NASCAR cars are among the fastest cars in the world. When you watch a race, you will sometimes see these powerful machines zip by across the start-finish lines as blurs, and dive into the turns at ridiculous speeds. Given the way they zoom on the big screen, you may wonder how fast NASCAR cars go.
NASCAR Next Gen cars can reach average speeds of up to 193 mph (311 kph) during practice at high-banked superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. The highest top speed ever recorded on a NASCAR race weekend was 212 mph (341 kph), achieved by Bill Elliott at Talladega in 1987 during qualifying.
Below, we will give you a complete guide regarding how fast the Next Gen car can go. We will also compare the Next Gen car’s speed with that of its predecessors that date back to 1949. We will then compare speeds between the Next Gen car and the current cars used in Formula 1.
How Fast Are Next Gen NASCAR Cars?
During testing sessions, NASCAR’s Next Gen cars were driving at speeds between 185 mph (298 kph) to 190 mph (306 kph). However, NASCAR officials believed that, once teams got used to the cars, that they would drive faster. And they were correct to an extent, as the cars practicing during 2022 Speedweeks topped out at 193 mph (311 kph).
These cars, overall, have not gotten faster as time went on, at least in 2022. Qualifying at the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega posted similar numbers, with the pole position winner at Talladega zooming at 181 mph (291 kph) around the tri-oval. At the Daytona 500 that season, the pole position went to Kyle Larson, who also took it at 181 mph (291 kph).
NOTE: NASCAR top speeds are generally provided as lap averages, which is why you’ll see pole speeds listed rather than pole times. The true top speed a driver reaches on the straight isn’t always reported.
Are NASCAR Cars Slower Than They Used To Be?
The NASCAR Next Gen car is slower than the Generation 6 car (2013-2021) and much slower than the old Generation 3 cars (1981-1991). The Gen 6 car regularly reached top speeds in excess of 190 mph, but the Next Gen car usually tops out below 190 mph at most tracks.
During the middling stages of the Generation 3 car’s lifespan, we saw drivers begin to break a remarkable number of records both during the race and in qualifying.
There was a problem, however, regarding these cars, since they started driving so fast that they would, under the right circumstances, try to go airborne. This forced NASCAR to slow the cars down via a restrictor plate at the high-banked superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega, following Bobby Allison’s infamous crash at the 1987 Winston 500.
The ‘Slow’ Next Gen Car
Fast-forward to the Next Gen Era, and you see the cars posting some of their slowest speeds since the 1960s. Part of the reason is the introduction of tapered spacers at every track (in some form). These components look and act like restrictor plates by limiting maximum airflow into the engine, therefore reducing the cars’ horsepower.
1,000 additional pounds of downforce coupled with the tapered spacers for each track leads to slower top speeds. With the slower cars, NASCAR believed they could create a more entertaining event, so they went with horsepower and aerodynamic packages that allowed for more side-by-side racing, with less emphasis on overall speed. With the slower cars, more driver skill and strategy was required.
How Fast Do NASCAR Cars Go At Daytona?
At the 2022 Daytona 500, the Next Gen cars raced at an average speed of 142 mph (229 kph). During the 2021 event, the race speeds were just 2 mph faster, at 144 mph (232 kph). However, the 2021 pole speed was 191 mph (307 kph), while the pole speed in 2022 was just 181 mph (291 kph).
KEY FACT: The pole speed at the 2022 Daytona 500 was 10 mph slower than the Gen 6 car managed in 2021
During practice for the 2022 Daytona 500, Michael McDowell reached a speed of 193 mph (311 kph) with draft help. The year before, cars managed to reach 200 mph during practice. Daytona is the joint fastest track on the NASCAR calendar, tied with Talladega.
Daytona 500 Qualifying Speeds 2021 vs 2022
|Year||Lowest Speed||Highest Speed||Range|
|2021||177 mph / 285 kph||191 mph / 307 kph||14 mph / 22.5 kph|
|2022||172 mph / 277 kph||181 mph / 291 kph||9 mph / 14.5 kph|
The table above illustrates the difference between the Gen 6 car in 2021 and the Next Gen car in 2022 at Daytona. Perhaps the most striking difference (aside from the 10 mph pole speed drop) is the larger range of qualifying speeds in 2021. Part of the goal with the Next Gen car was to bring the cars closer together, and while this is a small sample size, it’s a hint that NASCAR’s plan worked.
How Fast Do NASCAR Cars Go On Road Courses?
While the Next Gen car made its road course debut at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the NASCAR Cup Series raced there for the first time in 2021. Unfortunately, the race was a rainy affair (Cup Series cars may occasionally race in the rain on road courses), which means the top speeds weren’t representative. So, we will look at numbers from the 2022 Sonoma Race for the Next Gen and Generation 6 cars.
Practice speeds for the Sonoma race ranged from 87 mph (140 kph) to 90 mph (145 kph), while the pole position speed clocked in at 92 mph (148 kph). During the Generation 6’s last normal race at Sonoma in 2019, the fastest practice speed sat at 95 mph (153 kph). The pole speed was 96 mph (155 kph). So once again, we saw faster speeds in the Generation 6 car.
KEY FACT: The range in qualifying speeds at Sonoma in 2019 was 9 mph, while in 2022 the range was just 4 mph
By looking at both Daytona and the road course race at Sonoma, we see a trend emerging: The Next Gen cars produce a smaller range of speeds than the Generation 6 car. And this is what NASCAR set out to accomplish when they were looking to improve the overall racing product by bringing the cars closer together, even if it meant sacrificing a bit of speed.
NASCAR Top Speeds By Track In 2022
|Track||Type||Length||Top Speed||Average Race Speed|
|Michigan||Speedway||2 miles / 3 km||191 mph / 307 kph||138 mph / 222 kph|
|Texas||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||189 mph / 304 kph||115 mph / 185 kph|
|Atlanta||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||187 mph / 301 kph||127 mph / 204 kph|
|Las Vegas||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||185 mph / 298 kph||130 mph / 209 kph|
|Charlotte||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||184 mph / 296 kph||119 mph / 192 kph|
|Daytona||Superspeedway||2.5 miles / 4 km||181 mph / 291 kph||142 mph / 229 kph|
|Talladega||Superspeedway||2.7 miles / 4.5 km||181 mph / 291 kph||149 mph / 240 kph|
|Kansas||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||180 mph / 290 kph||126 mph / 203 kph|
|Auto Club||Superspeedway||2 miles / 3 km||177 mph / 285 kph||114 mph / 184 kph|
|Pocono||Superspeedway||2.5 miles / 4 km||170 mph / 274 kph||122 mph / 196 kph|
|Darlington||Intermediate||1.3 miles / 2 km||170 mph / 274 kph||120 mph / 193 kph|
|Homestead-Miami||Intermediate||1.5 miles / 2.5 km||166 mph / 267 kph||130 mph / 209 kph|
|Nashville||Intermediate||1.3 miles / 2 km||162 mph / 261 kph||111 mph / 179 kph|
|Dover||Intermediate||1 mile / 1.6 km||160 mph / 258 kph||104 mph / 167 kph|
|World Wide Technology||Intermediate||1.25 miles / 2 km||138 mph / 222 kph||98 mph / 158 kph|
|Phoenix||Intermediate||1 mile / 1.6 km||133 mph / 214 kph||105 mph / 169 kph|
|New Hampshire||Intermediate||1 mile / 1.6 km||128 mph / 206 kph||98 mph / 158 kph|
|Bristol||Short Track||0.5 miles / 1 km||128 mph / 206 kph||88 mph / 142 kph|
|Watkins Glen||Road Course||2.5 miles / 4 km||125 mph / 201 kph||96 mph / 156 kph|
|Richmond||Short Track||0.75 miles / 1.2 km||120 mph / 193 kph||98 mph / 158 kph|
|Road America||Road Course||4 miles / 6.5 km||108 mph / 174 kph||97 mph / 156 kph|
|Charlotte Roval||Road Course||2.3 miles / 4 km||103 mph / 166 kph||87 mph / 140 kph|
|Indianapolis Road Course||Road Course||2.4 miles / 4 km||99 mph / 159 kph||78 mph / 126 kph|
|Martinsville||Short Track||0.5 miles / 1 km||96 mph / 155 kph||79 mph / 127 kph|
|Circuit of the Americas||Road Course||3.4 miles / 5.5 km||93 mph / 150 kph||70 mph / 113 kph|
|Sonoma||Road Course||1.9 miles / 3 km||92 mph / 148 kph||78 mph / 126 kph|
|Bristol (Dirt)||Dirt Track||0.5 miles / 1 km||90 mph / 145 kph||35 mph / 56 kph|
|Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum||Short Track||0.25 miles / 0.5 km||67 mph / 108 kph||39 mph / 63 kph|
The Fastest NASCAR Car Ever
The fastest NASCAR car during an event reached a top speed of 213 mph (343 kph) at the hands of Bill Elliott during qualifying for the 1987 Winston 500 at Talladega. At the same track in 2004, Rusty Wallace reached a top speed of 228 mph (367 kph), but it was during an unofficial test session.
How Fast Were The First NASCAR Cars?
The first NASCAR cars were not much slower than the Next Gen cars when it came to the average speed during a race. The 1959 Daytona 500 saw an average speed of 135.5 mph (218 kph), just 6.5 mph (10.5 kph) slower than the average speed at the 2022 Daytona 500.
However, the first NASCAR cars (1949-1966) were way slower around the track during qualifying than the Next Gen car. And while the Next Gen car may seem slow when compared to the Gen 6 ride, the top qualifying speed at the 1959 Daytona 500 was just 140 mph (225 kph), 41 mph (66 kph) slower than the Next Gen car’s pole speed.
The Very First Cars
Things get more interesting when we go back to the first full season in 1949, 10 years before the first Daytona 500. To put things in context, NASCAR held races at Daytona when the organization held its first full season, but they raced right on the beach and a stretch of highway that you may know as the Daytona Beach and Road Course.
Since records were more obscure in 1949 than they were 10 seasons later, we do not have any data on the qualifying results. We can only base the actual speeds on the race itself, which averaged 81 mph (130 kph) at the Daytona Beach and Road Course.
And while we don’t have the average race speed at the very first NASCAR race at the old Charlotte Speedway (not to be confused with the current Charlotte Motor Speedway), we do have the pole speed from that event, which was 68 mph (109 kph). The 81 mph (130 kph) at Daytona was the fastest recorded speed, pole or race average, during an event that season.
NASCAR Speeds Over The Years
|Decade||Top Speeds At Daytona|
|1950s||145 mph / 233 kph|
|1960s||191 mph / 307 kph|
|1970s||196 mph / 316 kph|
|1980s||210 mph / 338 kph|
|1990s||196 mph / 316 kph|
|2000s||191 mph / 307 kph|
|2010s||201 mph / 324 kph|
|2020s||195 mph / 313 kph|
How Are NASCAR Cars Able To Go So Fast?
One reason that NASCAR cars are able to go so fast is the fact they use slick Goodyear tires. The slick tires allow for more contact with the track, which in turn provides more grip, which leads to higher speeds. F1 also uses slick tires for this reason, as does IndyCar, and many other motorsports as well.
The Purpose-Built Engine
While NASCAR Next Gen cars resemble their street car counterparts better than ever before, one thing to remember is that their engines are purpose-built for NASCAR instead of for the road, and you couldn’t put a NASCAR engine in a street car. These engines are larger than those in your average road car, with 358 cubic inches (5.9 liters) of displacement, capable of up to 670 HP.
The Design Of The Cars
NASCAR cars are also just designed to go fast. From the chassis to the spoiler, and from the underfloor to the lack of wing mirrors, everything about a NASCAR car is designed for speed, which means they’re fairly aerodynamic considering their large size.
NASCAR vs F1 vs IndyCar Top Speeds
|Series||Highest Qualifying Speed|
|NASCAR||213 mph / 343 kph|
|F1||235 mph / 378 kph|
|IndyCar||236 mph / 380 kph|
As fast as some NASCAR cars have driven in the past, their speeds do not compare to those of F1 and IndyCar. One reason is that NASCAR cars weigh nearly twice as much as their F1 and IndyCar counterparts, and in auto racing, a lighter car is usually a faster car.
Therefore, despite Rusty Wallace’s amazing feat in 2004 when he drove at Talladega, both F1 cars and IndyCars have driven faster both in the past, and in the present – and not on oval tracks!
The fastest speed during an F1 race weekend was set by Valtteri Bottas in 2016, when he reached just under 235 mph (378 kph) during qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit. He also set the fastest speed during an actual race at the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix, reaching 231 mph (373 kph).
IndyCar’s top speed currently sits at 236 mph (380 kph), which occurred during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1996, which is a good 23 mph (37 kph) above Elliott’s official record-breaker and 8 mph (13 kph) more than what Wallace set when he took a spin around Talladega without the restrictor plate.
The NASCAR Next Gen car can reach speeds of up to around 193 mph (311 kph), which is slower than the Gen 6 car. With NASCAR focusing more on bringing the best possible racing product to the track, they focused less on speed and more on closer racing.