport.
Drivers that bring the sport more profitability also tend to have better equipment, sponsors, and crew members. So, they have a higher probability of winning or finishing higher than their lower-budget counterparts regardless of the race, and it’s not just down to being favored by the organization. In short – NASCAR is not rigged!
NASCAR is not rigged or scripted. While many fans point to seemingly fairytale-like endings and coincidences as evidence for the sport being rigged, these are just coincidences, and similar things happen across other sports, and in particular other motorsports.