NASCAR’s race-specific fuel has seen many changes throughout the sport’s history, but the most significant changes occurred in 2007 and 2011. The type of fuel NASCAR cars use is not like the kind you would put into your road vehicle.
The fuel NASCAR cars use as is Sunoco Green E15 unleaded racing fuel. This fuel contains 15% ethanol and 85% regular oil-derived fuel, and it is the cleanest fuel NASCAR has used to date. Before the switch, NASCAR used leaded fuel until 2007, before they added ethanol in 2011.
Below, we will dive deep into the type of fuel NASCAR cars used in the past. We will also look into how much fuel costs NASCAR teams per season, the size of a NASCAR fuel tank, and finally, we will reveal whether NASCAR plans to go hybrid or fully electric in the near future.
Do NASCAR Cars Run On Ethanol?
NASCAR uses a fuel that contains 15% ethanol. The reason behind this is part of NASCAR’s green initiatives. While auto racing in general is not that environmentally friendly, NASCAR is one motorsport that is at least trying to move towards a more sustainable future.
Before, NASCAR used leaded fuel and was not really an environmentally friendly endeavor until 2007, when they finally switched to unleaded fuel. But ethanol helped change NASCAR’s approach following its introduction in 2011.
Ethanol: The Process And Promotion
Ethanol is harvested from corn crops and is then converted into a biofuel. This biofuel is taken to a facility in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, where it is merged with racing fuel. Once merged, the fuel is then shipped to NASCAR, who uses it for its 100-plus events in the calendar year across its top three series.
NASCAR isn’t just using ethanol, as it is also promoting it. Similar to the returning ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ mantra regarding their Camaros, Mustangs, and Camrys, they are actively promoting the sale and use of ethanol, which they describe as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
Since NASCAR switched to ethanol-based fuel, they claim to have cut carbon emissions by 20 percent. And in 2016, they reached the 10 million-mile mark with this fuel. Even drivers jumped aboard the ethanol train, stating it dramatically improved their cars’ performance on the track.
The ethanol company NASCAR uses, American Ethanol, has received praise and promotion from the National Corn Growers Association, POET, New Holland, Growth Energy, and Novozymes.
What Kind Of Fuel Is Used In NASCAR?
NASCAR uses a special kind of fuel called Sunoco Green E15, which is unleaded racing fuel containing 15 percent ethanol. This is fuel specifically designed for NASCAR. But, while NASCAR has done its part to go green, the name Green E15 actually relates to the fuel’s color.
You probably know that NASCAR cars are not the same as the production car sitting in your driveway. Differences include the type of tires used, plus the fact there are no doors to open and enter the car. NASCAR’s specialized Sunoco Green E15 fuel cannot be purchased at your local gas station.
Sunoco And NASCAR
Sunoco has served as the official fuel for NASCAR since 2004 and it has since exclusively supplied fuel for the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series.
Sunoco’s official site states that it has fueled over 15.5 million miles (25 million km) worth of NASCAR racing and 1,300 NASCAR victories. It has also served as the official fuel for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) for its Funny Car, Top Fuel, Pro Stock, and Pro Motorcycle Series.
NASCAR’s ARCA Menards Series also uses Sunoco as its official fuel provider, along with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, SVRA, and TramsAm. Beyond NASCAR, Sunoco also fuels hundreds of grassroots racing organizations.
How Much Does NASCAR Fuel Cost?
NASCAR fuel costs about $3,600 per race when you consider all of the cars involved in the race, as each car can use in excess of 100 gallons (about 380 liters) of gas per event. However, since Sunoco provides the fuel, NASCAR doesn’t pay for the fuel they use.
Sunoco, in turn, hope consumers choose to fuel their car at Sunoco gas stations. So for them, it’s worth providing fuel for up to 3 NASCAR events (Cup Series, Xfinity Series, Truck Series) per weekend.
Just because NASCAR teams do not pay for gas to fuel their cars, it does not mean they do not pay for gas for their haulers. Since NASCAR events take place across the country, they need 18-wheeler semi-trucks to haul a primary car, a backup car, and a complete toolkit to the weekend’s race.
Suppose NASCAR just got done racing in Illinois and the next event is held in Sonoma. Teams are hauling their cars across 3 time zones. And while they get some scenic views as they travel across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, they will also feel some pain at the pump.
This is because Sunoco does not supply fuel for NASCAR haulers. Instead, that expense is coming straight out of the pockets of NASCAR team owners.
Horrible Gas Mileage
So how much gas mileage do those 18-wheelers get? About 6.5 miles per gallon. Each truck’s tank can hold 300 gallons (1135 liters), so it often costs 4 figures to fill up. If the national average for gas prices per gallon sits at $4.90, they will cost roughly $1,470 to fill up.
At 6.5 miles per gallon, these haulers can travel about 1,950 miles before they need to fill up again. So, if the race is in California and they are traveling from North Carolina, they must fill up once on their expedition west. Then, they would need to fill up again heading home.
Even if gas prices rested at around $2.75, it would still cost NASCAR teams about $825 to fill up. Multiply that number by 3, and teams are spending nearly $2,500 per race with relatively low gas prices.
How Big Is A NASCAR Fuel Tank?
A NASCAR fuel tank is big enough to hold 18.5 gallons (70-liters) of Sunoco Green E15 racing fuel. Compared to compact passenger cars, NASCAR fuel tanks hold nearly one-third more fuel. NASCAR cars typically use 100 gallons (or 380 liters) of fuel each per event.
You may find it odd that NASCAR cars need to add fuel multiple times per race at seemingly every pit stop. This is because NASCAR’s gas cans that fuel men use hold only 12 gallons/45 liters So with 18.5 gallons/70 liters held in the tank to begin the race, this means the fuel man will refuel their driver’s car at least 4 or more times in each event.
Why So Many Refills?
NASCAR cars get substantially fewer miles per gallon than the standard production car, with NASCAR Green estimating Xfinity and Cup cars average about 4.15 miles per gallon. So with 18.5-gallon gas cans, those cars often run between 75 and 80 miles (121-129 km) until they need a refill.
Using these averages, NASCAR cars need at least 3 refills at shorter events and up to 7 at longer events. Of course, this number varies depending on the track they are racing at and how much overall traffic the cars face.
Tough To Calculate
You may not know this, but NASCAR drivers do not pit because they see a fuel gauge telling them their cars are running on fumes. In fact, there are no fuel gauges at all. This is because the drivers don’t need them.
Instead, NASCAR teams use fuel calculations to determine when drivers need to come in for more fuel. However, since NASCAR drivers and their teams practice so often and gain experience at the tracks on the circuit that they generally know when the car needs a change of tires and a refill.
For example, NASCAR hits many tracks twice per season, so it doesn’t take long before it becomes second nature knowing when to and when not to pit for a refill.
NASCAR Fuel In The Past
NASCAR used leaded fuel in the past which made it not very environmentally friendly. While leaded fuel had not been around in commercial vehicles for quite some time, NASCAR still needed to use it because of the high compression ratios in their engines. NASCAR fuel contained lead until 2007.
However, NASCAR had been planning on phasing out leaded fuel since 1998. That year, they ran tests with unleaded fuel in the Xfinity Series, then known as the NASCAR Busch Series. The tests were not successful, and it was one reason NASCAR continued to use leaded fuel.
With engine failures serving as the main culprit for the test, NASCAR realized it had work to do before they tried another test. Their next test came during a four-week span in July 2006. This time there were no fuel-related engine failures, and NASCAR announced their plans to go unleaded.
The 2007 Daytona 500 was the final race in which NASCAR used lead additives in its fuel cell. And in 2011, they took the next step with ethanol-based fuel.
Will NASCAR Ever Go Fully Electric?
NASCAR is considering going the electric or hybrid vehicle route. They have stated many times that they are planning to unveil a hybrid model in 2024. If these plans stick, it will be NASCAR’s first truly eco-friendly model, and it may just entice other manufacturers to join its ranks.
Both Toyota and Ford have already committed to the hybrid model as brands and Chevy took the next step and is targeting 2035 as the year to go exclusively electric.
NASCAR has yet to unveil plans for a fully-electric series, but since the Next Gen cars are slated to go hybrid, you cannot rule out the possibility. As for the proposed hybrid model, NASCAR would most likely unveil them on road courses and short ovals before expanding to intermediate speedways.
Remembering The Fans
While NASCAR undoubtedly wants to take the next step in their evolution, they also want to keep the product entertaining. And since NASCAR has had trouble hanging onto fans and sponsors in recent seasons, they have little room for error.
This is why you shouldn’t expect NASCAR to go full-on hybrid or electric overnight. They will run test races first, evaluate the data, then expand. NASCAR will also need to assess several factors, and while the racing product is important, so is overall car performance.
They must ensure the cars aren’t suffering from any detrimental issues regarding the hybrid powertrains. And the same types of testing must be completed before NASCAR would ever plan to go fully electric.
Is There Any Timetable?
Right now, there is no real timetable as to whether NASCAR will go fully electric. We must remember that any major change to NASCAR is a process that often begins a half-decade in advance. The Next Gen cars are suited for a hybrid powertrain, but that didn’t occur overnight.
You can expect NASCAR to stick to the hybrid model for at least a few seasons following its proposed introduction in 2024. Soon after, they will race full-time as hybrids, as long as the excitement is there. If it is not, NASCAR will continue to experiment until they find something that works.
But it will be at least 5 seasons following a switch to a successful hybrid model before they would go full electric (if they ever did). So, if they roll out the hybrids in 2024 and are successful running them, expect NASCAR to start experimenting with fully-electric models in 2030 at the earliest.
NASCAR would have their drivers test drive the electric vehicles first, then choose select events to test them at, and go over the data. Much in the same way they would test and evaluate the hybrid model. Once they feel a fully-electric car would be successful, NASCAR could then introduce it, but this is all speculation.
NASCAR cars currently use Sunoco Green E15 racing fuel, which is 15% ethanol. Sunoco has supplied NASCAR fuel since 2004, and it does not cost NASCAR teams money to use the fuel. In the past, NASCAR used leaded fuel, but environmental concerns forced them to switch to ethanol-based fuel.