How Fast Were The First NASCAR Cars?

With the New Next Gen Nascar Just around the corner we thought it was a good time to look back at some of the older generations of NASCAR and what they could do around the track. With recent, and some not so recent, safety measures NASCAR speeds seem to have reached, or even retreated, from the top speeds of a few years ago. So we take a look at how fast were the old NASCAR Cars in previous decades.

NASCAR cars have increased in both power and speed as technological and engineering advances have progressed. This, coupled with larger and faster racetracks appearing on the NASCAR circuit, resulted in an increase in average speeds from 130+ in the 1950s, to 175+ in the 1980s.

How Fast Were 1950s NASCAR Cars?

The term ‘stock car racing’ comes from the fact that the races were once ‘strictly stock’, with the teams only allowed to field mass-produced vehicles that were unmodified. An example of a car from this era, known as ‘Generation 1’, is the 1955 NASCAR Chevrolet that weighed 1410 kilograms and had 195 horsepower. This gave the car a maximum speed of 118 miles per hour, and the car took multiple wins. NASCAR’s most famous race, the Daytona 500, was first held in the last year of the 50s and was won with an average speed of 135 miles per hour. This shows how the cars began relatively slow but gradually improved towards the end of the decade.

How Fast Were 1960s NASCAR Cars?

Towards the end of the 1960s, modified cars were able to be used. An example of this was the 1967 Ford Fairlane 500 that was piloted by legendary American driver Mario Andretti. It weighed less, at 1398 kilograms, had more power with 425 horsepower, and had a top speed of 171 miles per hour. This was reflected in the 1966 Daytona 500, which was won with an average speed of 160 miles per hour.

How Fast Were 1970s NASCAR Cars?

The speeds increased greatly coming into the 1970s, meaning that regulations came into place to limit performance. The 1970 Plymouth Superbird won 18 races in 1970. It had 425 horsepower, weighed 1536 kilograms and it had a top speed of 200 miles per hour. The 1972 Daytona 500 was won with an average speed of 161 miles per hour. The 70s also saw the first NASCAR lap with an average of over 200 miles per hour, when Buddy Barker completed a 200.447 miles per hour lap of the Alabama International Speedway.

How Fast Were 1980s NASCAR Cars?

The 1980s saw some more incredibly fast cars, including the 1989 Chevrolet Lumina, which had 600 horsepower, weighed 1587 kilograms and had a top speed of 202 miles per hour. The 1980s also saw the fastest NASCAR lap ever, which still stands to this day. Bill Elliot set a 212.809 miles per hour lap around Talladega. The 1980 Daytona 500 was also won with a record average speed of 177.602 miles per hour, and the record also still stands to this day.

How Fast Were 1990s NASCAR Cars?

The 1990s saw a slight plateau in the speed increases with the introduction of restrictor plates in some races. The 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had 650 horsepower, weighed 1566 kilograms, and has a top speed of 201 miles per hour. The 1998 Daytona 500 was won with an average speed of 173 miles per hour.

How Fast Were NASCAR Cars in the 2000s?

The 2000s saw the introduction of a new chassis, known as the ‘Car of Tomorrow’. It was the result of a five-year project. The 2008 Chevrolet Impala SS, driven by Jimmie Johnson to win the Sprint Cup Series, weighed 1625 kilograms, has 770 horsepower and had a jaw-dropping top speed of 219 miles per hour.  The 2001 Daytona 500 was won with an average speed of 161 miles per hour.

How Fast Were 2010s NASCAR Cars?

The 2010s saw the introduction of ‘Generation 6’. The cars were designed to look more street-legal, whilst maintaining performance and safety. The 2018 Toyota Camry, driven by Kyle Busch to take eight wins in 2018, has 750 horsepower, weighed 1470 kilograms and had a top speed of 226 miles per hour. The generation 6 cars have also set the lap record at 16 of the 23 tracks that they have been used on.

DecadeRough Top SpeedExample Average Winning speed
(at Daytona as a benchmark)
1950s120 MPH135 miles per hour
1960s170 MPH160 miles per hour
1970s200 MPH161 miles per hour
1980s202 MPH177.6 miles per hour
1990s205 MPH173 miles per hour
2000s218 MPH161 miles per hour
2010s226 MPH161 miles per hour
  • Note average winning speed will include caution laps (more cautions lower average speeds)
How Fast Were The Old NASCAR Cars?

We have an infographic that has NASCAR speeds in a bite size format. Clicking on the image will make it bigger.

How fast is NASCAR infographic

Why does NASCAR only have three manufacturers?

NASCAR currently only features three manufacturers: Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. This is due to the fact that NASCAR is very expensive to enter. An entry fee for a manufacturer would likely be nine figures.

NASCAR is also very focussed on the American market, and the three manufacturers produce and sell many cars in the USA, all that are affordable for middle-income earners, NASCAR’s target demographic. Other companies, such as Mercedes, would struggle to make an impact on the American market due to their high prices.

Chevrolet dominated the sport, winning the Manufacturers’ Cup every season between 2003 and 2015. Toyota won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017, before Ford won in 2018. Toyota reclaimed the crown in 2019. Ford won in 2020, and Chevrolet are the most recent champions, winning in 2021.

Why Were Restrictor Plates Introduced In NASCAR?

Prior to the introduction of Restrictor plates NASCAR drivers were getting faster and faster. Bill Elliot’s flying qualifying lap of 212 miles an hour sent a warning to race officials. The crash of Bobby Allison at the same race cemented their view that something needed to be done to control speed on the track.

Bobby Allison’s crash, which you can see hereOpens in a new tab., occurred on May the 9th at the talladega racetrack In 1987. His car was travelling at about 210 miles an hour when he spun, took off and smashed into the catch net, which fortunately stopped the car heading into the packed bleachers. However 5 people were seriously injured in the crash.

Following this in the 1988 season NASCAR put restrictor plates into Cars on Super speedway race meets this continued until 2019.

What is a Restrictor Plate in NASCAR?

A restrictor plate is a simple small square of aluminum that has four small hole evenly spaced in it. The aim is to reduce airflow and fuel into a NASCARs engineOpens in a new tab.. this reduction means that the cars have less fuel to burn, less power output and therefore slower speeds.

In 2004 Rusty Wallace, on a private lap, tested what a NASCAR could do at Talladega unrestricted. He was recorded on the straight at 228 miles an hour. That is 16 miles an hour more than the official , and barring change, unbeatable record of Bill Elliott’s NASCAR qualifying lap.

Although NASCAR has moved on from Restrictor plates to reduce the speed of NASCAR’s, speed controls didn’t disappear with them. In their place NASCAR introduced spacers. Spacers, though still reducing air and fuel do so in a more finessed way. THey reduce the turbulence by allowing air to pass more smoothly through. You can read more about the aerodynamics differences between restrictors and spacers here. Opens in a new tab.

How fast is the Xfinity Series?

The NASCAR Xfinity Series is the step below the Cup Series, where drivers can prove themselves before taking the final step to the top. The cars have more horsepower than those used in the Cup Series, but they have less downforce. This means that they are faster down the straights, but slower in corners and overall. They are also harder to drive. The 2021 Xfinity Series champion was Daniel Hemric who won the title by just five points.

How fast is the Truck Series?

NASCAR also operate the Camping World Truck Series, a pickup truck racing series. The power is restricted to 450 horsepower in this series, and the top speeds are around 180 miles per hour. This is considerably slower than modern NASCAR Cup Series cars. The 2021 Truck Series was won by Ben Rhodes, who was just two points ahead of Zane Smith.

How fast is the ARCA Series?

The ARCA Menards Series is a feeder series into NASCAR hosted by the Automobile Racing Club of America. In 2014, the Ford car had an average speed of 188 miles per hour around Daytona. The 2021 Arca Series was won by Ty Gibbs.

Final Thoughts

As you can see whatever the year maybe NASCAR has always been fast. There was a time when it just kept getting faster and faster. However the racetrack’s were not changing, it takes a great deal of work to remodel a track, and these speeds were approaching what is can safely driven around them. The 1987 crash was a wake up call for NASCAR, and the restrictions put in place were clearly needed.

As cars improve and the science behind racing catches up with the Engines there may be a time when these restrictions can be looked at again. however the difference of 10 or 20 miles an hour to the spectacle of nASCAR is very limited and it is better to have these cars racing on the track rather than flying through the air.

We feel that not enough credit is given to NASCAR for acting before a disasterOpens in a new tab. rather than after one.



Al lifelong Motor Racing Fan, with a particular love of NASCAR and IndyCar racing. Been in and out of cars of varying speeds since i was a child and sharing what i have learnt here.

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