STOCK CARS 101
New to the sport? Let's get you up to speed!
What is NASCAR?
We haven't read up on the 2023 rules yet....but here are the basics.
The acronym “NASCAR” is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. NASCAR was founded in 1948 by Bill France Sr. Today, NASCAR has 3 National series; the NASCAR Cup Series (since 1949), the NASCAR Xfinity Series (since 1982), and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series (since 1995). There are also many preliminary regional series; the ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East, ARCA Menards Series West, Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Pinty’s Series (Canada), NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, and the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
How did NASCAR start?
Many racing historians would tell you that NASCAR began in the beach speed trials in the early 1900’s at Daytona Beach, FL. Some racing historians will even credit the moonshining efforts during the Prohibition era as what started the racing mentality and the practice of tuning up cars to be as fast as possible. More officially speaking. However, NASCAR was founded after a series of meetings at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, FL in the winter of 1947-48. After a year of modified racing, NASCAR transitioned to “Strictly Stock” car racing in 1949 in what is now known as the NASCAR Cup Series, where Red Byron was crowned the inaugural champion.
What do the flags mean?
At the start of a race, cars are lined up double-file (side-by-side) and are led by the pace car/truck. When there’s only one more lap before the race begins or restarts, the lights on the pace vehicle will shut off, and the vehicle will enter pit road. This is when the NASCAR Official waves the. . .
Green Flag – This marks the start or restart of a race. Drivers must remain in their lane and refrain from passing until they cross the start/finish line. Green flag conditions are the normal state for a race until an incident occurs, where we would see the. . .
Yellow Flag – This warns the drivers of dangerous conditions on track that requires the race to enter a caution period. The field is immediately “frozen”, where passing is not allowed and no one loses their running position. All cars must also slow down to pace speed. Caution lights around the track signal the exact moment the caution period begins. The pace car/truck then leaves pit road and begins pacing the field with it’s lights on and flashing. A “yellow” may be thrown for a crash, spin, debris, or fluids on track, including rain. If conditions are extremely hazardous and may require a lengthy cleanup, NASCAR may issue the. . .
Red Flag – This flag effectively halts the race. Cars are either led onto pit road or forced to stop where they are on the track, depending on the location and/or duration of the cleanup.NASCAR may allow drivers to exit their cars if the cleanup or rain appears to cause a lengthy delay. Teams must not work on the cars during a red flag period, whether it be servicing the car or repairing damage. If they do, it would be a penalty. Penalties in NASCAR are signified by the. . .
Black Flag – A penalty that occurs during the race (i.e. speeding on pit road, jumping out of line on a restart, etc.) will cause a team to be shown a black flag when they cross the start/finish line. The driver must then report to pit road to serve the penalty, usually a drive through or stop-and-go. Sometimes a black flag may be issued if a car is racing with extensive damage that could create hazardous conditions. A team could also ask NASCAR for a black flag if they are experiencing technical communication issues with their driver. If a driver receives a black flag and does not obey it after some time, NASCAR will show them the. . .
Black Flag w/ White Stripe – This signals a team that NASCAR will no longer be scoring laps they run. NASCAR may resume scoring laps for the team if the penalty is served.
Red and Black Flags – The red and black flags are flown together at the end of practice and qualifying sessions to signal the end of the session and to call all cars on track back to pit road.
Blue Flag w/Yellow Stripe – The most commonly used flag is the blue flag with a diagonal yellow stripe. It is used to show slower/lapped cars that leaders are approaching and therefore should yield out of courtesy.
White Flag – This flag begins to wave as the leader crosses the start/finish line for the final time before the finish of the race, leaving one lap left to go. After this point, the next flag ends the race. Meaning, if a yellow flag is to fly during the white flag lap, the race is effectively over. Otherwise, the race ends with the. . .
Checkered Flag – This marks the end of the race and begins to wave as the leader/winner of the race crosses the start/finish line for the final time. Drivers often are handed the checkered flag after the race to celebrate their win on track and in victory lane.
Green Checkered Flag – The newest flag, introduced in 2017, signifies the end of a stage in the race. Once the Top-10 drivers have crossed the start/finish line, the race enters a caution period.
What are stages?
In 2017, NASCAR introduced stage-racing. There are 3 stages in each race; stage 1, stage 2, and the final stage. Where the lengths of stage 1 and stage 1 varies each race. The 600-mile race at Charlotte has a stage 3 before the final stage due to the longer distance of the race. At the end of stage 1, the green checkered flag is flown and a caution follows. The Top-10 drivers and teams earn points with the winner of the stage getting 10 points. 2nd place would get 9, and so on, until the 10th place driver gets 1 point. After this, the race follows regular caution procedures, then a restart. The end of stage 2 works the same way. The final stage then covers the rest of the race and the winner of the race receives 40 points, 2nd gets 35 points, 3rd gets 34, and so on, until 36th and all positions after 36th get 1 point. It should also be noted that in addition to the normal points, the winner(s) of each stage earns 1 playoff point, and the winner of the race earns 5 playoff points.
What are playoff points?
Playoff points are points that drivers receive by winning a stage, winning a race, or by finishing the regular season in the Top-10 in points. Winning a stage earns a driver 1 playoff point while winning a race earns them 5 playoff points. Being the Regular Season Champion (finishing 1st in points in the regular season) earns a driver 15 playoff points. 2nd in regular-season points receives 10 playoff points, 3rd gets 8, 4th gets 7, and so on until 10th gets 1 point. Playoff points are not added into a driver’s point total until the points reset at the beginning of a playoff round. This is NASCAR’s way of “seeding” drivers in a playoff.
How does a driver get into the playoffs?
The easiest and most reliable way for a driver to clinch a playoff spot is by winning a race during the regular season. In the NASCAR Cup Series, there are 16 available playoff spots, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has 12, while the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series has 10. The Regular Season Champion is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, regardless of the number of victories. If there are not enough race winners to fill all the playoff spots, the remaining spots are filled with the drivers highest in points without a win. If there are too many race winners, then the driver's lowest in points with only one win will be cut-off. A driver must compete full time (or receive a waiver from NASCAR) and be in the Top-30 in the Cup Series points in order to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The same rule applies in the Xfinity and Truck Series, except the requirement is changed from Top-30 to Top-20 in points.
How is a champion decided in the playoffs?
In the NASCAR Cup Series, once the playoff field is set after the 26-race regular season, all drivers in the Round of 16 are reset to 2000 points plus the playoff points they have earned up to that point. The following three races are run as normal, with each race winner clinching a spot into the next round. At the end of the three races, the four drivers lowest in points are eliminated from the playoffs and the remaining 12 are then reset to 3000 points plus the playoff points they have earned all season, including in the previous round. The Round of 12 continues as normal with 3 races, and again the bottom four are eliminated. These four drivers have their points reverted back to 2000 plus all points they have earned in the playoffs so far, giving previously eliminated drivers a chance to finish even higher in the final standings. The remaining 8 drivers reset to 4000 points plus all playoff points. Any playoff driver that wins a race during the Round of 8 is then guaranteed a spot into the Championship Round at Phoenix Raceway. At the conclusion of the Round of 8, the bottom four are again eliminated, leaving only four drivers left in the playoffs with one race to go. All four drivers are reset to 5000 points. No playoff points are added in and no stage points are earned in the final race for the four championship drivers. The championship driver who finishes ahead of the other three is crowned the NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
The NASCAR Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series have similar playoff formats. The Xfinity Series regular season is also 26 races, but only 12 drivers make the playoffs. Their playoffs consist of 7 races, instead of the Cup Series’ 10. Each round is 3 races long and 4 are eliminated at the end of each round. The rest is all the same to the Cup Series format. The Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series has only 16 races in their regular season and 10 drivers in their playoffs. Their playoff period is the same length as the Xfinity Series, but 2 drivers are eliminated in the first round instead of 4. The rest of the format is identical to the other series.
How many drivers are there in a race?
In the Cup Series, there are 40 drivers. 36 of them are guaranteed to be in the race as their team owns a charter. Any other team then competes to qualify for the remaining 4 spots. If there are more than 40 cars entered in a race, then only the fastest 4 unchartered cars in Qualifying will be able to be in that weekend’s race. In the Xfinity Series, there are 36 drivers. In the Truck Series, there are 32. In both the Xfinity and Truck Series, there are no charters, but there are a certain number of spots guaranteed to go to the teams highest in points to avoid championship contenders from missing a race.
What are charters?
Prior to the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series season, NASCAR issued 36 charters to teams based on their longevity in the sport, granting them guaranteed spots in every race. These charters are used to determine financial earnings based on performance over a number of years and provide more concrete value to teams. In addition to their ability to be sold, charters can also be leased for one season, but can only do so once over a 5-year period. There is also a “performance clause” where if a charter finishes in the bottom-3 for three consecutive years, NASCAR has the right to take away the charter. See our Charters page for more details.
How does a team qualify for the race?
After several years of using a group knockout format, NASCAR has returned to single-car qualifying for all oval tracks. The order in which they make their qualifying attempt is based on a random draw. The top-20 cars from the previous race are randomized and will be the final 20 cars to attempt to qualify, the rest of the field are also randomized and will make their attempt first. At ovals 1.25 miles long or less, each car is given two laps to put down a fast time, while at ovals longer than 1.25 miles, teams only have one lap to qualify.
Road courses still operate under knockout qualifying rules. There are two rounds of qualifying. The first round is 25 minutes long, teams can run as many laps as they want to try and put down the fastest time. The top-12 advance to the next round while the 13th-40th starting positions are determined. After a 5 minute break, the top-12 cars have their times reset and are given 10 minutes to put down a new fast lap to determine the 1st-12th starting positions.
If qualifying is rained out during one of the first 3 events, combined practice speeds determine which non-chartered “Open” teams qualify for the race and the starting lineup is determined from the previous year’s Owner Points (same format as the Driver’s Championship but specific to the car, not the driver). After the first 3 events, if qualifying is rained out, the entire starting lineup is based on current Owner Points standings. At road courses, if the first round was able to be completed and not the second, then the first round will count as the starting order.
How is the starting lineup determined for the Daytona 500?
For the “Super Bowl” of NASCAR, the qualifying for the Daytona 500 is exponentially more important than any normal qualifying procedure. However, this qualifying session only determines the front row for the Daytona 500 (1st and 2nd). All odd-numbered qualifiers (i.e. 3rd, 27th) will be placed into Duel 1 while even-numbered qualifiers (i.e. 4th, 28th) will be placed into Duel 2. The Duels are run on the Thursday night before the Daytona 500 and these races decide the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. The unchartered teams are split as evenly as possible between the two Duel races, regardless of where they qualify. The highest finishing unchartered car in each Duel is guaranteed a spot in the show, and the other 2 unchartered spots are given to the 2 fastest unchartered cars in qualifying on the previous Sunday.
How would rain affect a race?
Rain is perhaps the most annoying thing to any NASCAR fan as it would effectively halt all track activities. Rain tires could be used on road courses, at NASCAR’s discretion, but racing in the rain on an oval is not an option. When the rain begins, if it gets to be too wet on the track, NASCAR would wave the yellow flag to signal a caution period. If NASCAR deems the rain to be too much, likely they will wave the red flag, parking the cars down pit road, and, depending on the rain’s severity, let the drivers exit their cars. The teams then cover the cars to keep them as dry as possible. From there, it is a waiting game to see when the rain could stop, how soon the track can be dried, and if there’s enough time in the day and TV schedule to fit the race in. If NASCAR feels that they cannot continue the race that day due to the weather conditions and forecast, one of two scenarios occurs: If the race has yet to reach halfway OR the conclusion stage 2, the race would then be postponed to the next day where NASCAR would try to finish the race to the scheduled distance. If the race has already reached halfway OR finished stage 2, then the race is called official. The leader of the race is given the trophy and all is treated as if the checkered flag has been waved.