NASCAR Flags – Ultimate Guide For Beginners

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NASCAR flags symbolize many different aspects of a race. You will see some flags used more than others, but the rarer NASCAR flags are no less important than the common ones. So when you are new to the sport, you must take time to gain a solid understanding of NASCAR flag meanings.

The most common NASCAR flags are the green, yellow, red, black, white, checkered, and green checkered flag. There are also different flag combinations, with the green-white-checkered flag being the most common. Rarer flags include the blue, blue with yellow stripe, and red and yellow-striped flag.

Below, we will provide a detailed outline of each NASCAR flag. We will cover the more common flags and what you need to know about them, plus the rarer flags and when they’re waved. But first, it’s useful to understand why flags are actually used in NASCAR at all.

Why Are Flags Used In NASCAR?

NASCAR uses flags to inform the drivers of any important messages they need to be aware of. These flags act as cues for the drivers, mostly in the name of safety. They let drivers know when it is safe to race, when to move over, when to slow down, and even when to stop.

If you watched a NASCAR race, you may be familiar with a few flags. Most of the flags both NASCAR and non-NASCAR fans are familiar with will include the green, yellow, red, white, and checkered flag. These flags are the most commonly used in the sport, along with many other motorsports, and you’ll even find these flags in karting.

However, fans may not know that there are far more flags than those listed above. NASCAR also has a green-white-checkered flag, a blue flag, and even striped flags. Overall, there are 14 different flags or flag combinations in NASCAR.

What Does Green Flag Mean In NASCAR?

The green flag is the most common in NASCAR. This flag tells drivers that the track conditions are okay to drive at full speed and battle for position. You may have heard the term “green flag lap,” or “racing under green.” This further means that there are no wrecks or other hazardous conditions.

You will see the green flag first wave following the parade laps that precede a NASCAR event, when drivers are busy warming up their tires and brakes. The green flag will also wave when track conditions return to normal following a caution.

From a fan’s perspective, the more green flag laps an event runs, the more entertaining it is. The 2008 Brickyard 400 had the misfortune of averaging just nine green flag laps in between cautions. As a result, the event’s popularity declined to the point that the oval was removed from the NASCAR calendar in 2021.

What Are Yellow Flags For In NASCAR?

Yellow flags in NASCAR, also called caution flags, are used when the conditions on the track are not safe enough for normal racing, for whatever reason. These flags are usually waved when there has been a crash, or when there is debris on the track that could pose a danger to drivers.

The yellow flag waves when less-than-ideal conditions occur on the track. However, the conditions are not so drastic that they need to stop the race. Either way, if you are watching the race when the yellow flag waves, it is the ideal time to find a snack, since NASCAR often remains under yellow for a good five to ten minutes.

A wreck or debris on the track are the most common culprits that bring out the yellow flag. Such instances can have serious consequences for drivers if they continue to race at full speed. For example, if they run over debris, the driver risks damage to their car or even cutting a tire.

There are also competition cautions. These often occur in the intermission period between each stage. Sometimes, NASCAR may deem a track as unsafe to race for a random number of green flag laps, often because the tires do not bond well with the track surface.

In such cases, NASCAR will determine how many green flag laps the cars can safely run before they need a change of tires. This could be as few as 10 predetermined laps or for as many as 50 or more laps.

What Does A Red Flag Mean In NASCAR?

The red flag in NASCAR tells drivers to stop racing, and therefore either stop where they are on track or come into the pits. This often means the conditions on the track have become so undesirable that it is not feasible for the cars to be moving on the track.

Often, large wrecks that litter the track with hordes of debris will draw a red flag. Other times, cars may damage a catch fence or in rare cases, a barrier. In such cases, NASCAR will deem the race unsafe to continue until they can repair such barriers.

Inclement weather like rain will also bring out the red flag. Sometimes, only the yellow flag will wave unless the rain becomes too heavy or proceeds for too long for the drivers to keep the cars on the track.

Examples Of A Red Flag

One prominent example of the red flag waving in NASCAR occurred in 1987 when Bobby Allison’s car went airborne and crashed into the catch fence. Since NASCAR officials deemed the race unsafe to continue until they could repair the fence, it drew a two-hour red flag.

In the 2001 Daytona 500, 18 cars crashed on lap 173. The extent of debris on the track was so great that NASCAR officials waved the red flag, stopping the race with just 27 laps remaining. 

What Is The Black Flag For In NASCAR?

The black flag is the one flag NASCAR drivers do not want to see since it is equivalent to a penalty in sports like football or hockey. The black flag signals specific drivers to report to the pit area to serve their penalty. They must go to the pits within 5 laps of being shown the black flag.

When the driver enters the pits to serve their penalty, they can expect to meet with a NASCAR official who will inform them of their infraction. It is also at this point the driver and their team will discover the extent of their penalty, which will often place the driver at least one lap down.

Other times, NASCAR officials show the driver a black flag when the driver cannot maintain a minimum speed to safely continue racing. In this case, the driver must report to the pits to see if the team can service the car to where it can return to the track at a consistent speed. This is because slow cars on the track can be dangerous to the faster cars around them.

The Black Flag With A Cross

When NASCAR officials show the driver a black flag, they must report to the pits within five laps. If the driver continues to ignore NASCAR’s orders to report to pit road during their five-lap window, officials show them the black flag with crossed lines, which will disqualify a driver.

In rare cases, a NASCAR driver will commit an offense so severe that NASCAR will only show them the black flag with crossed lines. This tells the driver to park their car immediately.

A disqualification occurred during a 2010 race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when Carl Edwards wrecked Brad Keselowski. The ensuing crash involving Keselowski’s car was severe enough that NASCAR parked Edwards for the rest of the race with four laps remaining.

What Does The White Flag Mean In NASCAR?

The white flag in NASCAR signifies there is one lap to go in either a stage or in the race. The field freezes if a caution occurs while the flag man waves the white flag, and the race is considered to be over.

What Is The Checkered Flag In NASCAR?

The checkered flag in NASCAR waves when the race reaches its conclusion, whether it is 300 miles, 500 miles, or even 600 miles. Every driver must cross the finish line with the checkered flag waving to receive an official score. In qualifying, it signifies the end of the driver’s qualifying run.

What Is The Green And White Checkered Flag In NASCAR?

The green and white checkered flag signifies a NASCAR race stage has ended. Note that this is not the same as a green-white-checkered finish, although some may refer to this flag as a green-white-checkered flag, which may cause confusion if you are new to NASCAR.

The Green-White-Checkered Finish

You will not see the green and white checkered flag wave to conclude the race. Instead, the green-white-checkered finish occurs in NASCAR’s version of overtime when the green flag waves with two laps to go, the white flag waves during the final lap, then the checkered flag waves to end the race.

For a race to end in a green-white-checkered finish, a caution must occur in the final two laps of the event. If a second caution occurs before the white flag, NASCAR will attempt a second green-white-checkered finish, and then a third and final attempt if a caution waves again following the restart.

What Is The Blue And Yellow Flag In NASCAR?

In NASCAR, the blue and yellow flag, also known as the blue flag with the diagonal stripe, waves to show cars that faster cars on the lead lap are approaching. Since cars at the tail-end of the lead lap, or those 1 or more laps down may not be as fast, this flag tells them to move out of the way.

You may also hear some people in NASCAR spheres call the blue and yellow flag a “courtesy flag.”

What Is The Blue Flag For In NASCAR?

The solid blue flag is a warning flag used on NASCAR road courses, where trouble on the racetrack may not warrant a yellow flag. However, NASCAR officials still believe drivers should know if there is a driver spun out ahead of them and is kicking up dust.

For the blue flag to wave, the offending car cannot have suffered any heavy damage. They also cannot have had significant debris come off the car that could damage cars behind them. If there is substantial damage to the car or too much debris on the track, NASCAR will instead wave the yellow flag.

What Does The Red And Yellow Striped Flag Mean In NASCAR?

The red and yellow striped flag is a form of caution flag in NASCAR. Like the blue flag, you will only see the red and yellow striped flag on road courses. This flag contains vertical striping, and it tells drivers that there may be minor debris on the track, but not enough to warrant a caution.

Often, this flag waves when NASCAR feels the debris may provoke a minor change in track conditions that could affect a driver’s car like small car parts or oil coolant. Instead of the flag waving at the start-finish line, it often shows up at designated flag stations on the track.

What Is The Red Flag With A Yellow Stripe For In NASCAR?

The red flag with a yellow stripe tells NASCAR drivers that the pits are closed. When NASCAR officials withdraw the flag, drivers are then allowed to pit. The latter happens when the yellow flag waves and all cars have lined up behind the pace car. You will find this flag near the pit road entrance.

What Are The Red And Black Flags For In NASCAR?

The red and black flags in NASCAR are waved together when a full practice or qualifying session ends. You will not see these flags waved together during a race. And since most fans attending the event are only around for the race itself, they may not be aware of this particular combination.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR flags are similar to signals from officials at an NFL game. They can stand for penalties or courtesies, but the flags mostly indicate how safe conditions are. You won’t see all the flags waved on most occasions, but even the rare ones are good to know in case NASCAR needs to display them.