To those unfamiliar with NASCAR and fall into the “they just go around in circles” camp, this is an insight as to why you should tune into America’s number two sport after NFL football.
NASCAR is a little more laid back compared to F1 – the drivers are interviewed on the warm up lap, and even racing at over 150-mph, drivers talk about how the race is going. NASCAR also made the headlines with Danica Patrick notching up the first female Sprint Cup pole at the Daytona 500.
NASCAR is action-packed – with 43 cars on track, all jostling for position at 200-mph, accidents are (often as much a 9) inevitable.
F1 cars cost millions, whilst a NASCAR takes just £150,000 of sheet metal and cast iron big block to race. The teams are even able to produce several different variants throughout the season to match the different kinds of tracks. The big block V8 engines are 5.9-L that produce up to 900-bhp depending on the track. The steering wheel alone tells you the massive technological gap between the two forms of racing: Formula One steering wheels feature around 25 buttons, knobs and switches, whereas a stock car has just a steering wheel.
The same goes for pit stops and telemetry. Where an F1 stop takes a mere three seconds, NASCAR stops are done a little slower, either adding tyres to the right side of the car or both – because cars race left, it’s the rights that take most of the load due to the camber and angle of the track. Although F1 cars are no longer re-fuelled, when they were a high-powered pump system dumped the fuel in very quickly. In NASCAR a man heaves a giant can into place and empties it via gravity.
Amazingly, a stock car doesn’t even have power steering, and considering these two-tonne cars generate huge turbulence, maintaining control and balance is no mean feat.
Whilst ovals are the dominant playground for these cars, there are two road course events. These take place at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. But is this enough, and should we bother tuning in to the ovals?
Because the speed is constantly high and the drivers need to drive with extreme precision – too high on the banking and you go too slow and hit the wall; too low and are likely to spin and take out other cars. Oval racing may look fairly simple, but because of the extreme banking and the constant movement from the cars, it isn’t as simple as it appears.
Former F1 star Juan Pablo Montoya started NASCAR in 2006. Although he won seven Grand Prix, he is yet to score an oval victory – both his NASCAR wins came on road courses, so this tells you how hard oval racing can be.
Even the 1997 F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve currently races in NASCAR, and having raced 19 times over the past 5 years, he has yet to score a single victory.
So what does it take to win in NASCAR? Most of it is experience in oval racing. Where F1 drivers are highly talented, they just don’t possess the life-long oval racing experience these seasoned NASCAR drivers do. There is a specific set of skills needed to race ovals, and even Indy Car luminaries Dario Franchitti and AJ Allmendinger have failed to make a success from their transition from single-seaters to stock cars.
The races last around 3 hours, twice as long as the average grand prix race. This may sound like boring viewing, however, you’re going to see more over taking and track action in one lap than during an entire F1 race. Although most wouldn’t like to admit to it, a lot of people love watching the massive wrecks and pile-ups.
Just as F1 has changed the appearance of the cars this year, the new ‘Gen 6? stock car in NASCAR has been improved over its predecessor. Whereas before, the old cars all looked alike, they are now easily distinguishable from another and look like their showroom counterparts, which is good for manufacturers wanting to advertise their product. The new cars are also faster, smashing nearly every lap record so far this season.
In NASCAR there are no stewards enquiries, so drivers usually settle their own battles. If a driver hits you unnecessarily, you hit them back. Only when something gets massively out of hand or a driver breaks a rule, will a driver receive a penalty. Although, after the race, drivers have been known to settle differences with their fists, which can also be considered as entertainment.
Over all, NASCAR is a little more hands-on and raw than other motorsports. Not to takeaway anything from F1 (I’m a huge fan), but if you remove the technology, complicated strategy and replace them with high speed crashes and lots of overtaking, you are left with stock car entertainment, the essence of what NASCAR is all about.