How Long Do NASCAR Engines Last?


how long do nascar engines last

Editorial credit: Barry Blackburn / Shutterstock.com

At the heart of everything in the sport of NASCAR is the mighty engine under the hood of each stock car. These units not only power the speed, the thrills, and the spills of each NASCAR race, but also the noise, the excitement and the incredible atmosphere.

NASCAR Rules dictate that teams are allowed 13 Engine Blocks per season meaning that each engine has to last about 2.5 races. However, as each engine is built and rebuilt for each track and in actuality a NASCAR engine is supposed to last just for the next race and then be rebuilt.

In a previous Article, we highlighted how engines form a significant part of an annual budget for any NASCAR team, but how long do they last as units? Does each driver get an engine at the start of the season and has to make it last? Are they doled out like candy at the start of each race? We’ll find out more in today’s blog.

Background: NASCAR Engine Specification

Before looking at how long each engine is built to last, let’s first get some idea of the engine units themselves. Currently there are only 3 manufacturers of NASCAR engines, namely Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota. The following is its basic configuration:

EFI V8 Engine (Cup Series)

  • Naturally Aspirated
  • 90° pushrod V8
  • Displacement: up to 358 cubic inches (5.9L)
  • Power: 750-hp
  • Torque: 530 lb-ft
  • ECU: McLaren Freescale TAF-400N
  • Compression Ratio: 12:1


EFI V8 Engine (Xfinity Series)

  • Naturally Aspirated
  • Displacement: up to 358 cubic inches (5.9L)
  • Power:
  • Torque:
  • Compression Ratio:

EFI V8 Engine (Truck Series)

  • Naturally Aspirated
  • Displacement: Either 358 cubic inches (5.9L) OR 396 cubic inches (6.49L) Pushrod V8
  • Power: 650-700 hp
  • Torque: 520 lb-ft
  • Compression Ratio: 12:1 or 10.5:1

How Long Do NASCAR Engines Last

So, how long can these behemoth V8 engines go on for? The over-simplified answer is that each engine basically lasts for one race, but it’s actually a bit more complex than that when you take a deeper dive into how the teams operate. Up until the 2018 season, it was essentially a given that an engine was a single-race machine, especially when talking about the major 500- and 600-lap races.

Since 2018, however, NASCAR has implemented new rules on how engines are made, distributed and used. The new rule states that there is now a cap on how many short-block engines can be made for each Cup Series team each season. To be precise, each driver is allowed 13 engine blocks to be used through the season, so each needs to last essentially for about 2 or 3 full race weekends.

An engine block alone, however, isn’t going to do a great deal. Key attached components include connecting rods, pistons, camshaft, and a crankshaft. These key components form the main engine build, and are also the most durable components in the complete assembly. While additional components added in are typically discarded at the end of each race, these key components will endure longer before being replaced.

So, looking at these blocks and components, it would seem that a typical engine in fact lasts for about 2 race weekends…but the reality once again is not so simple.

How Much Horsepower Does A Nascar Engine Have
NASCAR Engines

Disassembly and Reassembly

The reason that it’s still common for people to talk about engines only lasting one race in NASCAR is because when you look more precisely at what happens, it can easily be argued that this is the case. While there has been implemented a cap on the total number of engine blocks usable per season, each finished engine that actually is placed into the team’s car for race day has been meticulously rebuilt between each event.

So, components like the block, camshaft, crankshaft, and others do get reused, but the unit itself is taken apart, rebuilt, and extensively tested for each race. Worn components are replaced, and each finished engine then goes into the car as a new unit. Teams also have access to backup engine units should they experience an engine blowup, but only in accordance with NASCAR’s ruling and approval.

Why Do NASCAR Engines Last for So Little Time?

Could you imagine having to get what is essentially a new engine for your car every week? A replacement engine for a regular passenger car can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the make, model and year of the vehicle in question. NASCAR teams do indeed invest many thousands of dollars per season in keeping their engines in good condition.

While it’s not strictly speaking a brand-new engine every race, it’s clear that the life of a NASCAR engine is not that of a passenger car that owners hope will deliver 200,000+ miles of happy and problem-free driving over the years they have it. But why do NASCAR teams subscribe to this model?

Each Race and Driver is Different

The primary reason for engines being taken apart and rebuilt is because they have to be tooled for the specific event that they are going to each week. Back in 2017, Andrew Randolph was at Earnhardt Childress Racing (ECR), and he shared his thoughts and insights with Engine Builder magazine at the time. When talking about how each engine is prepared for a race, Randolph said:

“We know how long it has to run for, the temperature it’s going to run under, the distance it’s going to run, and the engine speed range…We can customize the engine for each racetrack for each week based on the particular engine speed characteristics and throttle characteristics of the track, and even the driver who is going to be driving it.”

Andrew Randolph

From this, we can see the biggest motivation for such short-term life of each engine build is that it has to be perfectly tailored both to the venue and driver each time. That takes a lot of fine tuning and expertise, and it can only be done with a specific rebuild each time, even when some of the key components are being reused between races.

Every Extreme

Finally, it’s fair to say that the conditions through which NASCAR engines are made to endure are nothing like those of street cars. Each engine is built to last for the entirety of a NASCAR race plus about 1-2 extra miles. It’s a precision game of managing limited resources over the course of a full season, ensuring each car and driver has what they need for each event.

new nascar cup teams
nascar engine

Conclusion

These engines face the worst extremes of speed, heat, and wear and tear, and that’s why they simply don’t last long enough for what most road users would deem a “meaningful” lifespan. Having said that, the teams certainly get what they need out of them!

So while there maybe 13 Engines or engine blocks allowed to be used each season in NASCAR, teams do so much work and change around components depending on the track they are racing at, it could also be argued the set up of each engine is different for each race, meaning do they use 36 different engines in the NASCAE season after all!

References

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