NASCAR 101: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is NASCAR?

A: The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, more commonly known as NASCAR, is America’s premier sanctioning body for stock-car racing. NASCAR was founded in 1948 by a committee led by “Big” Bill France, Sr. NASCAR was born out of informal competition between moonshiners during prohibition. Bootleggers would soup up their cars to outrun the cops, and every so often, bootleggers would get together to hold races to see who was the fastest. France saw the potential to have an organized racing league from these races, which eventually led to the birth of the sport.

Q: What is the NASCAR Cup Series?

A: The NASCAR Cup Series is NASCAR’s top national touring division made up of some of the nation’s most talented race car drivers. Typically, people refer to this series by simply saying “NASCAR,” but there’s much more to NASCAR than just the Cup Series. The Cup Series is the most prestigious stock car racing division in North America, and allows up to 40 drivers per race to compete. The Cup Series has 36 championship points races and five non-points exhibition events. These are the best of the best, the cream of the crop or however you’d like to say it. The Cup Series pays the most money to be in.

Q: What is the NASCAR Xfinity Series?

A: The NASCAR Xfinity Series is the second-highest national touring division. It’s basically NASCAR’s equivalent of the MiLB’s Triple-A league. The drivers in this series are the up-and-coming talents of tomorrow’s NASCAR, with this being their final proving grounds. The mechanics of the Xfinity Series cars are different than that of the Cup Series. They have less downforce and drag, and the bodies of the cars are also very different. The Xfinity Series hosts 33 championship points events and no exhibition races. It’s common that NASCAR Cup Series drivers will drive a few races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series each season, with the most notable being Kyle Busch.

Q: What is the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series?

A: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the lowest-ranking of NASCAR’s three national touring divisions. It’s NASCAR’s equivalent of the MiLB’s Double-A league. The drivers in this series are also the up-and-coming talents of tomorrow’s NASCAR, but oftentimes the drivers in this series have never driven anything as big or fast as a NASCAR race car or on as big of a stage as NASCAR provides. The mechanics of the Truck Series vehicles are different than that of the Cup and Xfinity Series. The Truck Series vehicles are not sports cars or sedans like the higher divisions, they drive trucks. The Truck Series hosts 22 championship points events and no exhibition races. It’s common that NASCAR Cup Series or Xfinity Series drivers will drive a few races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series each season, with the most notable being Kyle Busch (again).

Q: What is the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series?

A: The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is a virtual racing series sanctioned by NASCAR that takes place on iRacing, an online racing simulator which drivers use to practice driving when they can’t physically be at the race track. This is not a national touring series like the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. The Pro Invitational Series debuted last March when sports halted due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR has announced that 10 events in this exhibition series will air on television, with five on FOX Sports 1. NASCAR has not announced eligibility requirements to compete in the 2021 Pro Invitational Series, and more details about the 2021 races will be announced soon.

Q: What makes a driver good and what makes a driver great?

A: Like any sport, there’s a difference in what makes an athlete good and what makes an athlete great. Winning in NASCAR, though, isn’t the sole factor to making a driver great. The all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series, Richard Petty, won 200 races, but the greatest-of-all-time debate also includes Dale Earnhardt at 76 wins and David Pearson at 105 wins. For the sake of simplicity, we’re not going to get into what makes an all-time great and we’ll keep this among active drivers. The biggest difference that I have found between good and great active drivers is that good drivers know their strengths are able to capitalize on their advantages. Great drivers can do that as well, but they also know their weaknesses and they can overcome those weaknesses to salvage a poor day.

Q: How does the points system work?

A: The points system for NASCAR’s national divisions is a bit complex.A NASCAR driver is allowed to only accumulate points in one of the three national touring series at any given time. Each race is broken up into three stages (except the NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600, which is four stages). At the end of stages one and two, the top ten drivers each receive championship points, with the 1st-place team getting 10 points, the 2nd-place team receives nine points, the 3rd-place team gets eight points and so forth until the 10th-place finisher in the stage gets one point. In addition, the 1st-place finisher in each stage earns one playoff point (those will come in handy later).

For the last stage which determines the finish of the overall race, the winner receives 40 championship points and 5 playoff points. The 2nd-place driver gets 35 championship points, 3rd gets 34 championship points, 4th gets 33, and so on until the 36th-place driver earns one point. Because the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series allow up to 40 cars to race, the 37th, 38th, 39th and 40th-place finishers also get one championship point.

At the end of the regular season (26 races for Cup and Xfinity, 15 races for Trucks), the playoffs begin. In order to be a part of the playoffs in the series which a driver accumulates points in, the driver must be in the top 30 in points. Any driver with one or more wins in the top 30 gets into the playoffs automatically, unless there are more winners than there are playoff slots available. Any spots not filled by winners are awarded to  the drivers highest in points without wins. The Cup Series playoffs consists of 16 drivers, the Xfinity Series playoffs consists of 12 drivers, and the Truck Series playoffs consists of 10 drivers.

The Cup Series playoffs are broken up into four rounds: the round of 16, the round of 12, the round of 8 and the round of 4 (also called the championship four). At the start of the playoffs, drivers are reset to 2000 points. Drivers who have earned playoff points also have that added to their total (i.e. if a driver earned 31 playoff points in the first 26 races, they start the round of 16 with 2031 points). The first three rounds consist of three races each. If a driver in the playoffs wins a race, they automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs. At the end of three races, the four drivers lowest in points without wins are eliminated from the playoffs and they can no longer win the championship. The drivers who advance get their points reset, and the cycle continues. After the ninth race, four drivers are left in championship contention. Of those four drivers, the highest-finishing driver in the final race of the season wins the championship.

For the Xfinity Series, the system is the same, but there are some notable differences. Only 12 drivers qualify for the Xfinity playoffs, and there are two rounds of three races, followed by the championship-deciding race. The Truck Series playoffs has 10 drivers and two rounds of three races, followed by their championship-deciding race.

Q: What is a charter?

A: Over the course of Daytona Speedweeks, broadcasters are going to use the word “charter” a lot. A charter is a guaranteed starting spot in a NASCAR Cup Series race. There are 36 charters which are owned, meaning that those 36 teams will be able to start in each of the 36 championship points races. The 36 chartered teams are: 23XI Racing no. 23, Chip Ganassi Racing nos. 1 and 42, Front Row Motorsports nos. 34 and 38, Hendrick Motorsports nos. 5, 9, 24 and 48, Joe Gibbs Racing nos. 11, 18, 19 and 20, JTG Daugherty Racing no. 47, Live Fast Motorsports no. 78, Richard Childress Racing nos. 3 and 8, Richard Petty Motorsports no. 43, Rick Ware Racing nos. 15, 51, 52 and 53, Roush Fenway Racing nos. 6 and 17, Spire Motorsports nos. 7 and 77, StarCom Racing no. 00, Stewart-Haas Racing nos. 4, 10, 14 and 41, Team Penske nos. 2, 12 and 22, Trackhouse Racing no. 99 and Wood Brothers Racing no. 21 

Q: Do drivers use the same car every race?

A: Drivers do not use the same car in every race. In fact, teams use many different chassis depending on what track the series is headed to next. Many teams build different chassis based on the type of race track they want to take it to: short tracks (<1 mile), intermediate (1-2 miles), superspeedways (>2 miles) or road courses (left and right turns).

Q: Does NASCAR have exhibition events?

A: NASCAR only hosts non-points exhibitions in the Cup Series. First, the week before the Daytona 500, NASCAR runs an invitational event called the Busch Clash at Daytona. The event is usually run on the oval, but in 2021, the Clash will be run on the road course. That is followed by a pair of Daytona 500 qualifying races on the Thursday preceding the Daytona 500. Later in the year, NASCAR holds another pair of exhibition races: the All-Star Open and the All-Star Race. I’ll explain all of these races in a future article, so stay tuned!

Q: Where does NASCAR race?

A: In 2021, NASCAR will race at 27 tracks across the three national touring divisions:

Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, GA – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, TN – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Ontario, Canada – Trucks

Circuit of the Americas – Austin, TX – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Charlotte Motor Speedway – Charlotte, NC – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Darlington Raceway – Darlington, SC – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks 

Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, FL – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Dover International Speedway – Dover, DE – Cup, Xfinity

Homestead-Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL – Cup, Xfinity

Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, IN – Cup, Xfinity

Kansas Speedway – Kansas City, KS – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Knoxville Raceway – Knoxville, IA – Trucks

Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Las Vegas, NV – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Martinsville Speedway – Ridgeway, VA – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Michigan International Speedway – Brooklyn, MI – Cup, Xfinity

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Lexington, OH – Xfinity

Nashville Superspeedway – Nashville, TN – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Loudon, NH – Cup, Xfinity

Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, AZ – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Pocono Raceway – Long Pond, PA – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Richmond Raceway – Richmond, VA – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Road America – Plymouth, WI – Cup, Xfinity

Sonoma Raceway – Sonoma, CA – Cup

Talladega Superspeedway – Lincoln, AL – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, TX – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, NY – Cup, Xfinity, Trucks

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway – Madison, IL – Trucks

Q: Does NASCAR race in the rain?

A: NASCAR does not typically race in the rain, unlike other forms of racing. The only time NASCAR will race in the rain is if they are at a road course and lightning is not close to the track. NASCAR will not race on an oval course in the rain

Q: Do drivers have teammates? How can they help each other?

A: Some drivers do indeed have teammates. Any cars owned by the same organization are considered teammates. Think of Hendrick Motorsports, who owns the nos. 5, 9, 24 and 48 cars. All of those cars are teammates, even though they do not have the same uniforms or paint schemes. There are also technical alliances like Team Penske (car nos. 2, 12 and 22) has with Wood Brothers Racing (car no. 21) where one team may provide another with equipment such as chassis or engines, making the cars basically the same despite not being owned by the same owner.

Teammates can help each other in a few ways. Oftentimes, teammates will exchange information over the course of the weekend regarding their car setups to try and get all of the organization’s cars running their best. Teammates might draft to help each other save a little bit of fuel, or they may put up less of a fight with each other to allow the faster teammate to pass the slower one in order to not lose as much time. Realistically, teammates do help each other more than they hurt each other, but only one driver can win a race, and teammates have and will become aggressive with each other for a win.

Q: What is a pit crew and what do they do?

A: A pit crew is a team of men and women who service a car during the race. These crews are led by a crew chief who communicates with the driver during the race on how the car is handling. The crew chief then comes up with ways to improve the car and plans what adjustments to make. They relay their plan to the pit crew, who executes the service on the car, which can include changing tires, refueling the car, adjusting the wedge and trackbar, taking tape off or putting tape on the grille and removing windshield tear offs. Pit crews can perform a full four-tire stop in under 13 seconds, so try not to blink or you might miss it! 

Q: What is a spotter?

A: A spotter is a driver’s second pair of eyes. Spotters are also on the radio channels with drivers and crew chiefs and assist drivers in telling them what’s happening in front, behind and around them. Spotters communicate with drivers every lap of every race and, while a spotter primarily pays attention to their tem, they also pay attention to the competition to relay information to the driver on how they can adjust their driving style to be more competitive.

Q: Who are some notable drivers to watch in each series?

A: Each series has a number of drivers you’ll want to keep your eyes on. These drivers will be talked about during the course of the season, so I won’t get into too much detail here:

NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick, no. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing

Chase Elliott, no. 9 Hendrick Motorsports

Denny Hamlin, no. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch, no. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing

Joey Logano, no. 22 Team Penske

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Justin Allgaier, no. 7 JR Motorsports 

AJ Allendinger, no. 16 Kaulig Racing

Daniel Hemric, no. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing

Harrison Burton, no. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing 

Austin Cindric, no. 22 Team Penske

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Hailie Deegan, no. 1 David Gilliland Racing 

Sheldon Creed, no. 2 GMS Racing

John Hunter Nemechek, no. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports 

Zane Smith, no. 21 GMS Racing

Matt Crafton, no. 88 ThorSport Racing

Have more questions? Follow me on Twitter @PasseroJr and Tweet me your NASCAR-related questions at any time! 

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