The most popular form of auto racing in the United States. NASCAR is an acronym for the "National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing."
The organization (and sport of stock car racing) has its roots in the American Deep South during the Prohibition period, when "moonshiners," as they were called, would soup up their cars so they could outrun the police. After Prohibition ended, these moonshiners found themselves out of a job and instead of looking for more illegal activity, began racing against each other. It also has roots in Daytona Beach, Florida, where some people would race on the hard-packed sand beaches. Many speed records were in fact broken on those beaches. By the 1940s, these races with the former moonshiners became popular entertainment in the rural areas of the South. After years of having to put up with (some) unscrupulous and (more) unorganized promoters, several drivers and promoters, headed by Bill France Sr., founded the organization in Daytona Beach in 1948. It's that rare North American sports organization that has never had its predominance challenged (viz. USFL, World Hockey Association, ABA, innumerable attempts at new major leagues, etc.), which is testimony to France's business clout, vision, and force of personality.
The early years of NASCAR were mostly a period of growth. Most of the early tracks were short dirt tracks in the South. The first race of the "Strictly Stock" series (later to be known as the Winston Cup, NEXTEL Cup, Sprint Cup, Monster Energy Cup, and now as just the Cup Series but then accurately named as the cars were stock right down to column-shifted transmissions whose linkages could not be rushed) was held in 1949 at Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina. The first series champion was a man by the name of Red Byron. The only track still on the series schedule from the 1949 season is Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. The first completely paved track and the first over one mile long was Darlington Raceway, which had its first race in 1950. In 1957, the new "fuelie" Chevrolets dominated so thoroughly that NASCAR banned fuel injection (a ban that persisted until the 2012 season, almost 20 years after the last carbureted road cars disappeared from US showrooms); in retaliation, GM not only pulled out but maneuvered the Automobile Manufacturers' Association trade group into banning its members from supporting racing in any way (a ban that was worked around within a year and gone within the decade). Then, in 1959, everything changed. For years, the Daytona event had been run on the Beach-Road Course, a half-beach, half-road course that used half of the Florida State Road A1A. Because the event was attracting large crowds — and because the occasional accident where said crowds became human guard rails — there needed to be a permanent track to race on, so the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway was built, and the first running of what would be known as the Daytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959. Today, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's Super Bowl and World Series, unique in that it's the first event on their yearly schedule (having been so since 1982), running on the Sunday of Presidents' Day weekend.
The 1960s and 70s were a time of growth for the organization and the sport of stock car racing. This is the time when the sport and organization really began to gain attention around the country and the world. Despite some races run in the Northern United States (and Canada) in the early years, stock car racing was still considered a Southern sport. However, with TV coverage, the sport began to find some popularity outside the South. In the 1960s, the Daytona 500 was usually taped and presented as part of ABC's Wide World of Sports package. However, in 1974, ABC began to broadcast the race itself live, starting with the halfway point at lap 101. The first live, flag-to-flag coverage of the race was done 1979 by CBS, which included a memorable last-lap crash between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, which resulted in a fistfight between the two drivers and Donnie's brother Bobby. The 60s and 70s were dominated by Richard Petty, who later became known as "The King", winning 7 Grand National (now Cup Series) championships and 200 races total.
The 1980s saw a slow, steady rise in NASCAR's popularity, in part thanks to a driver by the name of Dale Earnhardt, who won four Winston Cup championships in that decade. Starting in 1981, the cars became less and less "stock" and turned into actual, purpose-built race cars; the days of buying a car and driving it to the track to race were over. The sport's slow expansion would turn into a boom in the 1990s, thanks largely to a driver by the name of Jeff Gordon, who was from — shock! — Californianote and — horrors! — clean-cut, photogenic, and a good interview. In 2001, NASCAR lost Earnhardt, its biggest star, who had won seven Cup championships by that time. He was killed in a crash in the final lap of the Daytona 500, which forced the organization to review its safety policies.
Today, NASCAR is one of the most popular sports leagues in the world, with audiences and drivers from around the world. However, this popularity has been waning in recent years. Much of it can be blamed on Brian France constantly making changes. While some changes reflect the modern reality of sports politics (such as the move from traditional tracks such as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro to newer facilities located nationwide such as Las Vegas and Kansas City), others see many of the changes as a cash-grab or a way to rig races in the favor of whatever driver the sanctioning body wants to win, usually whoever is supposedly selling the most merchandise. The decline really set in when the fifth-generation car (known as the Car of Tomorrow) was introduced in 2007. The car was met negatively, as there was little, if any, difference between the four manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota), which NASCAR attempted to justify by trying to make it more about driver skill rather than manufacturer support. The car also nixed the rear spoiler in favor of a wing, making the car look more like a touring car than a stock car; this wing was re-replaced by the spoiler in 2010 after it was found that the wing made the roof flaps (which are supposed to set the car down when it spins) useless and caused several airborne crashes (two in Talladega and one at Atlanta), one of which looked eerily similar to Bobby Allison's 1987 crash at Talladega that led to the restrictor plate being mandated at Talladega and Daytona starting in 1988. In addition, the Car of Tomorrow was also slow and boxy, and the racing product degraded, as a result. Despite this, the Car of Tomorrow, statistically, actually created the most competitive period in NASCAR history to date. The Car of Tomorrow was introduced to the Nationwide Series in 2010, but they were more accepted due to resembling ther street counterparts more (the Dodge Challenger, in particular, was declared the best-looking car in all of NASCAR).
In 2011, the Car of Tomorrow received a slight redesign to the nose, once again allowing the grille area to resemble their street counterparts. This led to a new form of racing known as the two-car tandem, which was heavily criticized, even though it did create two first-time winners at Daytona (Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500, and David Ragan in the Coke Zero 400) and a photo-finish at Talladega, as well as first-time winners in Regan Smith at Darlington, Paul Menard at Indianapolis, and Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen, plus the most competitive title fight since 1992 that ended in a tie between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (Stewart ultimately won the tiebreaker by virtue of having five wins that season, while Edwards had one). The cars received a new superspeedway package in 2012 that made the tandem all but impossible, though it remained prevalent in the Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) until a crash at the 2013 Drive4COPD 300 that saw Kyle Larson fly into the catchfence at the end of the race, ripping out the front of the car and injuring 33 fans. That same year, the Car of Tomorrow was replaced with Gen-6 car, which has more clear-cut differences between the Chevy, Ford, and Toyota models (Dodge left the sport after 2012 when Penske switched back to Ford, and no other major teams would switch, though they did design a new Charger model; Dodge cars continued running unsupported in the Nationwide/Xfinity Series until 2018, ARCA until 2019, and the Truck Series via the Ram Trucks brand until 2016; a few Dodge-engined cars are still running in the Whelen Modified Tour, many Dodges can still be found in the Whelen All-American Racing Series, and the Pinty's Series in Canada is dominated by factory-supported Dodge cars, since Fiat Automobili, S.p.A. supports it via its Canadian arm). The Gen-6 car will be replaced by the Next-Gen (formerly Gen-7) car in 2021, with the goal of making the cars resemble their street counterparts and attracting more manufacturers; so far, Honda and Nissan have expressed interest, and many fans are hoping for Dodge to make another return.
In 2018, NASCAR bought longtime Alternate Company Equivalent ARCA, thus meaning NASCAR now has a extra minor league in the form of ARCA Menards Series. Further integration between NASCAR and ARCA will be happening in 2020, as both K&N Series' (East and West) will be joining the ARCA banner and renamed into the ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West starting from the 2020 season.
Currently, NASCAR have 13 series under its sanction: 3 major national series (Cup, Xfinity, Truck), 5 regional series (K&N East, K&N West, Modified, ARCA, and All-American), 3 international series (Pinty's, Mexico, Euro), and 2 Professional Gaming ("eNASCAR") series (PEAK Antifreeze Series for iRacing, Heat Pro League for NASCAR Heat).
Major National Series
- NASCAR Cup Series
First Season: 1949Current Drivers Champion: Kyle BuschCurrent Teams Champion: Joe Gibbs RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ToyotaThe highest level of NASCAR racing. In the current format, a Cup Series season consists of 36 races and is divided into two segments: The "regular season", which consists of the first 26 races, and the "Playoffs", where the top 16 drivers, seeded based on their total number of wins, will compete against each other in the last ten races for the championship. In the Playoffs, the first nine races are divided into three rounds, with four participants being eliminated after each round before the surviving four participants compete in the Grand Finale at Homestead where the highest finisher of the four will be declared as champion. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the most titles in the series with 7. Petty is also the most successful driver statistically with a staggering 200 race wins, a number that is practically impossible to beat today due to the fact that Petty raced in seasons where there were 50+ races in a single season, as well as having a longer career than most modern-day drivers (Petty raced from 1958 to 1992, while a typical career these days lasts, at most, 15-20 years). The current "modern era" (1972 onwards) record for the most race wins is 4-time champion Jeff Gordon, with 93. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch is the current champion, his second Cup title and his first full-season campaign one as his 2015 title campaign was shortened due to a Game-Breaking Injury that he suffered after a crash during the first Xfinity race at Daytona on that year.
- NASCAR Xfinity Series
First Season: 1982Current Drivers Champion: Tyler ReddickCurrent Teams Champion: Richard Childress RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ChevroletThe second-highest level of NASCAR racing and usually seen as the last step for a driver before making their way to Cup. The Xfinity races are frequently held as support races on the day prior to a Cup Series event scheduled for that weekend. In the current format, a season consists of 33 races and similar to Cup, it is also divided into two segments: The "regular season", which consists of the first 26 races, and the "Playoffs", where the top 12 drivers, also seeded based on their total number of wins, will compete against each other in the last seven races for the championship. Because the Xfinity Playoffs only have 7 races, only two elimination rounds are held, but otherwise the rest of the Playoff system remains the same: Four participants are eliminated after each round, and the surviving four will compete at Homestead for the title. Xfinity became infamous for its tendency to have drivers do "Buschwhacking", in which drivers who are regulars in the Cup Series also compete on a regular basis here, forcing NASCAR to institute a rule where the drivers had to lock their eligibility to one national series only in 2011 before ultimately limiting how many races a Cup driver can participate in both Xfinity and Truck starting from 2017. 2009 champion (and a regular Buschwhacker) Kyle Busch is the most successful driver here with 95 wins. Tyler Reddick is the two-time defending champion, having won the championship for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports in 2018 before successfully defending it with Richard Childress Racing in 2019 the first Xfinity driver to win back-to-back titles with different teams. The Xfinity Series is notable for having the first occasion in the national series where a driver was crowned champion despite not scoring any wins during the season (Austin Dillon, 2013) as well as the only occasion in the national series (so far) where a non-American driver has won the championship title (Mexican Daniel Suárez in 2016).
- NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
First Season: 1995Current Drivers Champion: Matt CraftonCurrent Teams Champion: ThorSport RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ToyotaThe third-highest level of NASCAR racing and usually seen as either the second-to-last step for a driver on their way to Cup or as the series where former Cup drivers continued to race before retiring. As the name implies, Truck Series features racing silhouette versions of pickup trucks. The Truck races are also frequently held as a support race to a Cup Series event scheduled for that weekend, usually the first one held should all three be hosted on the same weekend. In the current format, a season consists of 23 races and it is also divided into two segments: The "regular season", which consists of the first 16 races, and the "Playoffs", where the top 8 drivers that were seeded based on their total number of wins will compete against each other in the last seven races for the championship. Similar to the Xfinity Playoffs, the Truck Playoffs have only two rounds, but unlike Cup and Xfinity, only two participants are eliminated after both rounds before the surviving four drivers compete in the season finale at Homestead for the title. While the "Buschwhacking" tendencies do appear here, generally they gained much less heat here as full-time Cup drivers for the most part never tried to compete for a full season in Trucks and when they do appear, its mostly for owner-driver duties like Kyle Busch. Ron Hornaday Jr. is the most successful driver in terms of titles with 4 (and 51 wins), while Kyle Busch is the most successful driver in terms of wins with 56. Toyota made their national series debut here in 2004. ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton is the defending champion, having won his third title in 2019 despite being winless just the second time this happened in the three of NASCAR's national series. Truck Series is notable for having the first non-American owner to win a NASCAR national series title: Shigeaki Hattori, the Japanese who owned Hattori Racing Enterprises (the 2018 champions with Brett Moffitt).
Regional National Series
- NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
First Season: 1987Current Drivers Champion: Sam MayerCurrent Teams Champion: GMS RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ChevroletThe main fourth-division category of NASCAR, K&N East are now often used as the series for young drivers to gain experience before moving to the national series. Generally races in short oval tracks ranging from 0.33 to 1 mile in length, although it does have one road course race at Watkins Glen in the current calendar. Notable for having the first occurrence in NASCAR where a driver won the championship title with no wins (Dale Shaw, 1994). Andy Santerre has the most titles with 4, while 1995 champion Kelly Moore has the most wins with 27. GMS Racing driver Sam Mayer is the current champion, having won the K&N East title in 2019 to become NASCAR's youngest-ever champion.
- NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
First Season: 1954Current Drivers Champion: Derek KrausCurrent Teams Champion: Bill McAnally RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ToyotaThe other main fourth-division category of NASCAR, K&N West is known for having the first NASCAR race to be held outside of the United States (an exhibition race at Australia's Calder Park in 1988) as well as the only NASCAR series so far to have hosted a championship race in Asia (Motegi in 1999). Generally races on short tracks across the Western half of the United States (hence its name), although the current season does have a road course race at Sonoma (held as a support race for Cup). Jack McCoy has the most race wins here with 54, but Ray Elder has the most titles with 6. Derek Kraus is the current champion.
- ARCA Menards Series
First Season: 1953 (2018 under NASCAR sanctioning)Current Drivers Champion: Christian EckesCurrent Teams Champion: Venturini MotorsportsThe former Alternate Company Equivalent for NASCAR, the ARCA Menards Series officially became a NASCAR-sanctioned series after NASCAR bought ARCA in 2018. ARCA is considered a minor but professional league of stock car racing, often used as a feeder series into the three national touring series of NASCAR like K&N, and hosts events at a variety of track types from superspeedways, road courses, and dirt tracks. Became infamous for the "ARCA Brakes" terminology where drivers, due to their inexperience, will not use their brakes to avoid or mitigate the effects of a crash. Before the Gen-6 car was introduced in 2015, ARCA was a dumping ground for older Cup Series cars, and older models of cars were common (Pontiacs ran in the series as late as 2007); as of 2020, such bodies are illegal in ARCA competition. Venturini Motorsports and soon-to-be Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christian Eckes is the current champion, while Frank Kimmel is the most successful driver in the series with 10 titles and 80 wins.
- NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
First Season: 1985Current Drivers Champion: Doug CobyCurrent Teams Champion: Mike Smeriglio RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ChevroletThe Modified category is actually NASCAR's oldest category, as the first Modified races were held in 1948 (one year before the first Cup race was held), although the modern Whelen Modified Tour wasn't held until 1985. The only open-wheeled division in NASCAR, the series primarily races on short paved oval tracks, although the Modified Tour has also made appearances at larger ovals and road courses. Modified cars can be best described as open-wheel stock cars. Whelen Modified Tour is the only series across all of NASCAR that has a retired number: Richie Evans' No. 61. Evans is the most accomplished driver in Modified's history with 9 titles, 8 of them were won consecutively between 1978-1985. His number, 61, was retired after he was killed during practice at the season finale race in Martinsville after he clinched the inaugural Modified Tour title the week before at Thompson. Mike Stefanik is the most successful driver in the NWMT era of the Modifieds with 7 titles. Series' defending champion Doug Coby is the current most successful driver, as he had just won his sixth NWMT title in 2019.
- NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
First Season: 1982Current Drivers Champion: Jacob GoedeCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ChevroletMany local race tracks across the United States and Canada run races under the Whelen All-American Series banner, where the local drivers who compete in the series then race against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation wins the Whelen All-American Weekly Series National Championship. Jacob Goede is the current National Champion.
- NASCAR Pinty's Series
First Season: 2007Current Drivers Champion: Andrew RangerCurrent Teams Champion: DJK RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: DodgeInaugurated in 2007 after NASCAR bought out CASCAR, the Pinty's Series is the highest level of stock car racing in Canada. After the so-called "Zombie" Dodge Challenger was retired from the Xfinity Series at the end of the 2018 season, Pinty's is currently the only series where Dodges compete in NASCAR, and is also currently the only series where Toyota doesn't run. Currently has a 13-race calendar with a balanced amount of oval and road course races, as well as a race in the United States (New Hampshire) the only International Series to host a race in the United States currently. Scott Steckly has the most titles with 4, and Andrew Ranger has the most wins with 28. Ranger is also the defending champion of the series, having won the 2019 championship to claim his third Pinty's Series title.
- NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series
First Season: 2004 (2007 under NASCAR sanctioning)Current Drivers Champion: Rubén García, Jr.Current Teams Champion: Canel's RacingCurrent Manufacturers Champion: ToyotaInaugurated as an official NASCAR series on the same year as the Pinty's Series, the PEAK Mexico Series is the highest level of stock car racing in Mexico. Having been held for every year bar 2016 (supposedly due to the organizers wanting to support the then-returning Mexican Grand Prix), the Mexico Series generally features a balanced amount of oval and road course races, although the current schedule currently has more oval races compared to road course races (9 to 3). Mazda participates in this series. Germán Quiroga has the most titles with 3, while Rogelio López has the most wins with 25. Rubén García, Jr. is the current champion in his third title reign, having successfully defended the title that he won in 2018.
- NASCAR Whelen Euro Series
First Season: 2009 (2012 under NASCAR sanctioning)Current Drivers Champion: Loris Hezemans (Elite 1), Lasse Sørensen (Elite 2)Current Teams Champion: Hendriks MotorsportThe first official NASCAR series to be held outside of the American continent, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is unique in many ways: Not only it is held in Europe and the schedule primarily consists of road courses (only two seasons, 2015 and 2016, have two oval race weekends in a single season), it also have two separate classes with their own separate drivers and championship. The races are also generally held as double-header races, with one race for both classes in Saturday and Sunday, with the Venray rounds after its reintroduction to the series in 2019 being the only exception of this so far. The season currently consists of 13 races held on 7 tracks across Europe. The main championship, the Elite 1 class, is open to everyone (mainly the pro drivers), while the Elite 2 class is generally restricted to either young or amateur drivers. To both cut costs and to spice up the competition and the team aspect, it is mandatory for a team to share the same car for their drivers across both classes, meaning that one driver's mistake can prove costly for the other driver of the team. It is the only non-national series to have a Playoff system, although unlike the Playoff system that Cup/Xfinity/Truck used, Euro's Playoffs are double points-paying races and it is open to everyone participating. Dutchman Loris Hezemans is the defending champion in the Elite 1 class, while Danish driver Lasse Sørensen is the current champion in the Elite 2 class after he had one of the most dominating performances by a single driver in NASCAR historynote . Spanish driver Ander Vilariño, with 3 titles and 22 wins, is the most successful driver in the Euro Series so far, although Israeli Alon Day is catching as he's only 2 wins and 1 title away from breaking Vilariño's record. Euro Series is also notable for having the first NASCAR champion with a disability (2018 Elite 2 champion Ulysse Delsaux had high-functioning autism). Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve currently competes here in the Elite 1 class.
Professional Gaming Series
- eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series
First Season: 2010Current Drivers Champion: Zack NovakThe first official eSports championship that is sanctioned by NASCAR, and the first official sim racing eSports championship that was held by any major racing series across the world. As the name implies, the drivers compete on simulated versions of the actual real-world tracks and cars on iRacing. The 2019 season has a prize pool of $100K, and the series now features sim racing teams that are run by real teams (such as Joe Gibbs Racing and Wood Brothers, and even Williams has a team here), as well as professional eSports organizations such as Renegades. Ray Alfalla is a 4 time champion in this series(the most), and 17-year-old Zack Novak is the defending champion. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. notably won the very first race of the series in 2010.
- eNASCAR Heat Pro League
First Season: 2019The newest officially sanctioned NASCAR series, Heat Pro League is the first NASCAR eSports league to be held on consoles using 704Games' NASCAR Heat as the game of choice. Like the PEAK Antifreeze Series, the drivers compete on simulated versions of the actual real-world tracks and cars. Currently there are 28 drivers on 14 teams, with each of the participating teams fielding two drivers, one competing on Xbox One and the other on PlayStation 4.
NASCAR is frequently the victim of Snark Bait and Public Medium Ignorance, ranging from light jabs (such as the worn-to-death "left turn contest" crack that provides the page image for the latter) to vicious attacks on both the sport and its fans. A backronym popularized among NASCAR's vocal detractors is "Non-Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks", which perfectly crystallizes the most common complaints about the sport; some have even stated that NASCAR (along with all forms of motorsport) are not sports because they don't involve physical activitynote and/or a ball. Because of its roots in the rural South, NASCAR is heavily associated with stereotypes of that region (see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, an Affectionate Parody of the sport, for one of the canonical examples). Even if you are an Ivy League grad from Boston, admitting to being a NASCAR fan is an easy way to get called a redneck, although this is becoming less the case as the sport's popularity spreads beyond the South.
In addition, a fair number of motorsport fans, particularly European ones (among them the hosts of Top Gearnote ), like to contend that NASCAR requires less skill than other motorsports like Formula One and rally racing, as nearly all of the races take place on oval circuits instead of the more technical road courses found outside NASCAR. While the courses may be "simpler" from a technical standpoint, they require a completely different set of skills to race successfully on; a fair number of Formula One drivers have floundered when making the jump to NASCAR because they underestimated how big a shift this is.