Whether it’s NASCAR, Formula 1, IndyCar, or any other sport, the object of the race is to be quicker than everyone else on the track and get to the finish line first. With NASCAR cars racing mostly around oval tracks and achieving average speeds of up to 200mph (320kph), it seems counterintuitive to use the brakes. So we ask the question Do NASCARs have brakes and if so do they use them?
NASCAR drivers do use the brakes, though the frequency depends on the track. On short oval tracks like Martinsville, or road tracks brakes can be used 70% of the time, on superspeedways like Talladega or Daytona they are rarely used, and unless cautions or incidents occur drivers rely on engine braking instead.
Unlike F1 and other racing disciplines, which have complex circuits to lap, and braking is just as necessary as acceleration, NASCAR drives as fast as possible for the whole race. A NASCAR driver’s strategy is to use drafting and to time their overtaking maneuvers as strategically as possible. Braking is reserved primarily for short ovals, road tracks, crashes, and pit lanes.
Who Supplies the Brakes for NASCAR?
In the 2022 NASCAR season AP Racing will be supplying the braking systems for the Next gen car. This was announced on May the 21 2021.
Josh Hamilton said of the deal
In the spirit of the Next Gen car being more cost efficient AP Racing has designed only two systems for the season. A heavy and light option. This will reduce the costs to teams over the course of the series, at least in regards to brakes.
When do NASCAR Drivers Use the Brakes?
- Super Speedways: Brakes are less frequently used on long superspeedways. Although cautions are sudden and can not be prepared for, pit stops can. Drivers will warm up the brakes the lap prior to a pit stop so that the risk of damage to them being suddenly used is minimized.
- Short Ovals: At tracks like Martinsville research by Brembo has shown that brakes can be used up to 70% of the time. Although these tracks are slower, the braking actually can help with manoeuvrability and steering.
- When Drafting: the rear car may become too close to the lead car. On large tracks they can tap the breaks while maintaining their throttle speed. This keep the engine at full revs, but reduces the car speed enough to avoid hitting or rear ending the lead car.
- Wear on brakes: after some races, especially short tracks, the wear on NASCAR brakes can actually be considerably more than after a F1 race.
- Road Tracks: Brakes can be used up to 30% of the race at road tracks like the charlotte and Watkins Glen. Cars must slow for almost every turn.
- Pit Lane: Brakes are used to come in to and stop in the pits. Drivers have to make sure they warm them up before to make sure they judge the stopping distance correctly and for safety.
Brembo have an excellent article comparing F1 and NASCAR braking myths here.
NASCAR Cars Do Not Have Brake Lights
NASCAR doesn’t have brake lights. Indeed if the brakes have lights that activate when the brake pedal is depressed, it would warn the driver behind and prevent a wreck? They also don’t have (working) headlights.
Not only would braking lights not do any good, but they would also be a dangerous distraction. By the time a trailing driver sees and reacts to braking lights, he would have hit the car in front of him. No mechanical device could cause a human driver to react quickly enough in these high speed racing situations.
Instead, they train to press the brakes instinctively by automatically responding to minor changes to the size of the car in front. This takes both time and practice.
The brain can respond instinctively and immediately by judging the change in the size of the “picture” of the car in front.
Reaction times are immediate because it becomes hard-wired into the driver.
Can Braking in NASCAR Be Dangerous?
With the restrictor and standardization of the power of cars in NASCAR came the practice of pack racing and drafting. (see below for a brief explanation of that) This means the cars are travelling around a track incredibly close together at close to 200 miles per hour.
- Suddenly applying the brakes on a NASCAR car is extremely dangerous. When traveling at 200mph and drafting (tailgating!) within inches of the car in front, and with other cars running just as close behind, applying the brakes, the potential to cause a major collision is genuine. In NASCAR this is called ‘’the big one’’.
- Not only does braking at these speeds destabilize the car, but a sudden application of brakes could catch the other drivers by surprise, which could cause a major accident for the whole pack.
- When cautions happen, which is pretty often in NASCAR, there is no visible signal on the back of the car to signal to drivers behind, although as we explain below with the speeds and closeness this wouldn’t be much use. So if the driver doesn’t notice a yellow flag then there is the chance they could rear end cars slowing down in front of them.
- Pit lane braking can be dangerous if the brakes have not been warmed. Brakes function best when they have been used and retain some heat from the friction. On larger tracks brakes are sued less. If a driver doesn’t warm them up in the lap preceding a pitstop they could under perform or worse fail as they come into the pitlane. This is a danger to them and all the crews lined up there. However, most drivers prepare for a pitlane entry by warming their brakes up in good time.
Braking is as Important as Everything Else in a NASCAR Race
Despite how it seems to the uninitiated, NASCAR requires extreme skill and strategic timing from the drivers. It is not a sport about driving as fast as they can to get past all the competitors and, in so doing, winning the race.
If a driver did try to race in this way, they would run out of fuel, blow the engine, or crash before the end of the race.
To run in this fashion optimally, NASCAR drivers run the races on the edge of the car’s performance envelope. As a result, NASCAR drivers use all aspects of the car to ensure they are achieving the most from it. This includes using the brakes, accelerator, power of the engine, tires, racetrack, aerodynamics and strategy as equal tools in racing.
The myth that NASCAR drivers don’t use the breaks is just that, a myth.
Although there are situations where a NASCAR driver will use his brakes and times they are less used, we hope we have put to rest the all to common misconception that nascar races are flat out races just turning left.
There are certainly a few racetracks where braking is less common, Daytona, Talladega, Michegan, but for these three or four tracks there are 16 others where drivers are putting the car through corners or on a short track and are using the brakes more than the accelerator! Even on these larger tracks Cautions happen, crashes happen, pitstops happen.
To label the sport as just a high speed brakeless lap upon lap race, is incorrect, and pretty insulting to the drivers. the teams and the sport as a whole.