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Could You Put A NASCAR Engine In A Road Car?

NASCAR’s Next Gen car resembles its road car counterparts in showrooms much better than the previous generations, although there are clearly still many differences between the two. So, you may therefore wonder whether you could put a NASCAR engine in a road car.

You cannot put a NASCAR engine in a road car since NASCAR’s 3 manufacturers only build them for the racetrack. Therefore, engines seen in road versions of the Camaro, Mustang, and Camry differ from those seen in NASCAR. NASCAR engines are not street legal, but on rare occasions, you can buy them. 

Below, we will elaborate on why you cannot put a NASCAR engine in a road car. We will also outline a brief overview of NASCAR engines, and how they are different from their road car counterparts. We will then answer whether you can buy NASCAR engines from teams or manufacturers. 

Overview Of NASCAR Engines

NASCAR engines are among the constant staples in the sport. Even with the Next Gen Car’s debut, NASCAR kept the engines essentially the same besides the exclusive use of tapered spacers and differing horsepower packages, where the power output ranges between 510 HP on superspeedways and Atlanta to 670 HP on all other tracks. 

Another thing to know about NASCAR engines is that although they have three different manufacturers building them (Chevrolet, Toyota, and Ford), they also have strict specifications each must follow. Therefore, while you will see some deviation between these engines, they are also very similar

The first specification that each manufacturer must follow is that each engine must have a capacity no greater than 358 cubic inches (5.9 liters). Further, despite all the 21st century upgrades made to these engines, you will also notice that they use pushrods instead of overhead cams. These fuel-injected engines are also V8s and are naturally aspirated. 

Subtle Differences In The Next Gen

There were, however, minute changes made regarding some components. For example, the two exhausts are in a different location just under the doors on both ends of the car. In the past, you found the dual exhaust on the right side only. If you attended a race in the past and subsequently attended one in the Next Gen era, the cars will have a different sound. 

Furthermore, the transmission is also different. NASCAR has traditionally used manual transmission and the Next Gen Car is no different in this respect. However, the cars now have a five-speed sequential transmission instead of the four-speed transmission seen in the past. 

How NASCAR Engines Compare To Road Car Engines 

ModelNASCAR displacementRoad Car DisplacementNASCAR PowerRoad Car Power
Ford Mustang Shelby GT358 cu in / 5.9 L317 cu in / 5.2 L510-670 HP760 HP
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1358 cu in / 5.9 L378 cu in / 6.2 L510-670 HP650 HP
Toyota Camry ZL1358 cu in / 5.9 L214 cu in / 3.5 L510-670 HP300 HP

Chances are that your road car engine is drastically different from a NASCAR engine. But the Next Gen era strode to make NASCAR cars and their road car counterparts as similar as the specs allowed. 

When you watch a NASCAR race, you will notice that NASCAR manufacturers use the Ford Mustang Shelby GT, the Chevy Camaro ZL1, and the Toyota Camry TRD. You can buy these road car equivalents at a dealership, but of course, they do not fully resemble their NASCAR equivalents. Nor do the engines. 

The Ford Mustang

Starting with the production Ford Mustang Shelby GT, its engine has 317 cubic inches (5.2 liters) of displacement, making it a shade smaller than its NASCAR counterpart. It is also a V8, and it works with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The engine is different, and its targeted horsepower sits at 760, so it is between 90 and 250 horses stronger than the Mustang you see gracing the track. 

Chevy Camaro ZL1 

The Camaro ZL1 has a larger engine than the one you see on the NASCAR track at 378 cubic inches (6.2 liters). The V8 also contains a paddle shifter among its six-speed transmission, which further differs from its NASCAR counterpart. However, it sits at just 650 horsepower, which gives it less power than the on-track version at intermediate ovals, short tracks, and road courses. 

Toyota Camry TRD

Finally, we have the Toyota Camry TRD, and it differs dramatically from the Camry you see on the racetrack. This one is just a V6 with 214 cubic inches (3.5 liters) of output, clocking in at just 300 horsepower, making it substantially weaker than its NASCAR counterpart. 

Could You Buy A NASCAR Engine?

You could buy a NASCAR engine in some circumstances. However, it would be difficult to buy one that is fully assembled and ready for the track. In January 2020, Hendrick Motorsports sold both the engine and the racecars themselves to those in the public willing to pay the expensive prices for them.

It is also important to remember that NASCAR manufacturers build these engines specifically for NASCAR, so you cannot just order one from the manufacturer

What Happens To Used Engines?

It is also important to know that what Hendrick Motorsports was doing back in 2020 is more of an outlier. Many times, used NASCAR engines, when they are no longer suitable for racing purposes, are often retooled and used for other purposes. So, while they don’t end up wasting away in a landfill, NASCAR teams don’t just sell them off to the general public

The good news, however, is that it is possible to find some NASCAR-caliber components to build an engine. And while Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota will not reveal all of their secrets that go into their engine building, if you can land components that act as viable substitutes for those you can’t find, then you might just have a solid knock-off NASCAR-caliber engine. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR engines differ quite drastically to those used in road cars

• The engines from the three manufacturers don’t resemble their road counterparts terribly well

• It’s unlikely that you’d be able to get your hands on a NASCAR engine

Are NASCAR Engines Street Legal?

NASCAR engines are not street legal. The engines used in NASCAR races are purpose-built for the track, and they are designed for maximum performance. The engines would not meet Department of Transportation (DOT) safety requirements, and they would be dangerous to use in a road car.

NASCAR cars do not have mufflers, they do not have proper headlights or tail lights, they lack doors, speedometers, fuel gauges, and air conditioning. In short, the cars themselves would be a safety hazard on the road

NASCAR cars also don’t have airbags, they don’t have the same type of windows that you would see on a street car, and they also cannot use the same type of fuel. You could drastically modify a NASCAR car to make it street legal, but it would take dedication and a horde of cash to give it such a makeover. 

Further, since NASCAR engines are specifically designed for NASCAR cars, they, by extension, are also not street legal. It’s one reason you see engines of Camaros, Fords, and Toyotas differing from NASCAR engines to varying degrees as they are made specifically for the road and not the track. 

Rules And Regulations

More evidence that shows us that NASAR cars are built specifically for the track comes in the fact that some components are not approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Components that belong on street cars today have been DOT-approved, so that alone prevents NASCAR engines from being street legal. 

You should also remember that NASCAR engines reach much higher RPMs, which means they can fail faster than those seen in your street car (and they’re much louder too). Knowing this, it is unlikely the DOT would ever approve of their use on the street

Could You Put A NASCAR Engine In A Road Car?

You could not put a NASCAR engine into most road cars because road cars would not be able to handle a NASCAR engine. NASCAR engines are only built to race, so they require differing components to what you have in your road car, even in their Camaro, Mustang, and Camry counterparts in the showroom. 

NASCAR engines are not street legal, so even if you found a way to place the engine into your road car, you would not legally be able to drive it on the street. But since NASCAR manufacturers build the engines for NASCAR cars only, the odds of figuring out how to place a NASCAR engine into your road car would be between slim and none!

Not Always The Case

Interestingly, in the sport’s earliest days, it was possible to put a NASCAR engine into a street car and even drive it around town since they were legitimately stock cars during the Generation 1 era. In fact, drivers bought their cars directly from dealerships, modified them, and brought them to the track. If the track was nearby, some drivers even drove the car to the track

But you must remember that this occurred in the days when there were few specifications, far fewer than what you see during the Next Gen era. NASCAR’s few requirements during the Generation One era included nothing more than just seat belts, the doors to be bolted or welded shut, and weighted axles to keep the cars from rolling. 

Not A Great Idea Regardless

So, while it is possible to build something that resembles a NASCAR engine, you could only put it into a car designed for the racetrack. However, even if it were possible to put a NASCAR engine into a road car today, it would not be the greatest idea. 

This is because NASCAR engines don’t last long. Their life spans are so short, that NASCAR requires teams to use 13 of their engines for (just) two races, and they normally won’t get anything more out of them after that second race. That said, a NASCAR engine wouldn’t last hundreds of thousands of miles in a way road car engines last. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR cars and NASCAR engines are not street legal

• Even if you could put one in your road car, you would not be able to drive it on the road

• However, it’s unlikely you could get a NASCAR engine to work safely and reliably in a road car anyway

Final Thoughts

You cannot put a NASCAR engine in a road car because Chevrolet, Toyota, and Ford specifically build these engines for NASCAR. While in the sport’s earliest days the cars were indeed stock cars, nowadays the components differ greatly from those used in your average road car.