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The 2015 NASCAR guide for beginners

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The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, is one of America’s most underrated sports. Folks often write it off as a hobby rather than a sport and often claim “anybody can drive a car for 4 hours.” Those people are incredibly wrong.

NASCAR drivers need to be in peak physical condition (Take a look at Carl Edwards. The man is a freak athlete.) The drivers must endure 400-600 mile races with track temperatures sometimes exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, the slimmer you are, the better your chances are of winning a race. However, nowadays, driver talent is superior.

For those who know nothing about NASCAR and its rules and regulations but want to learn more about the sport, here is a quick summary of what you need to know about America’s #2 most popular spectator sport.

NASCARRace Basics

Lets start off with the number that is usually seen after a track or race name. For example, the Daytona 500. Many misinterpret this as 500 laps. The 500 represents the amount of miles the race lasts for. Moving on to the drivers in the field. For every race, there are 43 drivers. To determine this number, a qualifying session is usually held 1-2 days before each race. The top 43 qualifying drivers will then participate in the race. The individual who posts the fastest time in qualifying starts on the “pole.”

In a race, you will most likely see 6 flags. The green flag is the start flag, the yellow flag is the caution flag, the red flag is the stop flag, the black flag is the penalty indicator, the white flag signifies one lap remaining, and the checkered flag is the finish sign. The yellow flag will be waved when there is a crash, if debris is found on the track, or when bad weather begins to affect the track. Usually, the red flag will come out when there is heavy rain or a massive crash has taken place and the clean up efforts are lengthy. The fourth flag you will see is the black flag, which is the penalty flag given to drivers for disobeying rules.

The Car and CrewNASCAR

The race cars are called stock cars and are nothing like a normal car. These cars are packed with an average horsepower of 850 and weigh around 3,300 lbs. Depending on the tracks, top speeds can reach up to 200 mph.

During a race, drivers must come into the pit to change tires, refuel, and make adjustments to the car. The crew chief and crew are responsible for this. The crew consists of 7 individuals who are responsible for changing all 4 tires, pumping fuel into the car, and making any adjustments. Since time is everything in a pit stop, these members have to be incredibly fit. Most pit crew members are actually former college athletes, highlighting how importance strength, speed, and efficiency are.

The NASCAR Season

The NASCAR season is not a short season by any means. The schedule accounts for 38 races on 23 tracks, of which 36 are points races. The points races are the ones that count towards progression in the driver standings chart. For each race participated in, drivers accumulate points. For example, lets say a driver starts the Daytona 500 with a perfect car, but unfortunately gets involved in a crash that is not race-ending. While other cars are still racing, the driver is in the garage as he/she waits for the crew to make the proper fixes and adjustments. Once the car is ready, the driver gets back on the track and attempts to complete as many laps as possible before a winner is decided. During this time, the driver will still accumulate points that will be added to the driver’s overall standings.

“The Chase for the Sprint Cup” (the playoffs)

NASCARNASCAR decided to changed their playoff or “Chase for the Sprint Cup” format last season by introducing the “Chase Grid.” The current format is as follows: The top 16 racers (decided by wins and/or points) will progress to the Chase.
Essentially, the format is “win and you’re in.” For example, Brad Keselowski won 4 races during the regular season, placing him as the #1 seed because nobody had won more. Drivers who had won a race were most likely guaranteed a spot in the Chase. But drivers without a win who wanted to progress had to be consistent all year and accumulate enough points to advance, therefore heavily increasing the stakes of each race and the overall competition. This past season, 3 drivers (Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth) advanced to the Chase without a win because they had accumulated more points than the other winless drivers.

Once the top 16 is determined, the Chase begins. To be clear, the field still contains 43 cars but only 16 are in the Chase. It is possible that a non-chase driver can win a race. If that is the case, then the chase drivers will be scored in order of finishing place and the highest finish will accumulate more points. The playoffs contain 3 rounds and each round consists of 3 races. At the end of the 3rd race in each round, the 4 drivers with the lowest amount of points are eliminated. In order to guarantee a spot in the next round, a driver must win. At the end of the 3rd round, 4 drivers remain and they compete at Homestead-Miami speedway for the Championship. The driver who wins that race or finishes highest amongst the 4 is declared the Sprint Cup Champion.

Here’s to a great upcoming season.

Source: Ashwin Mathur. Follow Ashwin on twitter @shwinamon

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This is a really interesting read.  NASCAR is barely known here in the UK - I'm pretty sure it's not televised and most people probably couldn't tell you what it was.  It looks like it would be amazing to see in person, especially given that you can see the whole track.  Not like F1 where a spectator can only see the little bit of track in front of them and has to rely on big screens to know what's going on elsewhere.  

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When Red Bull F1 had a celebration day in Milton Keynes (after winning the second championship I think) David Coulthard drove a NASCAR up and down the streets - it was amazing!  Super-loud!  I'd love to have a go at driving one on a track.  

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