The Basics of a NASCAR Race Tips

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Who controls what happens on the track during a race and where do they?

Keeping it Under Control

The Series Director is responsible for what goes on during an event. They are the ones who call for the cautions, and make all final decisions for what goes on during a race. The Series Director's for the Nextel, Busch and Truck series are all stationed in Race Control above the grandstands usually near the press boxes or suites.

What is the Car Of Tomorrow?

Tomorrow is Today

The next generation racecar in the Nextel Cup series made its debut in 2007 and will become the standard vehicle for the series in 2008.

The Car Of Tomorrow, or the COT is the culmination of seven years of development by NASCAR's Research and Development center. The stated goals for the car are improved driver safety, enhanced competition and cost containment.

Safety features on the new car include:

  • Double-frame rail on driver's side with steel plating covering the door bars.
  • Energy-absorbing materials installed between the roll cage door bars and door panels.
  • Enlarged cockpit – the driver is moved closer to the center of the car and the roof is 2½ inches higher.
To help increase competition, the new cars also feature a pair of aerodynamic pieces; a rear wing and a front splitter.

The adjustable rear wing is designed to provide better balance and control in traffic. It replaces the rear spoiler.

The front splitter is also adjustable and enables teams to tune the front downforce to suit individual drivers and tracks.

The race weekend inspection process also changed. Previously racecars were inspected using a large number of templates. The process using the templates was tedious and could take up a great deal of time. It was also somewhat subjective.

The inspection process has been streamlined for the new cars and uses lasers and only a few templates. NASCAR also certifies the chassis when the car is built allowing for a quicker inspection at the track.

When NASCAR teams competed with their previous racecars, teams had to build a fleet of cars all designed for different tracks. There were cars specifically built for short tracks, intermediate tracks and superspeedways.

With the adjustable rear wing and front splitter along with a more defined body and chassis inspection process, teams will not need to build track-specific race cars. These factors help make it more cost-effective for the teams according to NASCAR.

“The Car of Tomorrow will alter the competitive landscape of NASCAR in a very positive way,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “We believe the drivers will be safer than ever; we believe the racing will be better than ever; and we believe the Car of Tomorrow will help control costs over the long haul.”

NASCAR's original plan called for a gradual ‘rollout' of the COT. 16 races in 2007, 26 events in 2008 with the cars becoming the full time racecar in 2009. The first COT race was in March of 2007 at Bristol, and after four races NASCAR decided to poll team owners.

Based on this input and the success of the COT in those first four races, on May 22, 2007 NASCAR announced that the Car of Tomorrow would become the full time machine starting with the 2008 season.

What brands of cars compete in NASCAR?

Different Brands Race

Currently, the only manufacturers authorized to compete in NASCAR are General Motors, Ford, Dodge and Toyota. The individual models are Chevy Monte Carlos, Impala SS (Car Of Tomorrow), and Silverado (Truck Series). For Ford it's the Fusion and Taurus (Busch Series) and the F-Series (Truck). Dodge has the Charger and the Avenger (Car Of Tomorrow) and the Ram in the Truck series. Toyota is the Camry and the Tundra in the Truck Series.

Typically models only models less then two years old are allowed to compete in the Nextel Cup series.

How are the cars brought to the track?

How the Teams Get There

Racecars are brought to the track in transporters or ‘haulers'. The haulers are normal 18 wheel tractor-trailers that have been specially modified to provide a ‘shop of wheels' for teams. The haulers carry two racecars to the track, the primary and the backup, both carried overhead. The rest of the trailer is modified with cabinets, a workbench, storage and a lounge area for crewmembers and drivers. Because the haulers attract a great deal of attention wherever they go, as much planning and perpetration go into the paint schemes on the massive rigs and the racecars themselves.

How many inspections do the cars go through?

Making the Grade

Cars are inspected prior to being released for their first practice, before and after they qualify and before and some after the race. Post race inspection always involves the top five finishers and several cars chosen at random by NASCAR.

What happens on the days before an actual race

It's More Than A Race...

When you turn on your TV on a Sunday afternoon to watch a Nextel Cup race, you're actually seeing the culmination of several days' effort. Nextel Cup Teams normally arrive at the track on Friday morning, Busch and Truck teams on Thursday. As soon as the garage opens, teams unload their primary cars, toolboxes and assorted equipment. They then make any adjustments needed for the first practice session.

Practice sessions are held to get the cars or trucks set up to qualify. Once qualifying is over and the field is set in the Nextel Cup series more practice is held. The final practice session for the Cup Series is called ‘Happy Hour'. This is the final chance for teams to make any adjustments before the actual race, usually the next day.

The Busch and Truck Series will usually compress everything including their race into one day. When all three series are racing on the same weekend, the Truck series will usually race on Friday, the Busch Series on Saturday and the Cup Series on Sunday.

Any race other than Cup races are known as ‘support races' and can be anything from the Busch and Truck series, to Busch North modifieds to Legend's series races.

Around the outside of the track a festival atmosphere slowly builds starting about midweek. Campers will roll in, merchandise vendors will set up their trailers along ‘souvenir row' and major sponsors will put out displays. Hundreds of thousands of people will occupy a temporary city. As soon as the checkered flag falls Sunday, the process of tearing it all down and moving to the next city begins.

So what you see on TV is only a small fraction of what really goes on, and you don't even have to attend the Cup race to enjoy the sights and sounds of a NASCAR event.

What do the flags mean?

Understanding the Flags

Seven flags are used in NASCAR; all but one are used by a NASCAR official at the start/finish line and shown to the car leading the race at the time or the polesitter at the start of the race.

GREEN: signifies the start of a race as well as a restart after a caution period.

YELLOW: signifies a caution period on the track and is displayed in combination with flashing yellow lights around the track. All cars slow then maintain their position and follow in single file behind the pace car. There is no passing while the yellow is displayed unless directed by NASCAR. Pit stops are permitted and teams can make adjustments or add fuel as necessary.

RED FLAG: All racing must stop immediately regardless of the cars position on the track. NASCAR will then direct the field to a safe area to stop. Once cars are stopped, no work of any kind is permitted on the racecars.

BLUE FLAG WITH YELLOW DIAGONAL STRIPE: Commonly called the ‘move over' flag, the car that this flag is displayed to is begin warned that faster traffic is overtaking them and they must yield.

BLACK FLAG; NASCAR is telling the car the black flag is being displayed to that they must pit at once. If a driver fails to heed the black flag then they are shown a black flag with a white cross and their car number is displayed on an electronic sign just under the flag stand. Once this happens, NASCAR will discontinue scoring the car.

WHITE FLAG: This is displayed to the leader when he crosses the finish line and starts the final lap of the race.

CHECKERED FLAG: displayed to the leader as he crosses the finish line declaring him the winner and showing the rest of the field that the race has ended.

RED FLAG WITH YELLOW CROSS: This flag isn't at the flag stand, but rather at the entrance to pit road. It tells the field that pit road is closed, and is waved as the same time as the yellow. Once the field is slowed down and the Race Director gives the go ahead, the NASCAR official stationed at the entrance pit road changes it to green telling the field that the pits are now open. Both flags are used in conjunction with lights, red for closed pit road and green when open.

How do teams qualify for a NASCAR race?

Making the Show

With the exception of the season opening Daytona 500, all teams attempt to qualify at a NASCAR race by the means of a single qualifying session.

To fill the 43 starting positions for a Nextel Cup or Busch Series race, or 36 in a Craftsman Truck Series race, teams must first submit an entry blank to NASCAR during the week prior to the event. NASCAR places no limits on the number of teams that can attempt to qualify for a race, but typically 50 teams will enter to try and make the ‘show' or a Nextel Cup race.

On qualifying day, NASCAR uses a qualifying draw to set the order that the cars will use to make their qualifying runs. Teams choose a representative who reports to the NASCAR hauler in the garage area. Using a machine not unlike one used in a bingo game filled with numbered balls, the representative chooses one. The owners points that week determine the order that teams choose the balls. The qualifying order is set after the last position is drawn.

The order that a team qualifies can be important depending on which track they are at that week and the time of day that the qualifying is run. Later in the day is preferable to most teams to qualify. Racetracks tend to be faster as the sun goes down and the track surface cools.

Each car in order will take one warm-up lap followed by up to two full speed laps. The faster of the two laps will be the lap of record and used to determine their position in the session. Some teams may only run one lap if they choose, feeling that the first lap will be the fastest and that they'll be taking a chance on an accident if they try for two.

Once every car has ran qualifying laps, the field will be set with the fastest seven cars not in the top 35 in points merged in according to their speeds.

At the start of the season, for the first five races, NASCAR uses the top 35 in owner points from the final race of the previous season. From the sixth race on, the current owner points are used (In the Busch and Truck Series, the top 30 in owner points is used).

The top 35 in owner's points are guaranteed a starting spot regardless of their speed. The cars not in the top 35 in owner points are called the ‘go or go home' cars; they have to qualify based on speed and are not guaranteed a starting spot. The ‘go or go home' cars can be ‘bumped' by those in the top 35. When a drivers lap puts him near the bottom of the speed charts he is ‘on the bubble' or in danger of not making the race should another driver among the ‘go or go home' cars put down a faster lap.

Another way that a ‘go or no go' car can be bumped is by a past champion. NASCAR reserves a spot in the field for their reigning or past series champions. This ‘champions provisional' can be used if the car is not in the top 35 in owner's points and the driver fails to qualify on speed. The order that these provisionals can be used is simple; the most recent champion gets the spot first if needed. NASCAR mandated in 2007 that a champion could only use six provisionals in a season.

In recent years, new teams have brought previous champions out of retirement in order to take advantage of their provisionals. In 2006, Hall of Fame Racing owned by former NFL players Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, hired two-time champion Terry Labonte to drive the first five races of the year for them.

Since the team had no owner points from the season before, Labonte was able to ensure them starting spots by using his champions provisional three out of the first five races.

Driver Tony Raines took over at the sixth race of the year, and the team only missed one race because of a failure to qualify the rest of the season.

Although the field is set after qualifying, the starting grid can still change. If a car crashes during practice after qualifying, changes an engine, or fails inspection (but is passed on re-inspection) it will be sent to the rear of the field prior to the green flag.

In the Busch and Truck Series, racecars and trucks are ‘impounded' after qualifying. Teams are only allowed to make minor changes and then only under the watchful eye of a NASCAR official prior to the race.

In the Nextel Cup series, five events are normally ‘impound' races.

Any team in any series that is caught making ‘unapproved adjustments' during an impound period earn a spot at the rear of the field on raceday and in some instances a fine from NASCAR.

If qualifying is rained out, the field is set by the top 35 (30 in Busch and Truck) owner points, followed by the previous seasons winners, past champions not in the top 35 and finally by those teams who have made qualifying attempts in the current year. Any ties are broken by their position in the owner points, regardless of where that is.

The only exception to NASCAR's normal qualifying procedures is at the season opening Daytona 500 for the Cup series and occasionally at select Busch series road course races.

For the Daytona 500, a qualifying session is still held, but only to determine the first and second starting positions. The rest of the field set by two 125-mile qualifying races.

At some Busch series road course races NASCAR uses a European style procedure. Cars are sent out in groups and the fastest lap during a specified time is used to set the field.

How many cars are in a NASCAR Race?

How Many Cars Are in a NASCAR Race?

In the Nextel Cup and Busch Series, the field is set at 43, the Truck Series 36. There is no limit to the number of teams who can attempt to qualify for the race, 61 teams showed up to try and make the field for the 2007 Daytona 500.

What are scorers?

Keeping Track

Scorers are a throwback to an earlier era in NASCAR. When the sport first started, each team designated a person to go to the scorers stand, always near the start/finish line and usually in the infield. The scorer would be responsible for manually marking, or ‘scoring', their driver each time the car crossed the line. These sheets were used to determine how many laps a driver had actually completed and in a few rare instances established who actually won the race.

Today NASCAR uses electronic scoring. Each car has a transponder and as they pass the start/finish line, it registers as a transponder unique to that car. As each car crosses, NASCAR knows who it is and therefore it keeps up with the scoring and where that car is running in relationship to the other 42 cars

There are still 43 scorers assigned by the teams for each race. They still report to the scorers stand prior to each race, and most often simply push a button each time their car passes the start/finish line. Their primary role now are as backups to the electronic timing and scoring.

NASAR has a Chief Scorer who has the overall responsibility for all the timing and scoring at a race.

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