Friday, June 20, 2014

NASCAR for the Uninitiated by Aileen Fish

In recent months, a young Reddit fan happened to mention how well a driver named Josh Wise was doing for his under-sponsored single-car team owned by Phil Parsons Pacing. As he and other forum members got to talking, the question of “What if…” arose. The next thing they knew, they’d collected enough Dogecoin donations, the peer-to-peer currency created for Internet use, to sponsor Josh Wise for a race.

They didn’t stop there. Voting opened for the annual All-Star race opened, and they went to work voting Josh Wise into the race. Apparently, he won by a landslide, which is pretty major considering the usual fan favorites of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick were on the ballot.

All this Internet activity has brought new fans to NASCAR, so you or one of your loved ones might have begun watching races recently. You might not be feeling you understand all the rules, which is okay, because the rules change each year in small ways, leaving a lot of us scratching our heads or calling into radio shows to get answers. You probably recognize the basics: a field of up to 43 drivers competes on oval tracks or road courses to win the race. Unlike European auto racing, we only celebrate one winner, not the podium of three. In NASCAR terms, second place is “first loser”.

NASCAR has three major levels, plus a handful of regional ones, but most of the time if you hear someone talking about a race or a driver, they are referring to one in the Sprint Cup series, sponsored by Sprint. The second tier is currently the Nationwide Series, but sponsor Nationwide Insurance is stepping back next year, so we’ll be fumbling over the name for many months. Then there is my personal favorite – the Camping World Truck Series. Yes, that’s right, they race pickup trucks! How cool is that? Okay, I imagine it’s more cool to country-at-heart gals like me who think trucks are best. Given that these races are only televised on sports channels like SPEED and FoxSports1, it’s obviously not the fan favorite. But the racing is just as wild and dirty, the finishes often just as close as the upper tiers.

{Kenny Wallace gets fuel & tires at Gateway, 2006.}

Having three levels that often race on a single weekend leads to what they call “the sweep”. A single driver winning in all series on a weekend is said to have swept the weekend. You can sweep a two-race weekend, also, but it’s obviously not as hard to do. Kyle Busch has swept the most three-race weekends, having done so at nine different tracks.

In a similar vein, you have “the Double”, which refers to racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend. Since this involves racing an open-wheel Indycar and a stock car, not many drivers have been able to pull this off. A few drivers in recent years who came to NASCAR after driving open wheel cars, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti, gave it a shot, and this year Kurt Busch, who’s never raced in Indycar prior to the 500, did remarkably well for a rookie. The combined races cover 1100 miles, although crashes and engine failure have meant that only Tony Stewart has completed all 1100 miles on a single day.

You might have heard discussions of the Chase. A few years back, NASCAR bosses decided they needed a playoff system similar to ball and stick-and-ball sports, to build fan excitement at the end of the season. They developed a system where driver’s points would be adjusted for the final ten races in the season, giving only the top group a chance to possibly win the championship cup. This number has changed each year, causing fan confusion.

The current Chase will have sixteen drivers eligible to win the cup. Once the Chase begins, all drivers continue to race, but those sixteen will be regrouped in point standings, having two-thousand points plus five points for each win during the season. After the third race in the Chase, only twelve drivers are still eligible. After the sixth, it drops to eight drivers, then four are eligible in the final race for the Sprint Cup Championship.

That’s what’s new: four drivers go into the final race with a chance to win the championship. In past years, there has been either a sweep, where one driver was guaranteed to take the cup by entering the race, or one or two other drivers might have had a shot at it. This year, the highest finishing driver of those top four will win the championship.

There’s one more term you might hear during a race, the lucky dog. That’s the nickname for the first driver not on the lead lap at the time a caution flag is waved. That driver is given a lap back, or allowed to circle the field under the yellow flag and either be back on the lead lap or be one fewer lap down. Originally, drivers who were off pace would race each other to get to the line first to be allowed to earn that lap back. This led to some near-misses when they approached a crashed car or the safety crew attending to a crash. Now, the car positions are frozen when the caution comes out, and positions are determined by the transponders around the track, going to the last marked spot for each car. The driver who was the last to have been lapped, or re-lapped if he’s more than one car down, gets his lap back.

You might have noticed I said “he” gets his lap back. That’s the editorial he, as I’m sure you’re aware there are women racing in NASCAR these days. Danica Patrick is the only one with a fulltime ride in the Cup series at the moment, but Johanna Long, Maryeve Dufault, and Jennifer Jo Cobb are regulars in the Nationwide and Camping World series this year. For the record, Jennifer Jo currently is the highest ranked in points across female drivers in the three series, being thirteenth in the trucks.

There is so much more to say, but this is too long as it is. The best way to learn more is to go to and look around. The forums there will have a lot of answers. To stay on top of news, follow your favorite drivers on Twitter, or search #NASCAR. You can also follow the reporters and TV commentators, or fans like Alyssa Milano or the Orange Cone. Yes, that poor orange cone that marked the entrance to pit lane has its own Twitter account! And he’s really pretty funny. If you don’t care for watching racing but feel the need to support your guy, following someone like the Cone will make the race a lot more fun.

Do you enjoy watching auto racing, or have a significant other who does? Who’s your driver to root for? Have you attended a race in person? Having a driver to root for, or having experienced the excitement of an in-person race makes it all that much more fun.

Aileen Fish, author of The Bridgethorpe Brides series and the Small Town Sweethearts series, is an avid quilter and auto racing fan who finds there aren't enough hours in a day/week/lifetime to stay up with her "to do" list. There is always another quilt or story begging to steal away attention from the others. When she has a spare moment she enjoys spending time with her two daughters and their families, and her fairy princess granddaughter. Stay up to date with book releases at her website or on Facebook. Her latest release, Chasing Lord Mystery, is available at the main ebook sites.


  1. Aileen, you need to write a NASCAR series when the Bridgethorpe Brides are done. Fascinating behind the scenes look from a gal who doesn't know a thing about racing (or didn't until just now)

  2. Thanks, Melinda! I've considered a setting around stock car racing, since Harlequin did the NASCAR series, without all the names. We'll see if the time shows up to do it, LOL!

  3. I read a few of the NASCAR series Harlequin did and loved them so go, Aileen, do it, do your own series!!
    I randomly follow Formula One and used to go to stock car racing and midget racing when I was a kid, with my dad, at the local track. My fav driver, though was the Aussie motor touring car legend Peter "Perfect" Brock who was killed racing a few years back. Hmmm. I prob love the sport more than I realize...

  4. Joanne, my mom's side of the family races midgets. Love to watch them in person!

  5. NASCAR is big in our area - Richmond, VA. I went once, and we had great seats - maybe a little too good because the crashes seemed to happen where we were. It was a little loud for me and I wore a headset. Even so, I know lots of folks around here who ADORE NASCAR.