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A Glossary of Common NASCAR Terms

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This weekend is the Daytona 500, which brings in plenty of casual fans alongside those who recently watched the Netflix docuseries, NASCAR: Full Speed. NASCAR fans and teams often seem to speak their own unique language with plenty of strange terms. It may be tough to keep up, so, we put together a glossary of NASCAR terms.

  • For this article, we will focus on terms that are unique to NASCAR. We will also take some time discussing other NASCAR synonyms that are often used interchangeably with the most common words.
  • This can range from car parts to, places on the track, to describing what the car is doing. These terms will be listed in alphabetical order.
  • Many seasoned NASCAR fans understand these words well, but, newer fans may have a hard time catching on.

Apron

Synonym: “The Flat”

Meaning: The apron is the asphalt on the bottom of the race track just below the banking marked by a white or yellow line. The apron is primarily there either for cars with issues to get out of the way of traffic to get to pit road, or for cars to speed up coming out of pit road. At most race tracks, drivers may drive onto the apron on the front stretch to make passes, but, advancing position on the apron is ILLEGAL at Daytona, Talladega, and Atlanta.

Brake Duct

Meaning: The brake duct is a screen near the front tires that allows air in so that the brakes can cool. This is very important, particularly on short tracks and road courses, where drivers punish the brakes. If a brake duct or brake cooling system fails, it usually spells doom for a driver.

Crew Chief

Meaning: The crew chief is the head honcho of the race team. They function similarly to a head coach in other sports. A crew chief is responsible for determining the car’s set up, deciding on pit strategy, and getting feedback from the driver on how the car is driving.

Diffuser

Meaning: The rear diffuser can be seen underneath the car’s rear bumper. It creates downforce by channeling air underneath the car, which helps suck the car down towards the race track. While it creates more grip for the drivers on big tracks, NASCAR has stripped back on the complexity of the diffuser on short tracks to reduce grip and create better racing.

Downforce

Meaning: From a technical standpoint, downforce is the amount of force that pushes a car down into the race track. The more downforce a car has, the more grip, which makes the car easier to control. However, a car with lower downforce makes the car harder to control, which increases the likelihood of mistakes and crashes.

Synonyms: Stability, Balance

Drag

Drag: Drag is closely related to downforce when a car is set up. When the downforce of the car goes up, that means there are more things causing the car to press into the track, which increases drag. Drag slows the car down, so, teams have to balance having enough downforce to keep the car stable, but not too much so the car doesn’t slow down.

Grip

Meaning: Grip has to do with how well the car sticks to the track. If a driver complains about a lack of grip, it means that the car is unable to stay in one spot and is hard to keep stable. A car that grips well will stay in one line throughout the track, allowing the driver to maximize the speed through the corner.

HANS Device

Meaning: The HANS (Head and Neck Support) device is one of the most innovative safety enhancements in the last 20+ years. The device was invented by Dr. Robert Hubbard, and NASCAR mandated that drivers use it in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001. The device is basically a giant collar that fits inside the seatbelts with the back part behind the head attached to the helmet. As a result, when a driver hits the wall, the HANS device keeps the head from violently jerking back and forth, preventing injury and death.

Loose

Synonyms: Oversteer, Overrotate, Sliding, Stepping Out

Meaning: A “Loose” race car is gripping with the front tires, but not the rear tires. As a result, the rear of the car tends to swing outwards either coming into or off of the turns. Fans can identify a loose race car if a driver is jerking the wheel back and forth throughout the turn.

Roll Cage

Meaning: The Roll cage is one of the oldest safety innovations in NASCAR. The roll cage is a series of strong metal pipes throughout the skeleton car that creates a strong “Survival cell” where the driver sits. The goal is to keep the car intact around the driver to prevent injury from the car denting either inwards on the door or from the roof.

Sim

Synonyms: Racing sim, Simulator

Meaning: A sim is one of the newest toys that modern race car drivers use. These are designed to mimic what a driver will feel on the race track in real life using both real-life track data and sometimes elaborate setups complete with a cockpit just like a real car. iRacing is an example of a simulator that fans can download and use on their own computer.

Spoiler

Meaning: The spoiler is a thin blade perched on the rear of the trunk of the car. The spoiler is designed to create more downforce, but, the addition of a spoiler does create drag, slowing the car down. Teams and NASCAR have to fight a delicate balance between speed and grip on a spoiler.

Spotter

Meaning: The spotter is a driver’s eye in the sky. Spotters are situated typically on the top of the press box to get a bird’s eye view of the entire track, and their job is to alert the driver of their surroundings. With no ability for the driver to turn around in the car, the spotter tells the driver when cars are near them or trying to make a move.

Tight

Synonyms: Pushing, Understeer

Meaning: Tight is the opposite of loose. When a car is tight, this means that the rear tires grip before the front tires, which causes the front end to push up the race track. Fans can point out a tight race car if a driver is pulling his hands way over the top of the steering wheel.

Turns

Synonyms: Corners

Meaning: While turn is a pretty self-explanatory word, NASCAR is a bit confusing about what it defines as a turn. For example, most race tracks are “Tri-ovals” or “D-Shaped Ovals” with two big turns at each end and one gentle curve on the frontstretch called the “Dogleg”. While many would look at it and claim there are three turns, NASCAR tracks officially have four turns with the first half of both bends being turns 1 and 3, and the second half of them being turns 2 and 4. The “Dogleg” is not officially considered a turn.

These are just a few of the terms that are used throughout a NASCAR race. Now, you can better follow along with what drivers and commentators are saying throughout a race!

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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