Do NASCAR Teams Have Backup Cars? (Full Explanation)

NASCAR teams that are well funded and have an endless array of car components will find themselves in a different situation from those with lesser funding when it comes to backup cars. So, we need to look at specific teams to discover whether NASCAR teams have backup cars.

NASCAR teams do have backup cars. However, they’ll have to start at the back if they switch to one for a race. They typically have 1 backup car. They can’t switch to their backup mid-race however, as NASCAR needs to do inspections on the vehicles to ensure that they’re up to their safety standards.

Below, we will outline the purpose of backup cars and whether NASCAR teams are keen to use them during an event. We will also reveal how many backup cars each team has available for a race and whether they can switch to a spare car after the green flag has dropped at an event. 

Do NASCAR Teams Bring Spare Cars To The Race?

NASCAR teams do bring spare cars to their races. They do this via their haulers, which are two-story high vehicles that contain the primary car, the backup car, and a make-shift office space for the racers to use if they need to. The backup car is used if the primary car becomes too damaged.

When you look at a NASCAR hauler, you may immediately liken them to that of a traditional semi-truck. And if you have worked in the warehouse industry, you may have been in the back of a semi-truck to haul out or load up goods. So your initial thought may be that the same thing goes for a hauler and that there is only room for one car. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. NASCAR haulers are literally like office buildings on wheels. When you walk inside a hauler, you will find big-screen televisions, cooking appliances like microwaves, a refrigerator, lockers, and even sections that carry every tool and spare car component you can think of. 

These haulers are two stories in size, and they keep the primary car on the second story. However, before NASCAR teams load up the primary car, they first place a backup car in there just in case the team or the driver were to need to revert to it

Purpose Of The Backup Car

If a driver were to total their car in practice or qualifying, they might move to the backup car if the primary car is damaged beyond repair. This is not an ideal scenario since while the cars may look as though they are identical on both the outside and the inside, the driver must still acclimate themselves to the backup ride. 

How Many Backup Cars Do NASCAR Teams Have?

NASCAR teams generally have 1 backup car. However, some teams aren’t able to afford a backup car, so they only use 1 car for the race weekend. Teams only use the backup cars in a worst-case scenario, as it’ll set them behind significantly in the race if they have to use one.

You will find that each team in the NASCAR Cup Series fields one backup car. However, switching to a backup ride is not ideal, and it is something that many drivers would try to avoid if they could help it. Unfortunately, not all NASCAR teams could fix a wrecked car to get it ready in time for a race, which thus forced them to instead field a backup ride. 

Despite the less-than-ideal situation backup cars bring in NASCAR, drivers will switch to them when left without a choice. Besides the fact that drivers would not get paid points for the event, failing to race in a backup may bring about swift sanctions from NASCAR, especially if that driver is part of a chartered team. 

Not only would the driver need to acclimate themselves to the new car, especially if they totaled it following a qualifying run, but switching to a backup car also means that the driver would need to start a race from the rear of the field. And some drivers would rather take a chance with their team piecing the primary car back together and hold their starting spot. 

Not Every Team Has A Backup

NASCAR racing in the 2020s is a far cry from what it was even during the early 2010s. A handful of independent teams may not have been able to field a spare car, meaning they had just one car for the weekend

This put already cash-strapped teams at a massive disadvantage because they were unable to run the car to its fullest extent during practice. Instead, they needed to preserve it for qualifying and, if they were fast enough to make it into the show, the race. 

You were often able to tell which NASCAR teams came with just one car. These teams rarely had a sponsor on the hood. And if they were lucky enough to have a sponsor, they may have fielded a basic paint scheme, meaning the cars rarely stood out from the rest of the pack. 

When NASCAR became more standardized in the latter half of the 2010s, especially when the chartered system came along, teams lacking a backup have since become a rarity at the Cup Series level


• Most NASCAR teams will have backup cars available

• NASCAR teams will usually only have one backup car

• Using a backup car sends a driver to the back of the field

Can NASCAR Teams Use Spare Cars During A Race?

NASCAR teams are not allowed to use spare cars during a race. They’re locked into their primary cars when the green flag waves. This is because NASCAR has no means to keep up with the inspections needed on these cars in order to ensure that they meet their rigorous safety standards.

NASCAR cars can wreak havoc on their drivers at any given time, and nothing is more disheartening than one small component making it nearly impossible for a team to continue to use the primary car for an event. 

Despite freak incidents occurring, such as wrecking on the first lap or even something as small as a lug nut getting loose, NASCAR teams may not revert to spare cars during a race. NASCAR regulations state that once the green flag waves, the drivers are locked into the primary car. 

The reasoning behind this has to do with the fact that NASCAR could not realistically take the backup car through a proper inspection to ensure it meets their specifications. However, it is not as though NASCAR drivers have not tried to at least work their way around NASCAR’s rules involving what they can and cannot do with their cars. 

Parts Shortage At The 2022 Daytona 500

In 2022, inflation and supply chain issues hit many industries hard, and NASCAR was no exception. This was one of the rare instances where NASCAR teams, except for the biggest names like Hendrick Motorsports, may not have had enough parts to continue racing had they ended up crashing their rides in practice, qualifying, or the qualifying races. 

The shortage was so bad that NASCAR let the winner of the Daytona 500, Austin Cindric of Team Penske, keep the car for the following races, rather than put it on display for fans like they usually do. This allowed the team to keep an additional car if the supply chain shortage reached a breaking point

The parts shortage also changed the way some teams practiced. Often, NASCAR teams would practice side-by-side racing, but since the possibility of wrecking the primary car ran high, many teams ended up limiting this tactic. 

The two Duels races also carried a slightly different tune, as teams locked into the field were more content with sacrificing a few starting spots in favor of racing for the best possible position on the grid. This strategy further helped conserve the car and its components

Do NASCAR Teams Have Backup Drivers?

NASCAR teams typically do not have backup drivers unless there’s a need for one, such as in the case of when Trevor Bayne was hired to be Kyle Busch’s backup in 2022, or when Max Papis was Tony Stewart’s backup in 2013. However, these are rare cases in the sport.

NASCAR teams generally do not employ backup drivers unless their primary driver needs one for a long time. In 2022, Joe Gibbs Racing hired Trevor Bayne to be Kyle Busch’s backup when the younger Busch brother and his wife, Samantha, were expecting their second child. 

NASCAR drivers themselves usually do not pick backup drivers. So in Busch’s case, Joe Gibbs Racing made the final decision to go with Bayne

When Tony Stewart was injured in a sprint car wreck in 2013, Stewart-Haas Racing selected road course ringer Max Papis to take his spot at Watkins Glen. This set off a chain of events where Austin Dillon drove for Stewart at Talladega before Mark Martin eventually took over the ride. 

Martin was driving for Michael Waltrip racing at the time, so the organization released him from his contract, prompting Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler to fill in for the races Martin was initially going to take. Another instance occurred in 2016, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed time with injuries, prompting Jeff Gordon to come out of retirement and split the ride with Alex Bowman. 

The Substitute Driver Rule

NASCAR allows for a substitute driver if the primary driver is unable to physically perform their duty for a specific race weekend or for an extended period. Such as with Stewart’s case listed above, in which his leg injury caused him to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. 

The same holds true for drivers who may need to miss the event because of a personal matter, which was the case with Kyle Busch. The primary driver will then receive full credit for the race if they start the event. So if the primary driver starts the race and runs five laps before handing their car to the backup driver, they will receive any and all points the backup receives. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR teams have backup cars under most circumstances. Well-funded chartered teams always have backup cars on hand in case their respective driver needs to use them for the race. Teams with lesser funding often have backups available unless supply chain issues cause potential shortages. 

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