Does NASCAR Use Paddle Shifters?

When we think about motorsports, we think about powerful cars and highly-tuned performance-enhancing computerized systems. As races have evolved, so have transmissions, all designed to help cars go faster while giving drivers control of minute car details mid-race.

Key Points:

  • Motorsports have evolved with the development of high-performance computerized systems.
  • Transmissions have been refined to offer more speed while enabling drivers to control details mid-race.
  • NASCAR has implemented paddle shifters, which can be used to make quick shifts while maintaining full control of the car.

The speed and efficiency of modern paddle shifters seem to offer just what every driver needs. 

Since paddle shifters are so clearly the future in most large race events, it is natural to wonder if NASCAR also uses these types of transmissions. As with most “does NASCAR use this” questions, going back to the street cars the stock cars are based on is always a good idea.

With that in mind, let’s look at whether or not NASCAR vehicles use paddle shifters, and if not, are there any plans for future GEN vehicles to incorporate them? Let’s find out. 

Are NASCAR Cars Equipped with Paddle Shifters? 

Current generation NASCAR vehicles and all previous ones have used standard 4-speed manual transmissions and not paddle shifters or automatic transmissions. The manual shifting for both Four-speed manual transmissions and the next Gen 6-speed transmissions uses a sequential transmission for gears 2-4 or 5 and a manual pedal shift to drop into first and reverse gear.

In other races like IndyCar and Formula 1, paddle shifters on the steering wheel are more common.  As transmissions have shifted from 2-speed to 4-speed manual transmissions, the shifting needs have increased, and better technology without clutch pedals or gear shifters has been developed for these high-performance races.

NASCAR, the place drivers go to drive, believes the feel and control of a conventional 4-speed H-pattern manual transmission is the superior gear ratio for oval racing. Some consideration for another type of gear selector is considered for road courses and may be introduced in the future. 

What Gears do NASCAR Vehicles Have?

Nascar vehicles have a 4-speed transmission that is h-shaped with manual reverse gear. It is equipped with a sequential gearbox, making shifting from 2 through 4th faster and smoother.

A dog-clutch transmission is utilized, reducing the need for a pedal to be depressed before gear shifting can happen. A 4 gear system provides the maximum balance between acceleration and top speed that an added 5th gear may mess up. 

The 4-speed transmission design gives drivers better control and is something seasoned racers are extremely familiar with. This synergy allows drivers to rev-match with the engine using standard equipment to move up or down a gear exactly when the engine is sitting at the same RPM that the shifting will reach. This is done by feeling as no electronic systems, or even an RPM gauge is available for drivers to use. 

Paddle Gear System

A paddle gear system is simpler than manual and automatic gear shifters while offering increased performance and efficiency for high-performance cars. It is easier to add extra gears and reach higher top speeds when using a paddle shifter vs. a five-speed transmission or even a 6-speed manual transmission.

Below are the main parts of a paddle gear system and how they work. 

Component FunctionBenefit over Traditional Gearbox
Electronic Control UnitShifts gear and holds it for the driver using computer technologyFaster response resulting in increased fuel efficiency and less wear and tear on mechanical parts 
Paddle Allows the driver to shift gears quickly and hold the gear during slowing down and acceleratingCan be located on the floor or the steering wheel and doesn’t require a gear shift like a manual gearbox
GearboxAllows the shifting between gears and increase or decrease in generated HPThe gearbox internals are simpler and less cluttered when compared to the clunky automatic transmissions and part-intensive manual ones 

NASCAR Transmission for Oval and Road Courses?

On ovals, NASCAR racers only really shift hard at the beginning of races, and after pit stops, as during much of the race, they are trying to maintain the fastest top speed that lets them tackle the track.

Constantly shifting up and down would be inefficient and take away from a driver’s control and focus. A driver may downshift to avoid an obstruction, but during much of the race, the car will top out in 4th gear and at the speed the restrictor plates allow.

This makes shifting, especially with a sequential shifter, less of a constant race focus. 

On road courses, shifting becomes critical as both right and left turns pop up and need varying degrees of speed to safely make. Even with a dog-clutch transmission, it can be tiring for a NASCAR driver who is not used to shifting so frequently to master the 4-speed gearbox.

Adding more gears and making a manual six-speed gearbox would add very little in max speed that the car would be able to reach but will prevent the driver from reaching the gears without constant tedious shifting. 

Paddle Shifting Vs. Automatic Vs. Manual 

Even though NASCAR vehicles use a 4-speed H-pattern gear selector and not paddle shifters, the benefits of these types of systems are staggering. In general, this all-new Next Gen transmission in high-performing street cars and other motorsports offers advantages over both traditional manual transmissions and automatic systems. 

Some benefits over straight-cut gears are improved fuel economy over manual transmissions resulting from more exact shifting and fewer incorrect gears causing noticeable performance degradation. It is also apparent that paddle shifters afford much more control and better car handling over automatic transmissions.

Automatic transmissions will always shift when a certain RPM is reached regardless of whether a downshift is immediately needed wasting time going up and down when holding in the current gear is prudent. 

Paddle shifting also offers faster-shifting speeds across the board and fewer mechanical and electrical components that are prone to failure.

Having a simple setup that doesn’t require additional mechanical parts that can break or move incorrectly further improves the speed of the transmission and reduces user effort. The result is a much smoother gear selection and no need for a gear stick.

Paddle transmission will help keep your car in the same gear when braking or accelerating quickly, sparing your engine and brake system from damage which is not done in automatic transmission. Without the user era of grinding gears on a manual transmission, it is easy to see why paddle shifters are a more durable system. 

As good as these shifters are for the above-stated circumstances, there is a bit of a learning curve for drivers who are used to manual transmissions, and this can result in less control on corners.

This is generally a short-term issue as the benefits of taking the time to master this new system are more than worth it in reduced wear and tear on race cars and faster lap times. However, NASCAR is a driver’s sport, and regulations are in place to remove as many computerized aids that are not directly related to generating more power or keeping the driver safe.

That is why NASCAR vehicles do not use paddle shifters but a 4-speed manual transmission instead. 

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