People tuning into a NASCAR race who are unfamiliar with the sport might be shocked by the high number of laps shown on the scoring ticker. It’s common for races to run well above 200 and even 300 laps. This may cause many people to wonder why NASCAR Cup Series races have so many laps.
NASCAR Cup Series races have so many laps because NASCAR wants to give fans traveling to races a worthwhile experience. NASCAR strives to strike a balance between a competitive race for drivers and an exciting one for fans to watch, so races usually last 2-3 hours or more.
NASCAR races at tracks with different lengths, so the number of laps for each race changes according to the type of track. In the article below, we’ll discuss why the number of laps in a NASCAR race varies and why track length is the most important thing to consider regarding the number of laps.
How Many Laps Is A NASCAR Race?
NASCAR races range between 62 and 500 laps. Tracks range in size from one-half mile to slightly over four miles. Five hundred laps at Bristol, for example, usually takes around three hours, while a 500-lap race at the four-mile Road America track would take roughly 24 hours to complete.
Road courses have the shortest races by laps because it takes longer to complete a lap at these tracks than it does on traditional ovals. All the road courses range between 68 and 109 laps, the six shortest races by number of laps on the NASCAR calendar. Short tracks have the most laps because laps are completed quickly: 15-to-20 seconds at Bristol or Martinsville at racing speed.
This track length discrepancy is why NASCAR races can have so many different scheduled laps. It can be confusing. NASCAR adjusts laps according to track length throughout its racing series. The important thing to understand is the type of track being raced on to contextualize the lap count. Below, you will learn the main factor NASCAR uses in determining how long to schedule its race distances.
Why Does A NASCAR Race Have So Many Laps?
NASCAR races have so many laps because the sport wants to make their events worth it for people attending races. Although it can be argued that certain races would be improved by reducing laps, NASCAR officials are hesitant to stage short events over fears it could alienate potential ticket buyers.
While there are different laps and milage totals across NASCAR races, the television window for Cup Series races is generally three to four hours. NASCAR chooses its lap total accordingly. At intermediate and superspeedway races, these are normally 400 or 500 miles, or 160-367 laps. Road courses, despite the drastically lower lap count, are scheduled to last approximately the same time as these.
Cup Series races are also much longer than the lower-tier Xfinity and Truck Series, indicative of its higher stature. NASCAR wants its top-level drivers and teams to compete for a longer stretch than the lower levels.Instead of shortening these lower series’ races even more, NASCAR has little choice but to schedule comparatively high lap counts for its Cup Series races.
Number Of Laps In Each NASCAR Race
NASCAR races vary in laps between its four different types of tracks it races on: short tracks, intermediate tracks, road courses, and superspeedways. There are three true short tracks on the Cup Series schedule: Bristol (paved), Martinsville, and Richmond. Bristol and Martinsville are each half-mile tracks and their races are 500 laps. Richmond, a 0.75-mile track, hosts two 400 lap races.
While the traditional, paved Bristol race is 500 laps, its dirt course race is shorter. The Bristol dirt race is only 250 laps.This makes for a short NASCAR race by usual short-track standards, but a long dirt race by those standards. Speeds are much slower on dirt than on pavement, explaining why the 2021 dirt race was only 20 minutes shorter than the 500-lap paved race.
There are three one-mile racetracks on NASCAR’s schedule: Phoenix Raceway, Dover Motor Speedway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Dover and New Hampshire each have one race per season. The Dover race is 400 laps while the New Hampshire race is 301 laps. Phoenix hosts two races per season, the final one being the Championship in November. Both Phoenix races are 312 lap events.
Intermediate tracks are generally around 1.5 miles in length. Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway each host two Cup Series events each season. All four of their combined races are 267 laps. Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts one race, also ticking in at 267 laps. These are all 400-mile races, explaining the exact same lap count for these 1.5 tracks.
Some races at intermediate tracks tick over the 267-lap count, usually because they are 500-mile races. Texas Motor Speedway hosts one of these, with its race clocking in at 334 laps. Darlington Raceway hosts two races each season. The spring race is 293 laps, while September’s Southern 500 lasts 367 laps. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s longest race by miles, is 400 laps.
Michigan and Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, California) are each two-mile racetracks with racing much like the other, shorter intermediates. Both Michigan and Auto Club host one 200-lap race each. Pocono Raceway is a unique track in both shape and lap count. The 2.5-mile track known as “The Tricky Triangle” hosts one 140-lap race.
Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway each host two Cup Series races per season. The season-opening Daytona 500 is 200 laps, while its late-summer race is 160 laps. Each of Talladega’s two races are 188 laps over 500 miles. The lap difference between the two tracks is largely because Talladega is slightly longer, stretching 2.66 miles versus Daytona’s 2.5-mile course.
Cup Series races at Atlanta Motor Speedway now feature the Next Gen cars racing a superspeedway package after the track reconfigured its design to create more pack-style racing like what is seen at Daytona and Talladega. The new layout debuted in March 2022. Atlanta’s spring race is 325 laps, while its summer race is only 260 laps.
Road courses have the largest variance in laps because the track distances range from 2.5 miles to slightly over four. Road America has the shortest NASCAR race by laps, with only 62 scheduled trips around the track. It’s also the longest track on the NASCAR schedule at four miles. The next shortest race by laps is at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, with 68.
NASCAR’s annual visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now a road course after more than two decades racing on the oval. The race now has 82 scheduled laps, although the 2021 race ran 95 laps due to multiple overtimes. Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen are the longest-tenured road courses on the Cup Series schedule. These races are both 90 laps.
The Charlotte Roval is a hybrid race through the road-style infield and portions of the oval banking at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Roval is NASCAR’s longest road course race by lap count, with 109.
Examples of NASCAR Shortening Distances
NASCAR sometimes adjusts scheduled distances at reoccurring tracks when it makes its schedule each season. For example, Pocono Raceway once held two 200-lap races each season. Many fans and media members were vocal about their desire for NASCAR to shorten these races, as the cars often became strung out with little on-track action. NASCAR eventually acted, shortening Pocono’s race to 140 laps.
NASCAR has also shortened races at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Auto Club used to hold two separate 250-lap races each season, but now its races have fifty fewer laps. In Atlanta’s case, one of its two races has been shortened from 325 laps to 260 laps. These are examples of NASCAR realizing more laps and longer races are not always what fans want to watch.
NASCAR races have so many laps because NASCAR leadership wants to reward fans traveling to races with a 3-hour show, give or take, hoping the racing is worth the extended laps. The number of laps at each race depends on how long the track is. A longer track usually has fewer laps than shorter ones.