Is Nascar a Sport? A Beginner's Guide to the Strategy and History of the Sport

Updated on September 6, 2017
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L.C. David is a freelance writer from Florida whose hobbies include watching others enjoy boat rides, theme park rides, and car rides.

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For those that have never watched a Nascar race from start to finish, its status as a sport may be suspect. It seems that for three to four hours cars drive in a monotonous circle, broken up by the occasional wreck or pit stop.

It doesn’t take too long, however, to discover that Nascar is a sport of strategy, athletics and endurance.

The History

Nascar basically was born in the South when moonshine runners would soup up their cars in order to beat the feds and deliver their illegal goods to waiting customers. Bragging turned into challenges from fellow moonshiners, and so impromptu races would pop up where two or more would test their cars, mechanical know-how and strategy against each other.

The first well-known, planned and attended races were held in Daytona Beach Florida, near where the famous Daytona International Speedway exists today. The early races were along the beach. They were dangerous and exciting as few regulations were in place at that time.

Modern Nascar racing is safer yet more regulated than those early days, but its popularity grows even as its demographics are changing.

Who Are The Fans?

According to Nate Ryan of USA Today, Nascar’s original audience was mostly under-educated white southern males who were in the moonshine business.

Ryan indicates though that the demographics and viewership of Nascar have been changing. The fan base is growing and diversifying. Women are watching the sport and with Danica Patrick now becoming a top contender in the races, there are likely to be even more women tuning in. The viewership has become more educated and is also beginning to attract more minorities.

Nascar is not just a working class, white man’s sport anymore.

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The Basics

If you talk with a seasoned Nascar enthusiast they may be interested in talking about their favorite driver, the specs on the car, and the pit crew times. You don’t have to know or fully understand any of these though to get involved in the sport. What you should understand though is that Nascar is a sport; the best drivers are in great shape, the pit crew is often stocked with athletes, and the team spends countless hours applying math and science to their racing strategies.

Different Levels

There are different levels of Nascar racing such as the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series.

The Sprint Cup series is the top-tier racing level. This is the one where big name drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch compete. The Sprint Cup race is usually the final race of the weekend series, most often scheduled on a Sunday.

Earning Points

If you are just getting into racing, The Sprint Cup is a great place to start. The racing season works on a points system. Drivers accumulate points in different ways. They accumulate points based on:

  • pole position at the start of the race

  • how many laps they lead

  • clean passes

  • position at the end of the race

  • finishing the race

  • winning

At the end of the season the points leaders get to race for the Sprint Cup during a series of ten races. The top twelve drivers are the ones who can compete for the prize which includes prestige and a significant amount of cash.

So right there you can begin to understand the strategy involved. Winning the race brings the most points plus money. But leading laps or earning the pole position can also earn you points so that you can hopefully earn a spot in the Cup Chase at the end of the season.

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During A Race

Once a race starts, the cars will race for a set number of miles. Depending on the length of the track, this will translate into laps. If you are watching on TV the announcers will help you keep track of laps. At the actual race there are also announcers plus a score board to let you know how many laps are left and what position each driver is in.

Wrecks

Wrecks can occur at any time, usually due to driver error but they can also happen because one driver is angry at another driver and aims to give them a light tap to remind them to mind their manners.

Wrecks can be minor collisions or involve a large portion of the drivers on the track, with fire and multiple flips. The regulations and safety equipment make nearly all the wrecks injury-free but often the cars are totaled. At speeds of sometimes more than 200 mph, even a small tap on the bumper can turn into a major event.

The wrecks also add an element of randomness to the sport. Even the best strategy may not be able to be implemented if the driver in front of you wrecks and brings you into the accident as well.

Pit Stops and Pit Crews

When there is a caution (which simply means the race goes into suspended mode and the racing field and race car positions are frozen) there is usually a pit stop. Pit stops can also happen at scheduled times if there have been no wrecks or cautions for other reasons.

At pit stops drivers refuel, get adjustments and get new tires. The pit crews are lightning fast and each component is well-planned and executed, making what takes your mechanic an hour to do, take under twenty seconds.

Winning

The driver that crosses the finish line first is declared the winner of the race. The last few laps leading up to the finish are usually the most interesting as drivers try to pass others and apply strategies and plans to take the lead. Often there are multiple wrecks, cautions and restarts.

If there is a wreck with three laps or more remaining, the caution comes out and the track is cleaned up. Then a green/white/checkered restart commences meaning that the drivers will need to drive three more laps to find the winner who takes the checkered flag.

If there are less than three laps left and a caution happens, Nascar will freeze the field and whoever is the leader at the time of wreck or caution event is declared the winner of the race.

This is a basic overview of Nascar to help you get started. I discovered the sport accidentally when my young son started watching it. I was surprised that I enjoyed watching the races and was then sold on the whole experience after attending several races at Daytona and Charlotte.

Nascar is a sport with a growing and more diverse fan base. I encourage you to give it a try.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Track Locations (A Through I)

show route and directions
A markerAtlanta Motor Speedway -
Hampton, GA 30228, USA
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B markerAuto Club Speedway -
Fontana, CA, USA
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C markerBristol Motor Speedway -
Bristol, TN, USA
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D markerCharlotte Motor Speedway -
Concord, NC, USA
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E markerChicagoland Speedway -
Joliet, IL, USA
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F markerDarlington Speedway -
Darlington, SC, USA
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G markerDaytona International Speedway -
Daytona Beach, FL, USA
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H markerDover International Speedway -
Dover, DE, USA
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I markerHomestead-Miami Speedway -
Homestead, FL, USA
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J markerIndianapolis Motor Speedway -
Speedway, IN, USA
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NASCAR Sprint Cup Track Locations (K through R)

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A markerKansas Speedway -
Kansas City, KS, USA
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B markerKentucky Speedway -
Sparta, KY 41086, USA
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C markerLas Vegas Motor Speedway -
Las Vegas, NV, USA
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D markerMartinsville Speedway -
Martinsville, VA, USA
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E markerMichigan International Speedway -
Brooklyn, MI 49230, USA
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F markerNew Hampshire Motor Speedway -
Loudon, NH, USA
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G markerPhoenix International Raceway -
Avondale, AZ, USA
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H markerPocono Raceway -
Long Pond, PA 18334, USA
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I markerRichmond International Raceway -
Richmond, VA, USA
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NASCAR Sprint Cup Track Locations (S Through Z)

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A markerSonoma Raceway -
Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
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B markertalledega al -
Talladega, AL, USA
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C markerTexas Motor Speedway -
Fort Worth, TX, USA
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D markerWatkins Glen International -
Watkins Glen, NY, USA
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Comments

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    • Joseph Renne profile image

      Joseph Renne 4 years ago from Milton

      Nascar is a sport! Auto-racing... I love the History. I have always been a fan. I also love the Nascar fantasy game... Go Team Chevy!

    • LCDWriter profile image
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      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      They are provable but I haven't seen proof yet. We will probably have to agree to disagree on that one. Let's see how the season goes this year.

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      pettymarketing 4 years ago

      we are talking nascar not football! conspiracy theories are not provable! Jimmy getting the most lucky dogs over his 6 straight years of winning is a proven fact not a theory . I stopped watching nascar because of the Jimmy Caution !

    • LCDWriter profile image
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      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      Okay, got it to work that time (the link). I just typed "several" since the number has already been discussed.

      But I mean the same thing can be said about certain suspect calls in football that led to convenient victories.

      Or what about the lights going out at the superdome just so it could be a close game?

      Honestly I'm not big into conspiracy theories. I think the simplest answer is the right one.

      Simple answer for the merchandise--a pre print so they could immediately start selling them---nascar loves to do that

      Jimmy winning---luck, cautions, debris, skill, whining but again, if they are going to fix it, fix it in a way that makes the races more popular and more exciting, not less.

      This is very interesting though. Thank you so much for pointing out this link and other information. You are adding to my knowledge.

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      pettymarketing 4 years ago

      Jimmy didn't win several he won 6!!! Big time fix is in!! How many Lucky dogs did Jimmy get because a plastic baggie blew on the track? The King won by blowing the doors off the competition! The intimidator won by knocking the doors off the competition . Jimmy won because of nascar throwing the caution . Jimmys trophies should be wrapped in caution tape.

    • billypetty22 profile image

      Billy Petty 4 years ago

    • LCDWriter profile image
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      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      The page link you posted doesn't work. I'm interested to see it, though.

      I think Johnson winning several championships did more to hurt the Nacar brand than help it. Fans were disgruntled, there were drops in attendance. When he would win or be about to win people would just start leaving.

      If you go to a race the two biggest merchandise trucks are Jr. and Jeff and they've both been really bad the past few years. (Jr. did have a slightly better year last year but fizzled out once the chase started.)

      Commenting on the merchandise thing (without seeing the link)--could the premature merchandise just be speculation, the same way people will have t-shirts printed up before a super bowl or other big sporting event. If their team doesn't win they usually end up donating them to needy people in other countries.

      I know that a lot of sports are fixed but I don't see Nascar as one of them.

      And if they were to be doing that they are sure doing a poor job of it by having unpopular drivers win so much. ;-)

    • billypetty22 profile image

      Billy Petty 4 years ago

      That's a legitimate point you bring up but Jimmie Johnson winning the title six years in a row is extremely difficult to do without some kind of help. Also there is proof that Nascar advertised a "Six time" championship merchandise of Jimmie Johnson before the season was over. (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nascar-from-the-marb... I'm not completely convinced nascar is fixed but there is definitely evidence that's supports it.

    • LCDWriter profile image
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      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for your comment. I think there is plenty of evidence that it is not a fixed sport. One reason I think this is that some of the most popular drivers such as Jr. haven't really had a chance at the championship in a long time. There's such an element of luck and randomness added to the skill and hard work. It's not pagentry in the same way something like wrestling is.

    • billypetty22 profile image

      Billy Petty 4 years ago

      I believe Nascar is a sport, however I think it is a fixed sport, to keep fans stay tuned. I have always been a Nascar fan since I was young, and at times races got boring, but there seemed to be something peculiar coming up after Tony Stewart made his giant comeback, and how almost all the Daytona 500's are extremely close. I hope it's not a fixed sport, but nothing these days would surprise me. Anybody else agree??