What Makes A Good NASCAR Driver? (5 Skills)

A NASCAR Cup Series driver possesses an advanced skill set that includes endurance, the ability to weave their way through traffic, and skill to display remarkable track vision. However, there are many more skills that make a good NASCAR driver better than the rest.

The 5 skills of a good NASCAR driver are:

  1. Dedication
  2. Risk-taking skills
  3. Team player mentality
  4. Track knowledge
  5. Learning ability

The skills above are those some of the sport’s best drivers possess. In the article below, we’ll explain each of these skills in greater depth, how a NASCAR driver can adopt them, and how developing each skill will help drivers achieve their goal of becoming one of the sport’s elite names.

5 Skills That Good NASCAR Drivers Have

1. Dedication

Dedication is an excellent skill that not only good NASCAR drivers must possess, but anyone who wishes to succeed in their endeavors should have. The best NASCAR drivers realize that for every second they spend lounging around, their peers could be putting their time to better use.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “who wants it more,” then you will realize that the driver who wants to win more will almost always outrace their competition if they make the proper preparations. Even if they have inferior equipment and lower funds, devotion to practice and honing their craft will win out almost every time.

Between 1963 and 1991, a small-time, independent driver named J.D. McDuffie proved this point. While he never won a race, he still finished between 9th and 19th in what was then the NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup Standings for 14 straight seasons between 1969 and 1982.

Is Dedication A Skill?

The human mind faces more temptations today than at any other point in history. NASCAR drivers are not exempt from temptations, and so they must possess the mental discipline to devote themselves to their craft. To build the skill of dedication, drivers must learn how to maximize their time. This means forgetting temptations and dedicating the time and effort it takes to become a great driver.

Dedication extends far beyond performing well in the weekend’s race. Drivers must devote time to practicing for the event. They must also pay close attention to their physical and mental fitness, nutrition, and even sleeping patterns to truly become the best driver they can be.

Dedicating 100-plus hours of a 168-hour week to a craft is not easy. It takes time to build the skill of dedication. It only occurs when drivers make small, positive changes to their daily routines that translate into habits dedicated to them becoming a better driver.

It’s easy to deviate from the narrow path when pursuing a dream. But with the right planning and mindset, one will find themselves devoting more time to their chosen career path. NASCAR drivers face the same issues, and they will succeed as they realize dedication is a skill they must hone.

2. Risk-Taking Skills

If a NASCAR driver is lucky enough to make it to the Cup Series, they join a rare and historic club of great drivers. NASCAR Cup drivers didn’t get to where they are without taking risks. Sure, they could have settled into the ARCA Menards, Camping World Truck, or Xfinity Series. But they would never have discovered how good they could be if they didn’t take a few risks.

Banging up too many trucks and cars in the lower series is a one-way ticket off a racing team. However, when putting everything on the line pays off, the rewards are immense. And the same holds true in the Cup Series. The risks may not pay off for all drivers. But if they don’t, at least they gave a concerted effort.

Taking Calculated Risks

Not all risks are created equal. And like dedication, risk-taking is a skill drivers must hone as they continue their fight their way to the top. Calculated risks won’t always equal a great reward, but they will give drivers the greatest probability of success.

Although NASCAR drivers must possess fearlessness on the track, they need to have the ability to quickly estimate the probability of a risk paying off. Even an all-or-nothing risk may carry a higher probability of success and is, therefore, calculated.

The best way for drivers to calculate whether a risk is worth taking is for them to watch plenty of footage of other drivers in risk-taking situations. They need to take accurate notes as to whether the risk paid off for other drivers, or if it failed often.

Another way for drivers to build this skill is to pay close attention to the actions of other drivers during a NASCAR event. Was that slingshot maneuver worth it? Did nudging another car into the SAFER barrier help previous drivers win or will I lose track position? Risk-taking is a mental skill that involves precision. It’s up to the driver to know when it’s time to take an anticipated risk.

3. Team Player Mentality

NASCAR is a team sport, just like the NFL, MLB, and NHL. The best drivers in NASCAR realize that they wouldn’t even crack the top ten without a solid pit crew, spotter, and builders who know a thing or two about tailoring the car to fit a particular track.

NASCAR teams hire top-notch athletes to make up their drivers’ pit crew. They realize that NASCAR is a game where a tenth of a second can stand between a win and a second-place finish. And therefore, the driver must realize they are just one variable in a larger equation.

Good NASCAR drivers must also be receptive to feedback from their team. They need to put their ego aside when necessary and listen to what their spotters, crew chief, and car owner are telling them. Once again, this is where a little humbleness is good for everyone.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are two of the best drivers in NASCAR history. When they won their respective championships or a major NASCAR event, they thanked their pit crew, builders, and car owners, realizing they would not have accomplished so much on their own. You see this with other drivers too of course, and it’s definitely a trait of the most successful ones.

Building Team Mentality Produces Good Drivers

In every professional sport, two types of athletes exist: Me-first players and team players. If you haven’t noticed, the me-first players fall to the wayside far more than team players. Drivers can have a cocky side but continue to possess a team-player personality.

Dale Earnhardt was a prime example, as were Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. They knew their respective organizations had the big-time sponsorship, equipment, and proficient builders and crew members to form championship-caliber teams every season they raced.

Some drivers may enter NASCAR with the team-first mentality, and those who don’t do so need to find a way to build it, because otherwise, they won’t last long. The best way for them to become team players is to watch how much time and dedication each team member puts into their craft.

They should watch their pit crew practice, and converse with their car’s specialists, builders, and engineers. Drivers need to engage in this practice each week until they understand that they are only as good as the team surrounding them and a championship isn’t an individual accomplishment.

4. Track Knowledge

The best NASCAR drivers realize that no two tracks are the same. Yes, they can categorize them into superspeedways, road courses, speedways, and short tracks, but differences exist between Daytona and Talladega just as differences exist between Bristol and Martinsville.

NASCAR drivers need to know how well each opposing driver fares on each respective track, and they also need to be aware of the track conditions on race day. The more knowledge a driver accrues for each respective race, the greater their odds of finishing at the front.

The best athletes, regardless of the sport, are known “film junkies.” NASCAR’s greatest drivers are also known for remaining students of the game, relentlessly studying their competition and every track at which they race. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

How Drivers Build Track Knowledge

The NASCAR offseason is a short one, spanning between mid-November and mid-February. To best build track knowledge skills, NASCAR drivers should study two tracks per week, dedicating three days to one track, three days to another, and one day off in between.

During the NASCAR season, it’s wise for drivers to continue studying each track. This means studying past performances, how cars react to different weather conditions, the turning degrees, banking, racing surface, and straightaways.

And drivers must continue to hone their knowledge of each track during every offseason. Over time, they will discover things they may not have at previous visits. And the more they know about each track on the NASCAR circuit, the better their advantage over opponents.

5. Learning Ability

As humans, we all make mistakes. And while some of us may frown on and obsess over our mistakes, they also make for remarkable learning opportunities. People who possess a strong aptitude in their chosen field further realize mistakes are the cost of learning.

For NASCAR drivers, this is no different. Suppose a driver crashes out of a race at Bristol because they got clipped while veering toward the high side of the track. If they learned from their mistake, they won’t veer high in such a tight pack next time. The best drivers will learn what worked for them at certain tracks and what didn’t.

If you follow some of the best NASCAR drivers’ careers, you will find common denominators. Rarely will you see young drivers sit at or near the top of the standings consistently. They’re too raw and they possess weaknesses at certain tracks. However, they learn from their experiences, and that learning ability turns them into better drivers.

The best drivers realize how important it is to continually learn throughout their careers. They realize that with every race at a specific track, they will learn something new. Even if it’s their twentieth time racing at that track, if they pay attention, there’s a good chance they will learn something they never have before, either about the track itself, or how others tend to race there.

How NASCAR Drivers Learn From Mistakes

Like the best athletes in any respective sport, the best NASCAR drivers must possess a short memory when unfortunate events occur. They should revisit their mistakes once, often on video, figure out what caused the mistake, then move on.

As they learn from mistakes at each track, drivers will notice better performances overall regardless of which tracks they performed well at in the past. If they struggled on road courses and took the necessary steps to learn how to master them, they will eventually perform like road course ringers.

What Makes NASCAR Drivers Different From Other Motorsports?

The Tracks They Race On

Many other motorsports use drastically different track layouts to those used by NASCAR. While NASCAR drivers need to possess knowledge of different track layouts, they are almost exclusively oval tracks, or a variation thereof, and so many of the basic principles are the same from race to race.

This doesn’t mean drivers should skimp on learning each individual oval track. Tracks have different banking, turning degrees, and even surfaces that make them one-of-a-kind. However, NASCAR drivers will find more similarities in their tracks than those in Formula 1 and IndyCar.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have drag racers, who only need to maximize speed racing down a drag strip. Sprint car racing and similar series tend to race on short ovals of varying surfaces. While there are some similarities between NASCAR and other motorsports, there are vast differences as well.

The Cars They Drive

NASCAR drivers must also handle cars that are much heavier than drivers that compete in other motorsports, with the cars weighing around 3,200 lbs. Sprint cars, for example, weigh about 1,400 pounds, while funny cars weigh roughly 2,555 pounds. NASCAR cars double their IndyCar and Formula 1 counterparts in weight.

Most NASCAR drivers grow up racing substantially lighter vehicles and will face a learning curve when transitioning to a fully-fledged stock car. NASCAR cars also have different builds. They have closed cockpits, unlike most of their counterparts in Formula 1, IndyCar, and sprint car racing. This can necessitate further adjustments as drivers transition to NASCAR.

The Endurance Required

The NASCAR season is substantially longer than those of F1 and IndyCar, and drivers race in 40 events as of 2022. Meanwhile, Formula 1 hosts 23 events and IndyCar runs 17 races. The NASCAR season lasts nine months, which does not count testing and offseason tasks during the other three months. NASCAR drivers need to find ways to improve and maintain their endurance through such a grueling season.

Further, as of 2022, all NASCAR Cup Series events take place within the Continental United States, unlike Formula 1, whose events occur in Saudi Arabia, Spain, Monaco, Belgium, the UK, Canada, and Japan, among many other countries.

NASCAR drivers, especially as they age, must have the energy to put forth 52 weeks’ worth of work year in and year out. They must also travel to different cities on a weekly basis for nine months. For the rest of the year, they will fly to other tracks to run testing sessions, or they may need to be somewhere to speak, or even attend fan events.

But NASCAR drivers also must have the endurance to perform at their peak for very long individual races too. With some NASCAR races taking longer than 3 hours, the drivers must have the stamina and mental focus to remain at the top of their game from the start to the finish.

Final Thoughts

Every driver who earns a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series possesses a basic skill set that makes them good enough to race with the biggest names in the sport. However, the five skills listed in the article above set the best drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series apart from the others.