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Do NASCAR Teams Reuse Engines? (Full Explanation)

NASCAR engines go through a lot of strain throughout a 3-5 hour race, operating at peak levels of performance the whole time. Engines can also cost six figures each, making them an expensive component. So, it makes sense to wonder if NASCAR teams reuse engines. 

NASCAR teams do reuse engines, and they have done so since a rule was implemented in 2018. This rule required teams to reuse 13 short block engines for 2 full weekends each. NASCAR also mandated a single-engine rule, prohibiting teams from swapping out engines on the same weekend. 

Below, we will provide further detail of how NASCAR drivers reuse engines during a season. We will also go into depth regarding NASCAR’s reasoning behind the rule, and further answer how many race weekends a typical engine can last. We will also discuss what happens to old engines. 

Why NASCAR Drivers Reuse Engines During A Season

NASCAR engines wear out quickly since they are not built to last much longer than the duration of two full race weekends. Meanwhile, your road car’s engine could last for over a decade (or much longer) if you are properly maintaining it. So, with 36 points-paying races in a NASCAR Cup Series season, you may find it costly for NASCAR teams to keep changing engines. 

At one time, NASCAR teams would use a different engine for each race and rarely, if ever, reuse their engine from a previous weekend. But that all changed in September 2017 when NASCAR announced that, from the 2018 season, teams must use 13 short block engines for two full race weekends each

This means NASCAR teams use the same engine for a second race, and in the meantime, between races, they must remain sealed in the race shop so no one from the team can upgrade or tamper with them in any way.

What Is A Short Block Engine?

Short block engines comprise pistons, connecting rods, a camshaft, a crankshaft, and an engine block. Teams must use a long block sealed engine (the same components listed above, along with cylinder heads and valves) at the Clash at Daytona and the All-Star race.

NASCAR did allow teams to choose when they would use the engine for the second time, so they would not have to use the same engine in back-to-back races. However, as you may have guessed, this rule would invoke some strategy among NASCAR teams as to when to use the engines a second time, in order to provide more power to drivers on certain tracks.

NASCAR’s Reasoning

While it is a controversial rule, it does not come without sound reasoning from NASCAR. Since they implemented the rule in 2018, NASCAR’s goal was to keep the costs of production down. By mandating that teams use a targeted number of engines per season, they wouldn’t be constantly swapping engines in and out of their cars, which would dramatically raise production costs. 

However, there are some disadvantages to this rule as well, since the rule made it more likely that NASCAR teams would have to serve engine-related penalties. With a limited number of engines, and each one having to be used at least twice, teams are under pressure to ensure they maintain reliability. 

This is even more true for part time teams, as they are not allowed to race in more than two consecutive points races unless they are using a sealed engine that has been run in at least one event prior to those races.

How Many Engines Can NASCAR Drivers Use?

NASCAR drivers must use 13 short block engines for a minimum of two races each. This essentially means that 13 of their engines must last 26 races in total, leaving 10 points races in which they can use other engines. This means drivers can use a maximum of 23 engines per season without penalty.

With 36 points-paying races in a regular NASCAR Cup Series season, drivers must use 13 short block engines at least twice. This means that, outside of engine failures (discussed below), drivers must do at least 26 races on 13 engines. That leaves 10 races in the season in which they could theoretically use a different one each time, for a total of 23 engines as the absolute limit.

For each race weekend, NASCAR only allows teams to use one engine. That one engine must be used for practice, qualifying, and the race itself. But there are times when teams must swap engines, such as if their driver experiences engine failure during practice or qualifying, or if they crash and it affects the engine beyond repair. 

If An Engine Swap Is Needed

If a NASCAR team has no choice but to swap an engine, they are not disqualified from the event. Instead, they must serve a penalty. If a team swaps an engine, their driver must start from the rear of the field to serve their penalty. The same concept holds true for NASCAR teams that must swap to a backup car before a race begins. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR teams must reuse 13 of their engines at least once each per season

• This means 26 of the 36 races make use of 13 engines

• Teams may use a total of 23 engines per season without incurring penalties

How Many Races Does A NASCAR Engine Last?

13 of a NASCAR driver’s allocated engines for a given Cup Series season must last at least 2 races each. However, this leaves 10 points races in which the driver could theoretically use a new engine each time. This means NASCAR engines last a minimum of 1 race each, although some must last 2 races.

Before the rule change in 2018, NASCAR engines were intended to last for the duration of a race, plus ideally a few miles. This meant that teams could swap out engines following each event and go with a new one for the subsequent race. However, now 13 of a driver’s engines must last at least two races each.  

Before The Rule Change

Before 2018, NASCAR teams would take that used engine back to the shop, disassemble it, and discard most of the parts. However, other components of the engine would be reused. These components included the crankshaft, engine block, and cylinder head, among others. 

The rule back then was for teams to dissect the engine, consider each component, and if they felt it could still give them a competitive edge, to keep it for later use. Now that the multiple engine rule is in place, teams cannot take apart any short block engine that they plan on using for multiple races, as it is sealed between events.

What Happens To Old NASCAR Engines?

Old NASCAR engines are often recycled into other things or put on display in private collections. NASCAR engines are often sent to scrapyards where they are reduced into their constituent materials, and from there they can be used for almost anything.

NASCAR engines, like any other car component, can only last so long and some will only last a single race if they are totaled in an on-track incident. In such cases you may think their parts are relatively useless pieces of metal. 

In the 2010s, NASCAR began to try to become more environmentally friendly. They have solar panels at tracks these days, recycling bins everywhere, more eco-friendly fuel, and they even recycle their tires. The same thing holds true for their old engines when they are no longer usable in the sport. 

Few Components Go To Waste

Ideally, nothing will go to waste from a NASCAR car, and that includes the engine. This is because NASCAR builds their cars with components that can be completely recyclable. Everything, from the now defective engine to other parts of the car damaged in accidents, can be retooled into something else. 

Other times, the totaled car, and sometimes the engine, will end up in a collection, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Dirty Mo Acres Farm in which he has several old and even wrecked cars scattered about the surrounding woods. Other parts from the cars or even the engines can even find their way back into their original team’s race shop to be used as spares if another car wrecks. 

So, just because one of the engines, or even the entire car, may not be usable following a race, there is no cap on what can and cannot be done with the spare parts

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR engines must last a minimum of one race weekends each, but 13 of a driver’s engines for the season must last at least two race weekends each

• NASCAR engines go through a lot of wear and tear

• When they’re damaged beyond repair, NASCAR engines are often recycled

Final Thoughts

NASCAR teams do reuse engines, as they have had to do this since a rule implemented in 2018 dictates they must use 13 engines for at least 2 full race weekends each. Teams cannot use more than one engine per race weekend without being penalized. NASCAR drivers can use 23 engines per season.