How To Get Into NASCAR: A Beginner's Guide


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By: Tyler Hill


Have you ever heard of Richard Petty? The term “bump and run”? Are people crazy when they say the phrase, “It’s Bristol, baby!” If you find yourself asking these questions and longing for answers, then this article is for you. Here’s how you become a NASCAR fanatic.


Intro/Rules/Racing Style


Stock car races typically take place on oval tracks measuring approximately 0.25 to 2.66 miles. NASCAR events can be held on oval, dirt, and road courses. Fans enjoy short tracks such as Bristol because they cause many cautions for exciting restarts and lots of fun battles. Road courses aren’t all popular as they don’t have many opportunities for passing. Superspeedways can be great with lots of cars, as with a big crash, a surprise winner could come out, such as Michael McDowell at the Daytona 500 this year.


Top-level races typically range between 200 to 600 miles in length. The cars have initially been production models ("stock") but are now highly modified.


Top-level stock cars exceed 200 mph (322 km/h) at speedway tracks and superspeedway tracks like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. New NASCAR-spec top-level cars produce maximum power outputs of 860–900 hp from their V8 engines. For the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series, the power output of the competing cars ranged from 750 to 800 hp (560 to 600 kW). Some like to call this the day NASCAR racing died as the package isn’t good and provides more boring races.


NASCAR racing is aggressive, close, and fast-paced that is long enough for anything to happen. It could be 90 laps on a road course to a 600-mile race in Charlotte at the Coca-Cola 600.


Drivers of modified stock cars in a field of 40 for a race, racing laps around the track and compete with other vehicles to be the winner at the end of a race. A race consists of 3 stages, introduced in 2017, several laps determined by NASCAR and at the end of that number is when they restart entirely from the end of that stage, shown by waving the green and white checkered flag. Then they restart the race from the point where it ended in the last stage (four stages if we are racing in Charlotte at the Coke 600). If there is a caution with a few laps to go, it goes to overtime or a two-lap shootout. If the leader takes the white flag at one lap down, a caution can end the race. If a caution comes out without the white flag, they do it repeatedly from two laps.


On ovals, drivers try to go up top on straightaways and down low in turns as this where the most grip or the most excess rubber is to race faster. Drivers try to block cars from passing them to get the best position they can get. Sometimes, to get to the front, drivers need drafting. This happens when two or more cars come together, almost touching, to reduce drag. By displacing the air in front of the lead car, it creates a vacuum between its rear end and the nose of the next car, which pulls the second car along with it. This is why it’s beneficial for teammates in this sport. Don’t worry if you get confused. The announcers do a great job of explaining how things work in the first few races of the season,


The points system and playoff rounds determine the champion of the season. First off, stage points in stages one and two that count in the points table are perhaps the easiest to get as this could help determine a close race in terms of points. Stage three placements count towards the point system for the finish. Although the Coke 600 has four stages, the first three stages are for stage points, giving the driver an excellent opportunity to get some issues that may make or break them for a spot in the playoffs.


The leader at the end of Stage one and Stage two will get 10 points. Second place gets nine points. Third place gets eight points, fourth place gets seven points and so on until 10th place. With that, there is a new points system when the race is finished. The winner of Stage three or simply the winner of the race gets 40 points. Second place gets 35 points. Third place gets 34 points, fourth gets 33 points, and so on until the 36th car gets one point and continues till the 40th car. In Xfinity, 36 cars are entered, so only one car will get one moment, and in the Trucks, the 32nd and 33rd cards will get five points.


In a perfect world, NASCAR would be like the NASCAR Pinty's Series in Canada and have just a regular season, and the leader at the top of the points at the end of the last race on the schedule would be declared the season champion. But, it’s the opposite.


First off, who qualifies. The top 16 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races qualify for the Playoffs, provided they finish in the Top 30 in driver points and attempt to qualify for every race. If there are fewer than 16 different race winners in the first 26 races, the remaining positions will be determined by drivers' highest in points standings. Drivers' point standings will break all ties.


It's important to note that full-time Cup drivers who compete in the Trucks and Xfinity part-time do not have points in these series. It is only full-time drivers in those series.


Drivers who qualify for the playoffs will have their points reset to 2,000 points, along with one point for each stage won during the regular season and five points for each race win. Also, more bonus points for Top-10 in moments standings at the end of the regular season. With first place in the regular season earns 15 playoff bonus points in addition to the points earned with race or stage wins; Second place earns ten playoff points; third place eight, fourth place seven, fifth place six, Sixth place five, and so on all the way down to 10th which scores one single point.


The first three races of the Playoffs (27–29) will be known as the Round of 16, races 30–32 will be known as the Round of 12, races 33–35 will be the Round of 8 and race No. 36 will be the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.


The number of championship drivers in contention for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will decrease after every three Playoff races, from 16 to start; 12 after Playoff race 3, eight after Playoff race 6; and four after Playoff race 9. After the first cut (Race 29), the 12 drivers that remain will have their points reset at 3,000 at the start of Race 30. After the second cut (Race 32), the top eight drivers will have their points reset to 4,000 at the beginning of Race 33. After the third cut (Race 35), the top four drivers will have their points reset to 5,000 at the start of Race 36.


Stage wins earn one playoff point, which will be added to each driver's total, with a race win earning five playoff points. Further, the regular-season champion will receive 15 bonus playoff points. The second-place driver in regular-season standings earns ten playoff points, and the third-place driver earns eight playoff points. Each subsequent driver in the top 10 making a descending number of points, with the tenth place driver in regular-season standings earning one playoff point. These points will be added to each driver's total and carry through the first three rounds of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff and the first two rounds of the NASCAR Xfinity Series & NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs.


A win by a championship-eligible driver in any Playoff race automatically clinches the winning driver a spot in the next playoff round. The Xfinity Series Chase will only have 12 drivers and three rounds consisting of 7 total races. The Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs will only have ten drivers, with two drivers eliminated after the Round of 10 and 4 after the Round of 8. Drivers that miss the cut at the end of each elimination race will race for fifth place in the NASCAR Cup Series standings.


Four drivers will enter the 36th and final race of the season, the NASCAR Cup Championship. The official finishing position alone will decide the champion. No bonus points will be awarded to championship-contending teams for a lap led or for most laps led. Also, the race winner, should he be a Championship Four driver, will score only 40 points for the win, not 44 or 45 (if they lead the most laps). The three other championship contenders will score the minimum for their position (35 points-1 points). A driver and team not in the Championship Four will score 44 (or 45) points for the win and be eligible for bonus points (maximum of 60).


History

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Ah, the history of this sport. I am a young NASCAR fan and never saw a race live on TV before the package modification, but I have watched my fair share of old NASCAR races. Man, the racing isn’t what it used to be anymore. When you get into NASCAR, don’t ignore the rich history that comes with the sport.


When it began back in 1949, the series was known as NASCAR Strictly Stock or Grand National, and races were mostly on dirt oval short tracks. Compared to today with a race every weekend and the drivers going wherever they have to race, it was the opposite back in 1949. There were multiple races every weekend, some at different tracks, so drivers had to choose the track they wanted to race at. This was the dirt track era of NASCAR, but that all changed in the 1960s when the dirt ovals were paved, and the paved tracks outnumbered the dirt tracks.


The times have certainly changed. Fun fact: Martinsville, not Bristol, is the track still active today from the 1949 schedule. The last NASCAR Grand National race on a dirt track (until 2021) was held on September 30, 1970, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Richard Petty won that race in a Plymouth car. Petty was a welcome to this series, winning 119 times before introducing the Winston Cup Series.


Between 1971 and 2003, NASCAR's premier series was sponsored by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company cigarette brand Winston, dubbing it the Winston Cup Series. The series was originally called the Winston Cup Grand National Series before "Grand National" was dropped in 1986.


The changes in the series and the reduction in schedule from 48 to 31 races per year established 1972 as the beginning of NASCAR's "modern era." The season was made shorter, and the points system was modified several times during the next four years. Races on dirt tracks and oval tracks shorter than 250 miles (400 kilometres) were removed from the schedule and transferred to the short-lived NASCAR Grand National East Series.


ABC Sports aired partial or full live telecasts of races from Talladega, North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Charlotte, and Nashville in 1970. Because these events were perceived as less exciting than many Grand National races, ABC abandoned its live coverage. Races were instead broadcast, delayed and edited, on the ABC sports variety show Wide World of Sports.


In 1979, the Daytona 500 became the first stock car race nationally televised live from flag to flag on CBS. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, wrecked on the backstretch, allowing Richard Petty to pass them both for the win. Immediately, Yarborough, Allison, and Allison's brother Bobby were engaged in a fistfight on national television. This underlined the drama and emotion of the sport and increased its broadcast marketability.


The series underwent a large boom in popularity in the 1990s. In 1994, NASCAR held the first Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the famed Indy 500 is currently held. Between 1997 and 1998, the winner's prize money for the Daytona 500 tripled. This coincided with a decline in popularity in American Championship Car Racing.


By 2009, the popularity boom of the 1990s had ended, and television ratings dropped. Some long-time fans have criticized the series for losing its traditional appeal because of abandoning venues in the southeastern United States favouring newer markets. NASCAR was suspicious of diversity promotion and aware of the negative implications of the redneck image. It also recognized the opportunities to expand the sport.


Richard Petty, aka “The King,” has won exactly 200 times over his Grand National and Winston Cup starts along with 712 top 10s. He has dominated at the tricky superspeedway, Daytona, winning a record 11 times over his career. He raced from 1958 and ended his career officially in 1992. He also won 27 times in the 1967 season and has 7 Cup Series Championships. He is regarded as the NASCAR G.O.A.T. in most fans' eyes.


David Pearson or “The Silver Fox” was another great driver, and he and Petty battling all the time made for some great racing. He competed from 1960 to 1986. He passed away in 2018. He had success. racking up 105 wins and winning 3 Championships.


Jeff Gordon has won the series championship 4 times and has proved to be a factor at road courses. Racing from 1993 to 2015, with the boom in the 90s, Gordon was a fan favourite. He won 93 times along with a whopping 477 Top 10s.


Dale Earnhardt. A career cut short with the 2001 tragedy took his life on the last lap at the racetrack in that year’s Daytona 500. Racing from 1975 till his tragic death, he also won seven Championships with his 76 wins in the Cup Series.


Other notable drivers etched in history include Jimmie Johnson with seven Series Championships. His 83 wins tied with Carl Yarborough, but they still couldn’t match Bobby Allison and Darell Waltrip's 84 wins. Others include Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and Bill Elliot.


Overall, the history of this sport has been a roller coaster from its start in 1949, followed by its boom in the 80s and 90s, followed by the diminish of popularity starting in the 2010s. In 2021, with a revamped schedule and a champion that is a son of a well-known former driver, perhaps we could see another boom to pursue this great sport. Time will tell.


Drivers/Teams/Manufactures


For starters, the cars are Toyotas, Fords and Chevrolets. Dodge competed in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2012 with Team Penske before the team switched to Fords for the 2013 season, leaving Dodge without a team. There are still talks of Dodge coming back into the series, and I think it would be great, considering how dominant the Toyotas have been over recent years.


Joe Gibbs Racing


Joe Gibbs Racing is the major team with Toyota. Denny Hamlin could be considered the best not to win a championship. This year could be another great opportunity, as he is always a factor on a superspeedway. Winning the Daytona 500 three times. Kyle Busch could be the most hated NASCAR driver of all time. He is a two-time Cup Champion, but he is quite an aggressive driver who can cause a wreck if he wants to win. Busch holds the record all-time for most wins over the three series. He is the first driver in NASCAR Cup Series to win on every track he competed at. Martin Truex Jr who is one of my favourite current drivers. Truex Jr. is on the verge of ending his career but still is making noise. He won his only Cup series championship in 2017. He was a dominant force in Xfinity in the early 200s before his Cup ride, with two Xfinity Series Championships back in 2004 and 2005. Last but not least, promising young driver Christopher Bell, who won the 2017 Truck Series Championship. This season, he picked up his first win.


23XI Racing


The new team with Micheal Jordan and current driver Hamlin behind it. Bubba Wallace is still looking to find his first NASCAR win. He did, however, finish second at the 2018 Daytona 500, the highest finish for an African American.


Chip Ganassi Racing


We have Kurt Bush, Kyle Bush’s older brother. He won the 2017 Daytona 500 and won the Cup Series Championship in 2004. Like Kyle, he has also won in each of NASCAR’s three divisions. Ross Chastain, aka “Melon Man” (for smashing a watermelon after a win as he grew up on his family's watermelon farm), took over the 42 this season. He looks like Kurt and Kyle with a win in the Cup Series after previous regular-season wins in the Truck and Xfinity series.


Hendrick Motorsport


They have the defending Cup Champion, Chase Elliot. He is NASCAR’s most popular driver as he is the son of Bill Elliot. He is always a factor on the road courses. Kyle Larson tries to prove himself this season after being suspended for the rest of last season for a racist slur made during an I-Racing race. He is a factor on the 1.5-mile tracks. Finally, we have drivers, William Byron and Alex Bowman. Byron won the 2017 Xfinity Championship and won the pole for the 2019 Daytona 500. Alex Bowman has won the Daytona 500 pole multiple times.


Richard Childress Racing

They have a solid team. Richard’s grandson, Austin Dillon, drives the famed number three car previously owned by Dale Earnhardt. He was the surprise winner of the 2018 Daytona 500 in overtime. He also won the 2011 Trucks Championship and the 2013 Xfinity Championship. He is a veteran driver to always keep your eyes on, with three wins and 52 Top 10 finishes so far over 11 years. Tyler Reddick is a two-time Xfinity Champion in 2018 and 2019.


Richard Petty Motorsport


Erik Jones in the 43 Chevrolet is the lone driver. He has won Rookie of the Year in all three NASCAR divisions and the 2015 Truck Series Championship. He has 2 wins in the Cup series in his 6 years of racing at the level.


Front Row Motorsports


Current Daytona 500 champion Micheal McDowell. Anthony Alfredo drives the 38 and is a rookie this season. He had 9 Top 10s in his 1 Xfinity season last year.


Fenway Racing


Ryan Newman is on the verge of retirement and is trying to have a good run in his last few racing seasons. He has 18 wins, including winning the 2008 Daytona 500. In the 17, Chris Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity Series Championship and has won the Cup Series once, back in 2016 at Pocono.


Stewart-Haas


One of the bigger teams in the sport. This season’s lineup includes veteran Kevin Harvick in the number four car. His career has been successful, he has 58 wins in Cup, and his 119 wins across the three series put him third all-time on the list. He may be 45, but don’t let his age fool you. He won’t be stopping anytime soon, I think. Aric Almirola is a superspeedway specialist, with his 2 Cup wins coming at Daytona and Talladega. This year, Chase Briscoe is the rookie who had 9 Xfinity wins last year and took the 14. Cole Custer rounds out the team, who was last season’s rookie of the year, winning a race in Kentucky.


Team Penske


Another prominent team and they are known for being aggressive. Brad Keselowski won the 2012 Cup Series championship as well as the 2010 Xfinity Series Championship. He has won across all three series. He is a factor at superspeedways, having won six times at Talladega. Ryan Blaney drives the number 12 car and is a superspeedway specialist as well. He has been runner up at the Daytona 500 twice. At only 30 years old, Joey Logano has had a storied career. He won the Cup Series playoffs in 2018 and the Daytona 500 in 2015. Logano is also the youngest driver to win a Cup race at 19 years and 35 days.


Wood Brothers


Driving the 21 for is Matt DiBenedetto. He has been runner-up many times and is still looking for his first win. Not much else to say about them.


Feeder Series


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Xfinity Series


This is the level below the Cup and is the minor leagues. This is where if you want a ride in the Cup, you have to prove yourself. The races are usually televised but do not have many viewers, and the races are generally coupled with the Cup races on the weekend. Drivers from the Cup series can compete in this series for a limited set of races. Diehards love to watch this as it offers a sneak peek of the future of the NASCAR Cup. Popular drivers today include Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, and Justin Allgaier.


Truck Series


This is the level where some start to break out and prove themselves for an Xfinity ride. It’s not uncommon for drivers to skip this level and go right to Xfinity, like Ty Gibbs. People like Chase Elliot have done both bottom tiers to get into the Cup. This is even more unpopular than Xfinity, and the races are usually on channels like Fox Sports Racing. Again, diehards will still love this series and know their names. Drivers from the Cup can compete in this series for a limited set of races. Today's popular drivers include Matt Crafton, Brett Moffitt, Ben Rhodes, Stewart Friesen, and Sheldon Creed.


ARCA Series


This series is like the league below the three NASCAR levels. These have slower cars and a different build for the car. One problem with this series is that they can never get enough cars to compete and put them on a superspeedway, and the races get pretty dull with most cars getting out lapped. However, a few NASCAR drivers have started a race in this series, like Justin Allgaier, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, and Ty Gibbs.


Pinty's Series


The Canadian league for NASCAR. They race at tracks around Canada and are sometimes coupled with significant events like the Honda Indy race in Toronto and the NASCAR Trucks Race. The cars only have 525 hp, but the series still provides exciting racing. The race types vary from road courses at Mosport to the short track oval at Jukasa to the street course in Toronto to even the dirt track in Oshweken starting this year. The variety is excellent and provides excellent racing for fans north of the border still waiting for the Cup or Xfinity series to come back.


Major Races/ Tracks

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The Major races and tracks that are on the NASCAR calendar are as follows. The Daytona 500, one of the biggest and best races on the schedule. The Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway is a superspeedway and is almost guaranteed a “big one,” a crash that takes out multiple cars, usually 10-15. The Coke 600, held annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1960, it's a unique race as the first third is usually held during sunlight, the second third is held at dusk, and the final third at night. Then there is the Bristol Night Race, which usually includes someone saying, "It’s Bristol, baby!" That phase regards everything that can happen, from close pack racing to aggressive racing like the bump and run, meaning bumping the car aside to move up a position—finally, the last crown jewel on NASCAR's calendar, the Darlington’s Southern 500. A 1.3-mile track, the racing can be a hit and miss, but this is the race to watch given how much history this place has.


Then there are some still popular tracks, but not considered the crown jewels. Starting with

Talladega. This is my favourite track, personally. Another superspeedway, they have two races: a regular-season race and a playoff race. Both races always have great action, and most of the time, the cars are bunched together for great, close-paced racing and passing. Then there is Martinsville, a pretty underrated track. The racing isn’t what it used to be, but you will still see many aggressiveness and cars passing each other. Last but not least, there is the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. NASCAR’s only international date outside the U.S.A. happens in Canada at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. The Truck Series only runs here, and the racing is pretty good while Canadian fans wait for a Cup race north of the border or the Xfinity series returning to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The Car


The current cars have been in Cup level racing since 2013, and NASCAR must know how awful they are as they will be switching them out after this season. The horsepower can go up to 750 hp, but it is only around 550 hp with the spoiler. However, safety can be applauded. Joey Logano got flipped in the air, went for a wild ride and walked away from it.


Most of these cars are handmade and have to go through inspection. No, they barely represent anything like streetcars at all. It all starts with steel tubing for the frame of the car. Then, they weld the body onto the frame to give it its shape. They cover that with fibreglass sheets to complete the shell. However, there is still lots more to do.


Not all the cars are the same, and there is a car for short tracks and a car for superspeedways (greater than two miles a lap). Cars for superspeedways are built with the idea that top speeds will be higher, but engine power must be limited. This is created with restrictor plates that reduce that horsepower. Short track cars try to make as much downforce as possible—the opposite of the superspeedway car's goal. The downforce causes the car to grip down on the track more. I explained earlier about the top and bottom and how it holds more for short tracks. The speeds are usually lower, and these cars have no restrictor plates, causing pack racing and opportunity for the bump and run etc.


In terms of safety, this has been improved since the Dale crash. Cars have more safety advancements than they did 20 years ago, including the roll cage. The roll cage protects the driver and is strong enough to keep its integrity and protect the driver, which has saved many drivers who have flipped and been airborne. The seat is also designed to absorb some of the impacts and keep the driver inside the roll cage.


How to Start Watching NASCAR


Go to a Local Short Track Race


Nothing to do with NASCAR, but let's say you are exploring your options, and you are primarily into open-wheel racing like Formula One or IndyCar. They mostly race on the road courses, and the oval racing in IndyCar is far different. So hit up your local short track and watch the cars go round. It will give you a great sense of the more in-depth part of stock car racing much closer than you would while watching a race on TV. You will see the drafting(2 cars coming together nose to tail to reduce the drag), the blocking, and the bump and run up close in full effect and have more of an appreciation of these drivers. I would suggest the Pinty's race at Jukasa Speedway, but any short track weekly racing program with a late model division is a good start.


How To Watch In Canada


FOX Sports Racing


They broadcast the Truck series for most of the schedule, from the dirt race to the CTMP track in Bowmanville. Although, you have to have the cable package with the channel and be on a service other than Bell since Bell does not carry the channel. FSR is also a great place to catch some of the ARCA race broadcasts as well. In general, anything on FS1 or FS2 will be generally broadcast here.

TSN 1-5


They will have the Xfinity and Cup races for the season. The announcers change midseason, however. The team of announcers on FOX in the USA of Mike Joy, Clint Bowyer, and Jeff Gordon broadcast from the Daytona 500 till the All-Star race are my favourite broadcasters. Then the coverage switches over from FOX to NBC to allow FOX to cover the NFL season. Then, after NBC’s NHL coverage, we got the NBC broadcasting team of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, and Steve Letarte from the first race after the All-Star Race to the last race of the season. TSN also covers all of the Pinty’s Series races, although they are delayed and never live. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell when it will be broadcasted if you don’t look it up.


There you have it. I taught you the basics of the racing, gave you an intro into the technical terms, taught you the history, gave you a walkthrough of the car, gave you a list of drivers and teams to choose from to start following. If you decide to come along on the ride with us NASCAR fans, I guarantee you that you will have a good time.