Why You Should Watch… NASCAR

Why You Should Watch

Daytona, NASCAR, 2013The 2013 NASCAR championship starts this weekend with one of America’s best-known races: the Daytona 500.

The race has already grabbed headlines as Danica Patrick has become the first woman to take pole position for the 500-mile race.

And there are plenty more reasons to turn in for this year’s series as Dominik Wilde explains.

The basics

NASCAR is sometimes derided by fans of European-style motor racing for its frequent crashes and oval-heavy schedule. There’s no denying a lot of the action takes place on ovals – all bar two of the 36 races on this year’s Sprint Cup are.

But the two road course events are always among best races of the year. They take place on two fantastic tracks, Sonoma and former F1 venue Watkins Glen. But with only two tracks with right turns in the whole championship, why should you watch oval racing?

With 43 cars on track, all racing together closely at speeds reaching 200mph, the competition is undoubtedly tough. It demands accurate driving: too high and you go too slow and hit the wall, too low and you again go too slow, and are likely to spin. Oval racing isn?t as simple as it seems.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya: Since deserting F1 for NASCAR in 2006, the seven-time Grand Prix winner is yet to score his first oval victory. Both his Sprint Cup wins came on road courses.

Likewise 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve has also given NASCAR a go, running 19 races in the past five years across all three main series without winning.

If talented F1 racers like Montoya or Villeneuve can’t dominate, surely you don?t need superhuman talent to compete? Not quite. F1 and NASCAR are completely different. Put a top NASCAR driver in an F1 car and it’s likely they’ll be quick, though not the fastest.

Part of that is down to the specific skill required to race ovals, but even IndyCar stars like Dario Franchitti, AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jnr failed to convert their success from single-seaters to stock cars. Racing in NASCAR demands a different and very specific kind of talent.

Races tend to last around three hours. That might sound boring, but you?re likely to see more overtaking in one lap than during an entire F1 race. And for some there is the added appeal of fairly frequent crashes which can involve dozens of cars or more.

In F1, drivers rarely win if they don?t start from the top five on the grid. In NASCAR though, due to the competitive nature of the sport and the length of the races, it is possible to win a race after starting 43rd.

The cars

Kyle Busch, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013An F1 car is a 600kg fine-tuned laboratory on wheels. In comparison a NASCAR stock car is incredibly simple. It weighs about 2 tonnes, is made of sheet metal and has a simple small-block V8 up front.

F1 cars cost millions, NASCAR machines cost about ??150,000 with several cars being built throughout the season for different kinds of tracks to suit the different sizes of oval tracks. Engines are 5.9 litre iron block V8s and produce 700 to 900bhp depending on the circuit.

Formula One steering wheels are littered with buttons and teams rely on an array of computers and sensors to monitor the car. All of that is alien to NASCAR.

The cars don?t even have fuel sensors: instead teams must calculate tyre wear and fuel use to make sure they last the race and the driver has to perfectly describe every single sensation they feel so the team can understand what is going on with the car.

There’s no power steering either. And with 42 other cars generating huge turbulence, wrestling a two-tonne beast and keeping it going in a straight line is no mean feat.

In 2007 NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow. It was developed following the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. Although it proved much safer than previous NASCAR chassisit was introduced to widespread criticism.

Kyle Busch claimed “this car sucks” after winning the first ever CoT and fans disliked how each manufacturer’s car (looked virtually the same.

Just as F1 has tweaked the appearance of its cars this year, the new ‘Gen 6′ NASCAR is aesthetically an improvement over its predecessor. Each car is easily distinguishable from another which is not only good for fans, but also manufacturers who of course want to advertise their product.

Drivers have also praised how the car performs on track. NASCAR strives to make sure all the cars are as equal as possible, without making the series a spec series, to ensure that it stays interesting and competitive.

Boys have at it

There?s no stewards enquiries, no expensive courtroom battles; drivers in NASCAR settle their own differences. In NASCAR, if a driver hits you unnecessarily, you hit them back. So long as things don?t get massively out of hand, drivers get away with retaliation too.

However, things often turn sour. Take Phoenix last year for example ?ǣ an on-track spat between drivers Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer resulted in an ugly brawl in the pits. Gordon was fined, which many considered too light a punishment.

Fights are not uncommon in NASCAR, but drivers tend to receive more severe punishments for their language. Kurt Busch was banned for one weekend in 2013 after using foul language to a reporter having been put on probation for a similar incident at the end of 2011

The chase

In most respects Formula One is more complicated than NASCAR. But NASCAR’s convoluted points system is an exception.

At each race the winner scores 43 points, second place gets 42 and so on down to to last place. On top of that the winner receives an extra three points and a further point is awarded to each driver who leads a lap and whoever leads the most laps, raising the maximum available for a driver at each round to 48.

In an effort to ensure the championship remains alive until late in the season, NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Cup in 2004.

Heading into the final ten races the top ten drivers in the championship standings plus two other drivers who have scored the most wins have their points tallies reset to 2,000. Got all that?

But wait, there’s more: The drivers who were in the top ten receive an additional three points per win, plus one point for leading a lap. The driver in the top ten who has led the most laps also gets another point. From that point on these 12 drivers are the only contenders for the championship.

While this has drawn criticism for being complicated, arbitrary and not necessarily rewarding the best driver, it has placed more emphasis on winning and contributed to the championship being decided at the final race of the season for the last three years.

Should you watch it then?

Danica Partrick, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013Yes! OK, the points system is a mess, the cars are as technologically advanced as an IKEA bookcase but the racing is fantastic. I?m a fan of both F1 and NASCAR: I started off an F1 fan and grew to love NASCAR.

Despite its simple-looking tracks, every lap keeps you on the edge of your seat. And the drivers are a world away from F1’s PR-trained corporate clones.

Over to you

Do you watch NASCAR? What do you like or dislike about it?

Have your say in the comments.

What motorsport would you recommend other F1 fans to follow? If you want to put the case for your favourite non-F1 category write a guest article and send it in. More information here: Write a guest article for F1 Fanatic

For more from Dominik see his website Dominik Wilde Motorsport

Why you should watch…

Images ?? NASCAR/Getty

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185 comments on Why You Should Watch… NASCAR

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  1. Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 23rd February 2013, 18:53

    Super-speedway restrictor plate racing is, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular sights in all of sport – let alone motorsport.

    I always watch the Daytona 500. It’s a fantastic event and never fails to excite.

    • Adam Blocker (@blockwall2) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:25

      But the Daytona 500 is pretty much a lottery. The only part of the whole race that matters is the last 5 laps, some drivers even intentionally stay in the back of the field for the majority of the race. The rest of the race is just a waste of time, and a lot of time at that (over 4 hours).

      And when people like Trevor Bayne, Ward Burton, and Derrick Cope win the race that says something about the talent that is required to win the race. Or just the quality of the drivers in NASCAR. Very low.

      • MagillaGorilla (@magillagorilla) said on 24th February 2013, 3:53

        @Blockwall2 Trevor Bayne isn’t that bad and at the time Ward Burton around the time he won the race was finishing in the top ten of points. Derrick Cope though…I easily have to agree and though I dont think Burton is a great driver at all, he did have a good drive for a few years just not championship good.

        Though people would call it a lottery I must ask when did you really start watching it, because prior to about 2008 when tandem took over it wasn’t really a lottery. Certain teams had better plate packages DEI, HMS, and RCR. However, it would seem now days HMS and there extension team Stewart Haus as well as ford teams like Roush Fenway, and perhaps Penske this year too.

        Also most if not all races run up to 3-4hours and usually they don’t run over it like you suggest, unless there is a rain delay. It is a strategy to stay at the back of the pack which you fail to inform others as well, a strategy so that when a big wreck happens they don’t get taken out in the exchange.

        • Adam Blocker (@blockwall2) said on 24th February 2013, 4:30

          @mangillagorilla My point is that it should not be a successful strategy to intentionally go around at the back of the pack. But since “the big one” is inevitable due to the lack of quality in the drivers, it can be.
          Another illustration of low quality is how long unsuccessful drivers hang around. In F1 for example, drivers are quickly replaced due to lack of performance, while drivers in NASCAR hang around for about 10-15 years. It’s pathetic that people like Terry Labonte can still make the grid.
          Races aren’t just extended due to rain btw, they can be extended for 2 and a half hours due to a hole in the track! Apparently the quality of the track surfaces aren’t that great either…..

          • @mangillagorilla Terry Labonte is a former champion FFS..ther are many hanger ons but Terry or Bobby Labonte arent ons.

          • MagillaGorilla (@magillagorilla) said on 24th February 2013, 17:35

            @blockwall2 Once again, I ask for some factual proof that there is a lack of quality in drivers. There are plenty of road race drivers, many of these guys take part in Rolex, Le Mans, Indy IZOD, F1 and so on past and present. The issue is rookie drivers making mistakes that hurt everyone similar to what we saw this year by Romain. The only reason I argue this is because I want the realistic facts to be out there, not some one that is bad as British media (bashing rally as they do Daily Fail) and American media (making sensation news for the few massive wrecks with no injury that happen).

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd February 2013, 23:45

      Very sorry to see several fans were injured in a NASCAR Nationwide race at the track today ahead of the main event:

      Fans injured in NASCAR Nationwide Daytona race

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 24th February 2013, 6:54

        The amount of crashes is pretty worrying for me. I know they try and work on that (new car and everything) but still …

        Lets hope everyone recovers without major problems.

  2. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:01

    That might sound boring, but you’re likely to see more overtaking in one lap than during an entire F1 race

    Well, that doesn’t make it exciting (for me).

    I’d love to enjoy NASCAR and Indycar. I’d really love to, because there’s a lot going on there, and if you check highlights for every other race, it really looks exciting.

    I do admire the simplicity. The lack of sensors for tyres and fuel consumption is cool, that should be done in F1 aswell…

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 23rd February 2013, 23:17

      Just seen the accident at Daytona. Well, that’s one ENORMOUS thing that doesn’t appeal to me and influences every other thought I have about oval racing in general, and specially NASCAR.

      It’s just a pointless waiting-to-see-how-I-end-up-in-crashes sport. There’s nothing you can do to prevent accidents, even if virtually none of them are mechanical issues that lead to incidents. I mean, they are going all together, 3 wide, 200 mph, in a tight oval. It’s just going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      Is that racing? They all end up with the cars on fire, big chunks of steel laying around on the circuit, cars completely wasted and one odd guy that manages to survive (because luck, not because talent), wins.

      And then there’s the safety. They should’ve put the grandstands on the inside of the track… to see a WHOLE ENGINE come through a fence isn’t pretty… it’s a 2 ton car flying around and smashing hard on a fence that just manages to divide the grandstands from the track.

      Americans love that, I know and I’m sorry to point it out like this. They love the crashes, the fights between drivers. They love to see someone sliding his car towards someone on purpose to gain a position, they just love all that stuff. Otherwise, they’d have banned half the drivers out there.

      And the organizers promote that, not by chance The Simpsons were all sad that no one crashed in the NASCAR race they attended… it’s a clear view of it.

      And it’s just not for me…

      • DamionShadows (@damionshadows) said on 24th February 2013, 0:24

        I just want to say that not ALL Americans like the “crashes” and the “fights”. One of the many reasons I don’t watch NASCAR is because of the emphasis on the “big one” and the arrogant bravado of some of the drivers. Neither of these aspects appeal to me in any way.

      • Wonderduck (@wonderduck) said on 24th February 2013, 1:34

        And then there’s the safety. They should’ve put the grandstands on the inside of the track… to see a WHOLE ENGINE come through a fence isn’t pretty… it’s a 2 ton car flying around and smashing hard on a fence that just manages to divide the grandstands from the track. Americans love that, I know and I’m sorry to point it out like this.

        No, you’re not, or you would have put it some other way.

      • Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 24th February 2013, 9:29

        @fer-no65 I think it’s pretty offensive to put all American racing fans into the same basket when it comes to this. Of course there are some ignorant rednecks out there, but there are just as many people in Europe who watch Formula 1 casually hoping for crashes and drama too. After all, whenever there’s a big crash in a Grand Prix events, there’s always a surge of viewers who come to F1F looking for more information and videos. How is that any different to these ‘Americans’ you seem so critical of?

        I think it’s pretty unfortunate that someone could use something like NASCAR to criticise an entire nation of people. After all, the United States F1 Grand Prix was the most popular and one of the most highly attended event of last season, which destroys the myth that ‘Americans don’t like F1′. If anything, it only helps to reinforce the negative stereotype of European racing fans that we’re all elitist snobs – which certainly does seem to be true whenever NASCAR gets mentioned…

  3. javacofe (@javacofe) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:08

    are there any legal internet broadcasts of Nascar?

    I caught a one-off blip caused by a scheduling clash on Sky Sports F1 last year and found it interesting but the commentary was akin to a newscaster trying to explain nuclear fusion (dull)..

  4. I watch NASCAR whenever I get a chance to as it is quite entertaining to watch. I don’t watch it for the overtaking as the value of an overtake in NASCAR is very little, but it is exciting not knowing who’s going to finish where until the very end.

    One thing I hate about NASCAR however is the arbitrary caution periods, often when I watch NASCAR a safety car will come out for no apparent reason. It seems to me that they just throw yellow flags whenever a races starts to get dull or the leader has a big advantage. I’ve even heard that they do it so that the broadcasters can go to a commercial break, which wouldn’t be surprising considering that commercial breaks happen frequently in the United States.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:31

      I liked Nascar when the cars really were “stock” cars, the change to a standard tube-steel chassis and bodywork running pushrod V8s and beam axles caused me to lose a lot of interest but it was the endless random “safety”car periods you describe so well that turned me right off Nascar.

  5. The Big One the only reason to watch Nascar

  6. So it’s, more or less, stock car racing at higher speeds? Sounds entertaining to watch but the kind of thing I’d get bored of watching but want to try. Like parachuting.

  7. Emma_LN said on 23rd February 2013, 19:26

    I used to watch nascar but its all got way too artificial for my liking.

    The restrictor plate pack racing is more about luck than skill in terms of it your lucky enough to avoid the inevitable big wreck. Most the drivers also hate it for this reason.

    The tandam draft we see now is a complete joke as far as im concerned.

    The constant meddling from officials to get ‘the show’ exactly as they want it is tiresome. How many changes did they make to the cars last year for the show?
    They also seem to make up rules as they go along now.

    You also have the phantom yellows where the pace car will be called off if it looks like the field is getting spread out.

    The whole chase for the cup concept is ridiculous, The road races usually become demolition derbys & the whole tv broadcast tends to be quite dull.

  8. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:28

    F1Fanatics complaining about lottery in F1? How about we remind them what a lottery REALLY is?

    I see what you did there, @keithcollantine ! :P. Just kdd

  9. Enigma (@enigma) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:28

    I’ve only watched a race or two so I don’t know NASCAR too well, but having read that, it just seems too American for me (I don’t mean anything offensive with that, it’s just how I feel). It seems too much about entertainment instead of focusing on racing itself.

    • I too share this opinion. I have also tried watching a few races and never enjoyed it. I think it’s something most European’s will struggle to enjoy. The overly American commentators dont help much either (no offence to anybody) plus loads of adds every couple of minutes also ruins it for me.

      • hays33d (@hays33d) said on 23rd February 2013, 21:31

        So I suppose you would be fairly easy going about BBC F1 commentators being criticized by an American as “overly English”.

        • You must have missed the part where they said “no offence”! It automatically cancels out any insult.

          • hays33d (@hays33d) said on 24th February 2013, 2:58

            Damn, @aka_robyn, you are right! I blew it on that one.

            And let’s be honest. Any time you have to say “no offence”, you know perfectly well you are insulting someone. Which ironically is insulting to everyone’s intelligence…

          • Enigma (@enigma) said on 24th February 2013, 8:55

            @aka_robyn @hays33d I wrote ‘no offense’ to show it was not my intention to offend anyone, but rather to expess my opinion. I realise some people might take offense from it, but that wasn’t my intention.

            I don’t mean anything bad by ‘too American’. It’s just a cultural difference and NASCAR seems like something people of USA’s culture would (generally) enjoy more than us Europeans.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 24th February 2013, 6:52

          Not sure, but I do get the impression that most of us understood exactly what @enigma meant in using “too American”, so It does the job, doesn’t it?

        • Ilanin (@ilanin) said on 25th February 2013, 8:50

          Certainly, though I would correct “English” to “British” on behalf of David Coulthard, who, being Scottish, would take offence at the former characterisation. Being English, it doesn’t worry me hugely as a feature of the British broadcast, but I’ve always considered it a bit of a problem for the world feed.

    • HerrStig (@herrstig) said on 23rd February 2013, 21:27

      It’s too American for me as well…and I am American.

  10. Brace (@brace) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:30

    In NASCAR, if a driver hits you unnecessarily, you hit them back. So long as things don’t get massively out of hand, drivers get away with retaliation too.

    How is this considered a racing category? This sounds like road rage. And where’s the line where they’d consider things to have gotten “massively out of hand”?

    Then there’s “The Chase” and the “overtaking”.

    People who are listing all of that as a selling point for NASCAR obviously don’t understand why more involved F1 fans watch F1 at all.

    F1 is about pursuit of excellence, about ingenious ideas for solving problems with “boring” things like airflow, feeding the diffuser, about playing the long strategic game in the race and similar.

    I think the thing that makes is F1 hard for new fans is the fact that you can only really appreciate it once you get really immersed into it, and that’s kinda hard way to get new fans who want instant joy from watching 15minutes of TV.

    NASCAR seems to only be trying hard in the area that concerns “the show”, like points system etc.

    I think, the perfect way to compare F1 and NASCAR as both a sport and fans, is like racing games where one is Simulation and the other Arcade.
    You can like both of course, but it takes a certain level of fanaticism and dedication to learn and appreciate Simulations, especially since they often do away with gimmicks like post-race interviews and flashy videos and commentary and instead focus on the depth of car setup and car handling.

    • Mike (@mike) said on 24th February 2013, 2:19

      Yeah that’s pretty much what I was thinking.

      drivers get away with retaliation too.

      Specifically, that’s what lost me, and the chase thing? Wow, really?

      I can see why some people like NASCAR, and I have watched races before and enjoyed them, but every aspect seems so…. ugh, bogan.

    • MagillaGorilla (@magillagorilla) said on 24th February 2013, 4:13

      @ Brace how is one a simulation and the other an arcade, setup is big in nascar it’s not a simple as strap in and go. The drivers are conflicted with oversteer on a constant basis several tracks deal with camber and toe setups being critical like Pocono and Indy plus others. The fact that many tracks have bumps in certain parts and other parts not so much, spring rate balance is then a big part. There are package setups for the varying track sizes and unless you look into the technical portion rather than watching mainstream coverage you wouldn’t know.

      Nascar is similar to V8 Supercars (prior to COTF) and other sedan like car racing just too many ovals in Nascar and not enough road courses.

  11. Adam Blocker (@blockwall2) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:31

    About the whole steward’s inquiry thing, they give out penalties for everything just the same as in most motorsport series. They have fake fights in the pits (a bunch of rednecks acting like they are going to do something), they say the drivers can race as they please but then hand out penalties the second cars touch, or someone cries after being touched. And then you have the fact that they only race on like 5 different tracks all year because all of their tracks are virtually the same. They just copy and paste a track from one side of the country to another.

  12. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 23rd February 2013, 19:32

    Stock cars are heaps of junk; hardly the work of a supposedly top-level racing series.
    The fights are just stupid; I really don’t know why people like them.
    The cars are incredibly dull; nothing exciting about them at all; nothing that makes me go ‘WOW’.
    The lack of circuit variety makes practically all NASCAR tracks the same; in F1, there are the fast straights of Monza, the fast sweeping corners of Suzuka and Silverstone, the stop-start nature of Monaco, the night race that is Singapore, the undulating nature and weather unpredictability of Spa and Sao Paulo, the race from daylight to darkness of Abu Dhabi. All of those features make F1 interesting to me; the prospect of seeing 43 cars turn left does nothing for me.

    • @xjr15jaaag – I second everything you’ve said: the American’s aren’t winning me over just yet! I still watch Rugby over American Football and European football is just so much better than the Soccer leagues, likewise I still exclusively watch F1 and occasionally Endurance racing & GP2/WSR – NASCAR or Indycar has just never interested me!

    • Wonderduck (@wonderduck) said on 24th February 2013, 20:56

      The lack of circuit variety makes practically all NASCAR tracks the same.

      Yes, because Daytona is exactly the same as Michigan, Darlington, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, and Bristol, right?

      The cars are incredibly dull; nothing exciting about them at all; nothing that makes me go ‘WOW’.

      Really? Nothing excites you about a 4000lb car powered by a 900hp engine with steel brakes going 200 mph while surrounded by 42 other cars?

      I’m not even a NASCAR fan, and I appreciate how difficult it is to drive one well. Lewis Hamilton sure doesn’t agree with your opinion…

      • @wonderduck – the lack of circuit variety concerns the percentage of ovals present in the series. And no, a 4000lb, 900hp car with steel brakes sounds incredibly 20th century compared to a (minimum weight restricted) 1300lb, 750hp (from a much smaller engine), carbon-ceramic-braked F1 car! The specs sound not dull, but very unsophisticated and pale in comparison to an F1 car.

  13. Roger2012 said on 23rd February 2013, 19:33

    I’ve tried watching nascar a bunch of times, Even went to the 2010 Montreal race & I’ve decided that its not for me.

    The big pack racing is stupid, Even the drivers admit its more of a crap-shoot than an actual racing. When you have 40 cars all stuck together running flat out, where nobody can really go forward unless there pushed from behind & when you know the big crash is just around the corner I don’t see any value in that.

    The road racing’s pretty dull as well, As I said I went to the race at Montreal in 2010 & well over half the race occurred under caution because they were incapable of not crashing.

    There’s also the absurd green white checker finishes where they basically keep extending the race to get it to end under green. If a race is 200 laps then it should end on lap 200, If it ends under caution then its just tough luck.

  14. I Love the Pope said on 23rd February 2013, 19:41

    I’m American and I cannot stand NASCAR. If that was the only racing out there, I would never watch racing.

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