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Why Don’t NASCAR Drivers Use The Clutch?

NASCAR drivers don’t use the clutch for several reasons, although their cars are manual transmission. Engaging in the clutch can be detrimental, so therefore drivers will not use it when shifting gears. You may be wondering why NASCAR drivers don’t use the clutch and how they downshift without it.

NASCAR drivers don’t use the clutch because they instead utilize a technique called rev matching. This involves matching the car’s revolutions per minute (RPM) to the car’s speed when it is necessary to shift, allowing for a smooth change in gears without pressing the clutch pedal.

Below, we will reveal whether NASCAR placed clutches into the Next Gen cars since they are rarely used. We will also dive into further detail about what rev matching is, and how drivers can use it to their advantage. Finally, we will discuss how often drivers shift gears during a race.

Do NASCAR Next Gen Cars Have Clutches?

NASCAR Next Gen cars do have clutches, although many of the drivers rarely use them. They are traditional clutch pedals in the normal position, and the cars are fitted with 5-speed sequential manual shifters, although many drivers simply use rev matching to shift up and down.

When you drive a manual transmission, it is second nature to push in the clutch with your left foot and shift gears. And if you look inside road vehicles with manual transmission, you will find the clutch located in its familiar spot on the left side of the brakes.

Furthermore, you may have had the privilege of peering inside a NASCAR car in the past. And if you looked toward the pedals, you also saw the clutch is in the same place as the production vehicles.

In 2022, NASCAR unveiled its new Next Gen cars. And these rides look drastically different than their predecessors, the Generation 6. NASCAR’s Next Gen rides contain bodies that look closer to their production car counterparts, new aerodynamic and downforce packages, and 670 horsepower engines.

New Transmission On The Next Gen Cars

The Next Gen cars also unveiled a new transmission, getting rid of the old H-pattern gearbox. The new rides use sequential manual transmission, comprising a floor-mounted lever that drivers can push to shift down and pull to shift up. Drivers can also pull the lever upward to engage in reverse.

The older cars contained a 4-speed transmission, but the Next Gen car has a 5-speed gearbox. Since the transmission is still manual, you will see a clutch pedal on the Next Gen cars. However, even though the Next Gen cars contain manual transmission and a clutch pedal, drivers don’t need to engage them to shift gears.

Why Not Switch To Auto Transmission?

Driving with an automatic transmission is a luxurious experience. You may have never even bothered with manual transmission vehicles since they require you to pay attention to yet another variable on the road. And you may already be dealing with bad drivers and other hazards.

On a NASCAR racetrack, there is nothing but hazards driving between 150 and 190 miles per hour. Worse yet, you only have a spotter in your ear telling you who is riding high and who is riding low. Sure, you have a rearview camera, but you could only glance at it every so often.

Therefore, you may see manual transmission as an unnecessary hazard for a driver. But there are a few reasons NASCAR has not switched to auto. Next to the fact most drivers prefer manual transmission, NASCAR also wants to prevent their drivers from having anything considered to be driving assists.

This means no traction control or anti-brake locking on the cars. No speedometers or fuel gauges either. With manual transmission, it further challenges a driver’s skill-set, which explains why NASCAR will not switch their cars to automatic transmission.

Do NASCAR Drivers Need To Use The Clutch?

The consensus for manual transmission vehicles is that, during appropriate times, road drivers engage the clutch pedal before they shift gears. When a road driver shifts from one gear to another, they transfer power from their car’s engine to the axle.

This differs from automatic transmission vehicles, which automatically shift gears via a built-in torque converter. The upside for auto transmission cars is that road drivers do not need to worry about shifting gears unless they need to put the car into neutral or reverse.

The downside with auto transmission is the fact that road drivers have no control over the gears. For drivers that like to have a sense of control, manual transmission is the way to go. But, pushing the clutch is a habit that drivers who prefer manual over auto need to adopt.

When a NASCAR driver needs to significantly speed up or slow down, they must still shift gears. However, they do not need to push in the clutch. It’s not that NASCAR drivers never use the clutch pedal, they are just rarely used. Instead, many drivers use a technique called rev matching.

What Is Rev Matching?

Rev matching involves NASCAR drivers shifting gears when they match their Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) with the car’s speed.This is not easy because there are no speedometers NASCAR cars and they don’t have tachometers on the dashboard.

Therefore, rev matching takes a great deal of skill to master. Drivers must have an adequate feel for their car’s speed before shifting to the appropriate gear.If the driver fails to match the RPM with their car’s speed and tries to shift, it can severely damage their transmission.

You may be asking why NASCAR drivers would even bother with rev matching if so much can go so wrong. Especially if there is a clutch pedal that may allow for easier shifting.

Here is something to ponder: The next time you ride in a vehicle with manual transmission, you may feel a small jerk when either you or the driver shifts gears. It is a temporary imbalance that rev matching eliminates, allowing NASCAR drivers to engage in smoother shifting.

Rev Matching Explained Further

If drivers were to continually shift gears using the clutch when diving into a turn or accelerating onto a straightaway when necessary, doing so can place unnecessary stress on the engine and gears. Not to mention the car’s constant jerking every time the driver pushed down on the clutch pedal.

Further, for a car traveling at such high speeds, this can spell disaster. Especially if they are racing in tight-knit packs. Since NASCAR drivers are the best in the world at what they do, it does not take them long to learn how to rev match.

Dog Clutches

NASCAR cars may also use dog clutch transmission, which also allows drivers to smoothly shift from one gear to another without engaging the clutch pedal. Dog clutches have several advantages, such as no-slip friction, lesser heat generation, and inexpensive cost. However, there are downsides.

Dog clutches cannot be used at high speeds, so drivers may need to use rev matching in specific scenarios. There may also be some shock involved when drivers engage in the dog clutch,which may make them less desirable than rev matching.

How Many Times Do NASCAR Drivers Change Gear During A Race?

NASCAR drivers change gear between a few dozen and more than 1000 times during a race, depending on the track. On ovals, they’ll change gears very rarely, as they’re normally driving at full speed unless there’s a caution or they’re pitting, but on road courses they’re constantly changing gears.

When you watch a NASCAR race, you may think the drivers are constantly shifting gears as they dive in and out of turns. Especially during races with lesser banking and narrower turns. It is easy to believe NASCAR drivers change gears at least 1,000 times during an event, depending on the track.

Further, add in the initial start, caution flags, restarts, and pit stops, and that number could add up to 1100 or more. With all that shifting, you may think it would just be easier to switch the rides to auto transmission and be done with it, right?

However surprising you may find it, NASCAR drivers do not use the clutch as often as you would think. They only constantly shift gears on specific tracks, like road courses that require them to brake and accelerate to varying speeds coming into and out of turns.

Take wide-open superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, and you will not see NASCAR drivers shift anywhere near as often during green flag laps.

Why NASCAR Drivers May Not Shift Often

You may have heard the term ‘fast track.’ Often, NASCAR commentators call tracks ‘fast’ because they have steep banking and wider turns. This naturally allows all the competing cars to drive at faster, more consistent speeds assuming the race remains under green flag conditions.

At these fast tracks, you mainly see drivers shift gears during starts and restarts,when the caution flag waves, or when they need to slow down to the speed limit on pit road.

Some NASCAR tracks have hardly any banking, which makes it much more difficult to race in and out of turns at consistent speeds. Other tracks, like road courses, comprise a variety of banking and turning degrees. Some are much narrower than others, which calls for more downshifting.

More Shifting On The Horizon?

Before the 2020s, you may remember that NASCAR’s schedule comprised a plethora of oval race tracks and only two road courses. Since many of these oval tracks had wide turns and high banking, drivers did not need to shift gears often unless they were racing at low-banked short tracks.

It is now common to see between six and seven road course races on the schedule, meaning drivers will be shifting gears now more than ever before. There are just too many narrow turns with little banking at these road courses for drivers to forgo shifting during green flag laps.

NASCAR has also toyed with the idea of street races.And those would definitely call for more shifting if the street race fantasies become realities. Further, if the increased number of road course races proves to be popular, expect more to take the schedule.

With more potential road courses and inaugural street races in NASCAR’s future, you may see drivers shift gears more than ever before. That said, they won’t be running in 5th gear (the highest gear) for most of the race, which may call for some exciting events.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR drivers don’t use the clutch because they shift gears via rev matching. This allows them to make fast, smooth shifts. Rev matching is not an easy technique, but it saves wear and tear on the clutch and gearbox and prevents uncomfortable jerking motions that pushing the clutch pedal may cause.