Are NASCAR Cars All-Wheel (AWD) Drive?

All NASCAR vehicles for races since the dawn of the sport have relied on the traditional layout of an engine in front and the power for the wheels generated in the rear.

As of 2022, the Next Gen vehicles have adjusted some crucial aspects but have left other features alone. The naturally aspirated V8 engines boast 600+ HP without an official restrictor plate on road courses and other exhibition events. 

Key Points:

  • NASCAR race cars have always used a rear-wheel drivetrain configuration.
  • Rear-wheel drive gives drivers greater control on corners and straights.
  • Next Gen changes focus on increasing driver safety, fuel efficiency, and improved track performance to keep fans entertained.

A commonly asked question is, are these race cars all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive? While the answer is simple, the reasons this drivetrain is used are more complex and warrant further discussion. On top of that, there are even conversations about adapting new drive trains for future generations; read on to learn more. 

Are NASCAR Cars Rear Wheel Drive?

All NASCAR race cars are rear-wheel drive and have been since the beginning. While the layout hasn’t really changed, the individual features of these road vehicles have been adapted to develop advanced aerodynamic features and transmission adjustments like a true, three-pedal manual with a 5-speed transmission. Next-Gen car’s manual is mounted at the rear of the car, in a transaxle unit to better balance the vehicle and aid in control. 

Next Gen rear-wheel-drive race cars have made adjustments by creating two half-shafts that float on independent rear suspension instead of a single large center-aligned driveshaft. While the body design and rear-wheel drive features are true to the stock car models, the changes have allowed cars in 2022 to generate extra downforce, making races safer and faster.

Why Are NASCAR Cars RWD?

Rear-wheel drive has always been the configuration for the NASCAR race series. Front-wheel drive lacks the power and control that a high-horsepower rear-wheel drive car can do. Race cars’ weight is lighter than road cars, and will the large pushrod V8 engines need the control rear-wheel drive provides, or turns and corners would need to be done at painfully slow speeds. 

The low cost of this drivetrain configuration is why it is stock in road versions of the car, and the more advanced drivetrains cost extra. Rear-wheel drive is lighter and gives the driver the greatest control on straightaways and turns. Newer configurations allow for a feature cutting drag and increasing downforce. 

Creating a rear drive shaft with two smaller half shafts allows for a full car-length underwing which generates a thousand pounds of downforce. In addition to the improvements in downforce, the wing ends in a diffuser to help safely distribute the moving air.

A series of verticle fins similar to those on high-performance sports cars reduces air turbulence behind the cars and makes it safer and easier for racers to approach closer and pass each other. 

This new configuration also allowed cars to sit higher the entire season without fear of trapped air underneath the vehicle creating drag. There are far fewer pockets for the wind to get trapped or force the car to the side, making it a safer build. The extra control enabled by the increased downforce makes taking tight corners both to the left and to the right even easier will minimal chance of sliding out. 

NASCAR Next-Gen Features

NASCAR’s next-gen features focus on increased driver safety translating to improved control and further restricted vehicle speeds on a medium oval track. These aspects keep the race fair and keep the drivers in the safest position possible during the entirety of the race. Fuel and emission developments also contribute to safer racing conditions.

Race car upgrades also seek to keep fans entertained and racers at the edge of their driving abilities. Adjustments that allow for faster passing and more action at the end of stages are all added to keep spectators engaged. With a growing digital audience, NASCAR keeps tweaking the sport to stay entertaining. 

Track performance is also a crucial element in each generation of cars produced. As improvements progress, it is becoming increasingly possible for cars to perform across more track types consistently with fewer adjustments than were needed previously. The sleeker body designs and robust builds closer resemble the street cars they are based on. Below are some of the Gen 7 features.

OEM V8 Engine670 HP prior to track restrictions200 MPH top speed
3-pedal 5-speed TransmissionSequential ManualsAllows for instant racing shifts and pedal 1st, neutral, and reverse
Full-Length UnderwingIncreased downforceGreater control and less space for air to get trapped underneath

 Could NASCAR Ever Use AWD or 4WD?

NASCAR is a rapidly evolving sport that considers driver safety, fan entertainment, and technical performance every time a new generation is introduced. Although these cars have been traditionally rear-wheel drive due to the low cost and ease of availability, future cars may have different needs making other drivetrain options prudent. Even though 4WD and AWD are not slated to be introduced in the next generation of cars, there has been some buzz about potential changes lately.

Overall, 4WD is unlikely to show up in stock car racing anytime soon as the track conditions and car configuration do not require it. Unlike their street car counterparts, NASCAR vehicles are stripped of anything that doesn’t translate to keeping the driver alive and the car flying across the track. Just like air conditioning, a heavy and complex 4-wheel drive system would not make the cut in a lean NASCAR vehicle. 

All-wheel drive is a possibility based on other race series in similar high-speed action sports. Formula one uses a hybrid system that uses internal combustion engine power to drive but also uses a hybrid engine with electrical front wheel drive components. The hybrid engines let the vehicle take advantage of better front-wheel control for tight turns and introduces regenerative braking. Braking regeneratively saves gas and increases the time before refueling during long races.

So proponents hold hope that some form of the hybrid system will be introduced to the sport by the NASCAR 2024 season. It seems most likely that the standard RWD cars will first gain a hybrid electric system to take advantage of electrical system controls working with powerful combustion engines.

After that, it is possible to go to AWD in the further future, opening up even more race events and track options for NASCAR fans and drivers. For now, the Gen 7 Rear-wheel drive cars are plenty of fun to watch. 

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