Why You Should Watch
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.
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.
Just 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.
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 – 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
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?
Yes! 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
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