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NASCAR vs Formula 1 – The 5 Main Differences

NASCAR and Formula 1 are two of the most popular and exciting motorsports. They are both highly competitive and have similar structures in many ways. But what are the main differences between NASCAR and Formula 1?

The 5 main differences between NASCAR and F1 are:

  1. The number and type of cars used
  2. The track layouts and locations
  3. The racing
  4. The season length and structure
  5. The rules and regulations

There are lots of minor differences between the two as well, but this article will focus on the defining differences between NASCAR and F1. Before we go over these however, it is worth taking a look at what the two motorsports have in common.

Are F1 Cars Faster Than NASCAR Cars?

F1 cars are faster than NASCAR cars. F1 cars can reach speeds in excess of 210 mph, while it’s rare for modern NASCAR cars to top 200 mph. However, F1 cars are also much faster than NASCAR cars in the corners thanks to their high levels of downforce, which NASCAR just cannot compete with.

The 2 Main Similarities Between NASCAR And F1

1. A Team Effort

Both NASCAR and F1 require large teams of people to make things go smoothly. There are teams in each sport, and the teams are made up of directors, mechanics and of course drivers, among other key roles as well. Teams in both sports can use multiple drivers, and there are championships for both the drivers and the teams in both sports.

2. Big Money Sports

Both sports have seasons that last a big chunk of the year, and there is a lot of money involved in each. The cars cost millions of dollars to make each year, and there is a lot of money involved from partners and sponsors. There are other minor similarities too, but these are the main and perhaps obvious ones. So, now let’s look at the differences.

The 5 Main Differences Between NASCAR And F1

1. The Number And Type Of Cars Used

Two Very Different Cars

The first big difference that you will notice between the cars used in each of these sports is the fact that NASCAR involves stock cars, and F1 uses open-wheel cars. This essentially means that NASCAR vehicles are based on their streetcar counterparts, with bumpers and fenders, as well as a full body. However, F1 cars are built from the ground up and are not based off regular cars.

F1 cars are also single seater, and while only one person ever rides in a NASCAR car, they are built to be the size of regular 4-seater sedans. Each of the cars in NASCAR racing is built following a set of templates, and so they are all essentially the same, or very similar at least. F1 cars on the other hand require the chassis to be independently built by each team.

The Same Car

The NASCAR cars all follow what is called the Car of Tomorrow template, and this means they are all very evenly matched. Meanwhile, F1 cars are all very different to each other, although they may look the same at a glance. F1 cars are also designed to provide much more downforce than NASCAR cars, and to be far more aerodynamic, allowing for faster speeds in tighter corners.

A Bit Different

The cars in F1 are also much more technologically advanced than their NASCAR counterparts. They feature things like DRS and KERS, with the former being used under special circumstances to give the driver extra speed for overtakes and the latter allowing the recovery of energy for even more power. This translates to a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars, vs roughly $25 million in NASCAR.

The engine is the next area where differences arise. In NASCAR, the engines are 5.87-liter V8s, while F1 engines are 1.6-liter turbocharged V6s. The difference in the power is huge, with NASCAR vehicles limited to a maximum of around 750BHP, while F1 cars hover around the 1000BHP region. This translates into F1 top speeds of 230mph, while NASCAR speeds may reach around 200mph.

The Weight Difference

This difference in speed and power is easy to grasp when you consider the weight of the cars. NASCAR cars weigh more than 3000lbs, while F1 cars come in at around 1500lbs. F1 cars can also max out at 15,000RPM, while NASCAR vehicles may only reach just under 10,000.

There are only three manufacturers in NASCAR, but these form the basis for 36 teams. There are only 10 teams in Formula 1, with four engine manufacturers. F1 teams only have one car for two drivers, while NASCAR teams have 2, with one for the long tracks and one for the shorter tracks. Tracks are where there are yet more differences between the two sports.

2. The Track Layouts And Locations

Seasonal Differences

NASCAR tracks are all based in the USA and Canada, while Formula 1 races take place across 5 continents. There are 36 races in a NASCAR season, split into two. There is the regular season of 26 races, and then the post season of 10 races, which are known as the playoffs. An F1 season is made up of around 21 races, with no playoffs required.

There are two main types of track used in NASCAR, and these are the long and short tracks as we have referred to in the previous section. Although many people think NASCAR is just cars driving round in circles, there are several tracks that involve both left and right turns, although the oval tracks are by far the most common.

Very Different Tracks

This is in contrast to the F1 tracks, where no two are even almost the same. The tracks vary drastically in length, with the longest F1 track (Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, – roughly 7km) being around 4km longer than the shortest (Monaco Street Circuit – roughly 3km). This means the cars need to be designed to handle short tracks with lots of corners, and long tracks with high speed straights.

In NASCAR however, the tracks are much shorter, with the shortest being the Martinsville Speedway at less than 1km. The longest tracks are Daytona and Talladega, which are superspeedways of around 4km. This means the teams have two cars, with one built for the short tracks, and one for the long tracks, which has restrictor plates that limits the engine’s power to around 450BHP for safety reasons.

3. The Racing

Race Length

The actual racing is another area where there are some big differences between NASCAR and F1. Formula 1 races usually take around 90 minutes, with the races being limited to no more than 2 hours for driver safety reasons. However, NASCAR races regularly take more than 3 hours to complete, and this presents even more differences.

However, before the main event, you have to consider the qualifying procedure as well, which dictates the starting order for the race. In NASCAR, the drivers all go out and perform one flying lap, in order to set a time that will dictate where on the grid they will start. This is very different to the process used in Formula 1 qualifying.


F1 qualifying takes place in three parts. The first part, Q1, involves all 20 drivers, and takes around 20 minutes in total. During that 20 minutes, the drivers all go around the track in their own time, and sometimes there may be 1 driver on the track and other times there may be 20. The 5 slowest drivers are eliminated at the end of the session and make up positions 16-20 on the grid.

Q2 is next, which comes after a short break and determines the positions of 11-15, with the slowest 4 drivers after 15 minutes being eliminated. Then, Q1 takes place, which consists of the top 10 drivers and lasts around 10 minutes. The times the drivers get in this session dictate the top 10 spots on the grid come the main race on Sunday.

The Races

Then come the actual races, which not only differ in length, but also in the way that they are carried out. F1 races involve a set number of laps with no stopping in between unless there are accidents or extremely inclement weather. NASCAR races are made up of three separate stages, split up by caution periods. This has implications on the points systems, which we will compare soon.

The actual race lengths vary in both sports, but NASCAR races are typically longer. This means the drivers usually have to make more pit stops than their F1 counterparts. F1 drivers can theoretically go without a pit stop on certain tires, but they will pit at least once, and sometimes twice or more in a race. NASCAR drivers may pit as many as six times on longer tracks.

Pit Stops

During the pit stops, F1 pit crew are not able to refuel the cars and can only change the tires or make certain repairs. NASCAR pit crews are usually swapping tires and refueling the car as well during each pit stop. This means these pit stops can take between 12-16 seconds, while F1 pit stops are usually less than 3 seconds long, with some being under 2 seconds.

Both sports are technically non-contact, but they each involve a fair bit of touching of the cars. In F1, almost no contact is allowed, and anything more than a slight bump with no consequences for the other driver can result in harsh penalties. In NASCAR however, “bumping” is very common, and cars will often make a lot of contact with each other when fighting for positions.

4. The Season Length And Structure

The Seasons

The next set of differences involve the racing season of each motorsport. F1 seasons have roughly 20 races, and the season takes place from March through to the end of November. The NASCAR season on the other hand consists of 36 races, and the season starts in February and runs all the way through to the playoffs in November.

The main difference here is that the NASCAR season is split into two, with the playoffs dictating who wins the championship. F1 champions are determined solely by the points that the drivers earn throughout the season. Both sports do have points systems, and while that is a similarity, the way that these points are given out vary greatly.

F1 Points System

The F1 points system operates each race, and the winner gets 25 points, while the places 2-10 each get less points with 10th place taking 1. Those placing 11-20 get no points for that race. The constructors’ (teams) combine the points of both of their drivers to arrive at their total. The driver with the most points at the end of the season wins the World Drivers’ Championship.

NASCAR Points System

The driver may win it before the last race of the season if they cannot mathematically be beaten by those chasing them on the leaderboard. The Constructors’ Championship is decided the same way. In NASCAR however, the points system is very different, starting with the fact that all 40 drivers take points with each race, with the winner getting 40 and last place getting 1 point.

The points are scaled down in a similar way to F1, as second place doesn’t get 39 points (they get 35), just like second place in F1 doesn’t get 24 points (they get 18) and so on. However, it is not just the winner of the race that gets points, as those who place in the top 10 after each of the three stages of each race also get bonus points.

Bonus Points

There are also bonus points on offer for race winners, as well as those who win stages one and two. These bonus points are carried over to the playoffs, while normal points are reset when postseason playoffs begin. The points are reset again after each elimination round that we discussed previously, and there are no bonus points on offer for the final four drivers in the last race.

This makes the NASCAR points system a lot more complex than the F1 system, and it also makes for a big difference in what it takes to be a winner. As all the points are reset at the end of the regular season, the leader loses out quite substantially, while those in 16th place benefit from the levelling of the playing field, aside from bonus points of course.

Qualifying For The Playoffs

To qualify for the playoffs, NASCAR drivers just have to win one race. If there are not 16 unique winners after the first 26 races, the remaining places are then decided on a points basis. This means that a driver could win one race, and then come dead last in every other race, and still qualify for the playoffs, alongside a driver that may have won several races.

In F1, the winner of the championship is the person who has performed the best overall over the course of the season, and it doesn’t really matter how many races they have won. Winning races will obviously be key, as wins come with substantial points gains, but it makes it impossible for someone with one win and 20 out-of-the-points finishes to win the championship.

Winning a NASCAR championship does obviously require you to win races and be a skilled driver, but it puts less of a focus on your overall season performance and more of a focus on how well you perform in the last races of the playoffs. This doesn’t necessarily take anything away from the excitement of NASCAR, but it is a major difference between it and F1.

5. The Rules And Regulations

Getting Away With More

Finally, there are some big differences between the rules and regulations of NASCAR and Formula 1. As we touched on before, there is not technically to be any contact between drivers in each sport, although NASCAR drivers can get away with a lot more than F1 drivers. This is partly due to the fact that the cars can withstand more of a hit than F1 cars.

One of the biggest differences in terms of the ruleset of these two motorsports lies in the telemetry. This is basically data about the car and how it is driving throughout the race. You may watch an F1 race and see the team radio being displayed, with messages being relayed between the drivers and their mechanics off the track.

Sharing Strategies

They might discuss strategies and what they plan to do over the next few laps, and their race engineer has at their disposal plenty of information about the car that allow them to plan ahead and form strategies in real time. Not only can they tell the driver what to do, but the drivers can also make changes to the car itself in real time while going several hundred miles per hour.

The driver can change things like brake bias and many different engine settings all while they are racing. This gives them a lot of control, and it is control that NASCAR drivers do not have. The telemetry information from the car goes to the officials, and not the pit crews. This means NASCAR drivers can’t change things about the car on the go like F1 drivers can.

Rolling vs Standing Start

Although this difference could fall into the racing section of this article, it technically involves and implies some of the differences in the rules too. NASCAR races start using what is known as a rolling start, meaning the cars go around the track in their grid order, and then when the race starts the cars are already moving.

F1 races on the other hand have a standing start, meaning the cars go from rest. This makes for some very interesting first corners, but it also means the drivers need to be on their toes. The start is dictated by a set of lights that go out after a random amount of time. This tests the drivers’ reflexes, and if they jump the start, they can receive a penalty.

The Penalty System

The penalty system is also slightly different between each sport. Both do employ penalty systems, but F1 rules tend to be a fair bit stricter. As we noted before, there is a bit more leeway for contact in NASCAR, whereas in F1 you can land yourself a severe penalty for hitting an opponent, especially if you end up causing them to lose time or crash.

A lot of the penalties in NASCAR are given out due to incorrect pitting procedures. This can be due to drivers going over the top of air hoses, or pitting at the wrong times, among many others. There is less focus on this kind of penalty in F1, due to the precision that is required and the short amount of time that the cars spend in the pits.

The Main Differences

There are obviously many minor rules as well, which both motorsports share. But these are the main ones that differ between each one, and are the ones to consider if you are watching your first race.

Final Thoughts

The main differences between F1 cars and NASCAR cars are the shapes of the cars, with F1 cars being open wheel racers and NASCAR cars being based off their production car counterparts. The tracks the two sports race on are also very different, requiring very different designs.