It’s not uncommon to see pushing occur during a NASCAR race. There is a reason behind this, and it has a lot to do with the cars’ aerodynamics. It is an intra-race strategy used by teams and drivers as a way to gain an advantage. But you may be asking why NASCAR allows pushing to occur.
NASCAR allows pushing because it lets drivers travel faster during an event. This keeps races exciting for fans, and it allows drivers to save fuel and tires even when they travel at speeds between 3 to 5 miles per hour faster when they engage in pushing, also called drafting.
Below, we will reveal what drafting is in NASCAR and the strategy behind it. We will also discuss why NASCAR allows pushing and drafting, and how it can be both a mutual and singular benefit, depending on if cars are pushing one another or engaging in a technique called side drafting.
When you watch a NASCAR race, you may notice there are times when two cars line up directly in front of and behind one another. You may find this strange, as it would make more sense that the seemingly faster car running behind would just pass the other. However, NASCAR is a sport that requires foresight.
As with all sports, those at the professional level will do things the masses in the fan base, even the most understanding fans, might find strange. In the NHL, it seems weird when a forward dumps the puck into the offensive zone. In the NFL, a draw play on third down looks out of place.
But just as NFL and NHL games last for 60 minutes, strategy is needed throughout a contest. And the same goes for a 300 to 500-mile race. To augment speed, and save tire wear, and fuel mileage, drivers engage in a process called drafting.
This occurs when you see a trailing car line up directly behind a leader. And besides strategy, there is a complete science behind the concept of drafting.
These cars are nearly touching one another since the front bumper on the trailing car rides inches from the rear end of the front car. This allows the car in front to displace air from its front to the trailing car’s rear.
It results in a vacuum effect as the lead car displaces this air between the two cars. The rear car benefits from this effect because the front car literally pulls it, allowing the two cars to travel faster and slice their way through the field.
You won’t always see cars line up from nose to tail. Sometimes, they get into what is called a side draft.This occurs when the cars race alongside one another and one car releases air flow from its nose to the spoiler of the other.
However, instead of providing mutual benefits like bump drafting, side drafting causes the other car to lose momentum. The car that initiated the side draft gains a burst of speed and pulls ahead. This method of drafting is not as common at shorter and intermediate ovals. But you see it used often at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega.
Drivers push each other in NASCAR because, as with all sports, you need good strategies if you want to win. These strategies will raise some eyebrows for the average onlooker, especially in NASCAR where most think you only need to outpace the other drivers throughout the 300 to 500-mile event.
But this isn’t the case. There are a few times during a race where you need to finish in the top 10, or ideally the top 5: Towards the end of the first two stages, and the end of the race.
NASCAR drivers, their crew chiefs, pit crews, and team members behind the pit barrier spend all week developing a strategy for the race. Joey Logano once said he and his team start preparing for the next race on the ride back to team headquarters on Sunday night.
So, teams are going into a race with a strategy where they may focus on hanging out in the middle of the field during Stage One if that is where their driver excels at a particular track. They also have strategies when it comes to pushing and drafting.
Clean air rides in front of the lead car. So, when two or more cars align themselves behind it, that air flows over the top of the cars, which creates their draft.
Once the clean air hits the rear end of the last car in the order, it pulls all the cars between 3 to 5 miles per hour (mph) faster. So, if 3 cars are running 3 mph slower than the race’s leader, a draft will give them a better chance to catch the lead car.
The car at the front of the draft will receive the greatest benefit. This is why, when you watch a race, you will see one of the trailing cars pull out of the draft, almost in a slingshot fashion.
This causes the lead car to lose that 3 to 5 mph speed boost as the trailing car pulls out and starts a side draft. Jamie McMurray once described it as pulling a parachute, given the loss of momentum. The trailing car keeps the momentum and passes the front car with ease.
You may feel drafting is a rather dirty tactic. However, you often just see this slingshot maneuver when cars of different teams or in some cases, manufacturers, push. Teammates and cars with identical manufacturers may keep pushing throughout a race stage or in the final laps of the race.
This guarantees, barring a big wreck, that a race team will either end up winning the race or they will at least snag a top 10 finish. Other times, if the driver is racing for a single car team, they may try to push another car of the same manufacturer to the front.
NASCAR drivers can no longer talk to one another via radio. However, they can still communicate with one another. This often occurs via their spotters. One spotter will tell another that their driver is interested in working with the other.
The spotter for the second driver will relay to their driver of Driver A’s interest in working with them. Driver B will either accept or decline the offer, depending on their unique situation. Such strategizing often occurs under caution. So, when the race goes green again, Driver B will align with Driver A if they accept the invitation to work together and they will move through the field.
NASCAR has strict rules that their drivers must follow, lest they risk drawing a black flag for themselves. Many of these rules prevent drivers from gaining unfair advantages during a race. For example, in the early 2000s, NASCAR needed to crack down on drivers potentially using traction control to gain an advantage during an event when teams accused others of using it.
NASCAR also has rules regarding pushing. However, pushing and drafting itself is legal in NASCAR since it in no way, shape, or form gives drivers an unfair advantage. It is just like in the NFL, where two receivers on the same team run passing routes in hopes of confusing opposing defenses.
Drafting is a strategy and nothing more. And all cars may draft, not just a few of the larger-funded rides. This keeps things equal in NASCAR’s eyes and, especially at larger tracks where drafting is a must, you may see obscure names take the checkered flag.
Drivers can push on one another and side draft all they want to. However, they may not bump into one another with ill-intent. So, if their goal is to wreck the driver in front of them as opposed to bump drafting in ways that will help them mutually in the short-run, they may draw a black flag.
However, you rarely see this occur, since NASCAR must be absolutely aware of who the aggressor was.They must also ensure that the aggressor pushed another driver into the SAFER barrier with ill-intent, and that is hard to decipher.
NASCAR sees bumping as a safe strategy, which is why they have not banned it. It also makes the races more exciting for both the fans and the drivers. Since better-funded teams have more equipment, they could gain an easy advantage if bumping was illegal, especially those that field up to 4 cars.
With bumping, teams with lesser equipment or teams that employ just 1 driver can latch on to another car. This will in turn make them faster throughout the duration of the bump draft while mutually benefitting the car either in front of or behind them.
Also, bumping is not done with ill-intent. It is a clean maneuver that won’t put anyone into the wall intentionally. And it only adds to the excitement when a competing car slingshots out of the draft to try and pass the car or cars in front of them.
NASCAR allows pushing since it is a safe way for cars to travel faster and take advantage of aerodynamics. It allows slower cars to stay competitive and keeps races exciting. It is something you see at superspeedways like Daytona, and also at short and intermediate ovals and road courses.