Is Nascar a Sport? A Beginner's Guide to the Strategy and History of the Sport
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.
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.
Are You Planning To Go To A Race?
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.
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.
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
position at the end of the race
finishing the race
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.
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 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.
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.
Learn More About Nascar
- The NASCAR Hall of Fame
The official site of The NASCAR Hall of Fame - a state-of-the-art facility that will honor NASCAR icons and create an enduring tribute to the drivers, crew members, team owners and others that have impacted the sport in the past, present and future.
- Tours - Daytona International Speedway
Take a Speedway Tour at Daytona International Speedway!