What Is The Difference Between NASCAR and IndyCar?

Car races in America are a national pastime, and the biggest races, like the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, bring hundreds of thousands of spectators and long-term loyal fan bases. But it can be difficult to know the differences between these sports if you aren’t a serious fan of racing. As a casual fan, the types of cars. numbers of laps and types of tracks will all seem confusing unless some clarity is provided.

Growing up in a home that flipped channels between NASCAR races and Football I knew which brands I liked to see racing around the tracks. By the end of the 90s, we were also adding IndyCar races to our sports-watching repertoire, and the differences between the two types of racing were immediately obvious. This article discusses what makes both NASCAR and IndyCar races unique and the best things about these popular motorsports.  

What is the Main Difference Between the Two Races?

There are a lot of apparent differences between NASCAR and IndyCar, but the main difference, and the one first noticed by casual observers, is that the cars are very different. The cars are designed for completely different types of races although the two cars have shared oval tracks and race similar events. The way a racer drives and what they need to do to win is also different between the two sports. Below are the attributes that give NASCAR and IndyCar vehicles their vast differences. 

Stock Cars

NASCAR uses stock cars, and while the cars are modified to be safe for drivers, the body, chassis, and wheel enclosures are similar to what you would find on a standard sedan. These cars are equipt with roll cages and safety equipment to protect drivers after crashes from bump drafting and other common NASCAR practices.

With powerful engines, some of the biggest in the many popular motorsports, NASCAR vehicles weigh twice as much as IndyCars. The V-8 engine produces up to 750HP and can take a hit many times per race. Like a standard car, the seats of NASCAR racers are positioned on the left side of the vehicle, which is why most tracks only turn left. 


These cars are specially designed to make the most of road tracks and give the drivers the best view of the track while racing at speeds well over 200 MPH. These cars have wide tires that help the aerodynamically-designed vehicles stay on the road at high speeds. The wheels are open, and so is the cock pit, which leads to probable driver death in the event of a vehicle flipping.  

Indy race cars usually race on road courses that have elaborate track conditions that naturally slow cars down. On speedways, these cars with optimized V-6 engines are allowed to reach their top speeds with no restrictor plates like those found on NASCAR engines. Indy vehicles can reach speeds of almost 250 MPH on the straightaways of longer oval tracks. 

IndyCar vs. NASCAR

NASCAR has been around since the mid-thirties and consists of hundreds of laps around a track. There can be as many as 40 to 60 cars per race during a NASCAR event, and closer racing leads to more crashes and more excitement for the audience. The high-horsepower cars make hundreds of circuits around the track, and racers on a team use drafting strategies to pass other cars. 

IndyCar, the organization, is now owned by Roger Penske and features open-wheeled open-cockpit races in Indianapolis and tracks all over the States. It is common to watch an IndyCar race on television, but the biggest race for the Indy racing league brings over 300,000 in-person spectators. The table below shows more of the noticeable differences between the two races. 

Race FeatureNASCARIndyCar
Car TypeStock Car steel chassis enclosed wheelsOpen Wheels, Open Cockpit, and Dallara Chassis made of Carbon Fiber and Kevlar
RulesBumps and Contact AllowedNo Contact Allowed
Race Time Race Ends At Distance GoalRace Ends Between 2 and 3 HRs
Speed200 MPH235-245 MPH
Track TypeMainly Oval Tracks, Some Road RacesMainly Road Races, Some Oval Tracks
Number of Cars 40 per race33 per race

Car Design

The most considerable differences are the car designs. The stock car NASCAR vehicle and high-performance IndyCars that excel in open-wheeled open-cockpit races are different in appearance, top speed, and how they are driven. The average race speeds of IndyCar are higher than NASCAR, but the higher average race attendance and more cars per race make NASCAR the more widely recognized sport.

Race Tracks

Both of these popular racing series hosts a handful of races on different tracks, and some tracks are shared by both sports, like the superspeedway in Indianapolis. Indy races are mostly road races, but a few ovals and a dirt race or two are held every racing season.

IndyCars race on road tracks, and these are much more dangerous tracks than the ovals NASCAR racers’ lap. Ovals only have left turns, whereas Indy car driver development leads to adapting to all kinds of tracks, making it a challenge to drivers. 

Racing Style

How the cars race along the tracks, whether it is a 1½-mile track or a longer 4-mile road race, changes drastically between the two sports. With fewer cars per race in IndyCar, passing and staying in the lead is the most important objective. With NASCAR, points can be accumulated at various stages thought-out the entire race, so drivers are most interested in performing well in specific laps and avoiding crashes, making a much more exciting race. 

Which is Faster IndyCar or NASCAR?

IndyCar is a faster race both in terms of car speed and duration of a race. Some IndyCar races are as short as 2 hours when weather conditions are unfavorable for driving. In a normal race, IndyCar drivers will reach speeds of almost 250 MPH. Indy vehicles are designed to be aerodynamic and are built with Push-to-Pass technology that adds another 50HP for passing when engaged. 

NASCAR cars have restrictor plates that only allow enough airflow into the engine to reach speeds of 200MPH. Without speed control, the powerful V-8s can reach speeds almost as high as IndyCar, but reduced speeds during races protect races from danger while watching these popular sports. Overall, the stock cars used in NASCAR are much heavier and go slower than IndyCars.

Which Has More Crashes NASCAR or IndyCar?

There are far more crashes in NASCAR, which makes it a bit more exciting for casual fans who may not know the racers as well. Since there are around 40 participants per race for NASCAR events, there are even more multi-vehicle crashes. Almost every race will have at least a few caution laps due to collisions and breakdowns on the track. NASCAR racers are allowed to bump into each other, though (intentional crashing is not allowed), which leads to some wicked crashes. 

IndyCar crashes are less frequent but can be fatal due to their tendency to flip when a lift-up occurs. Light and fast-moving cars can fly far and crash hard when bumped or crashed into. So far in the 21st Century, IndyCar has had 3 deaths, and NASCAR has had only 1 driver die during a race. The street tracks IndyCars race on can have potholes which have led to crashes.

Is NASCAR or IndyCar a Better Race?

NASCAR has more spectators during regular races, with around 60,000 spectators at each event. The biggest event, the Daytona 500, brings almost 170,000 viewers per race. During the racing season, a lot more promotions and racer endorsements will be marketed to attract more fans. Racers pick up sponsors to cover their cars, and this results in better brand building, making it much more fun for fans who follow their favorite racers to see them outside of race days. 

The average IndyCar race brings 40,000 spectators, but the main event, the Indy 500, brings over 300,000 fans. Considered a great American racing event, the Indy championship race gets well over a million viewers annually watching on television.

IndyCar is one of the most popular forms of racing, but it might not be the most popular. NASCAR is currently still more popular than IndyCar, but it has been around much longer. Indy fans tend to be younger, so the popularity of the races may shift over the next few years. 

Is IndyCar Harder Than NASCAR?

NASCAR events have more racers, longer races, and more races in a season. It can be harder to place and win races with many more cars and continuous collisions to contend with. To offset the racing and bumping chaos, the tracks themselves are slightly less extreme, with mostly ovals that utilize left turns. NASCAR dirt races and road courses are a good way to see your favorite racers take it to the next level. 

Indy races have fewer cars, racers cannot make contact with each other’s vehicles, and typically the races last less time. The cars go faster than NASCAR, and crashes can be deadly, which can make racing a bit harder, considering any crash could be your last.

The road tracks have lots of lefts and right turns, and Indy car courses are some of the most dangerous race tracks, with frequent turns and inconsistent road conditions. Even though both sports are popular racing events, they are very different, making both IndyCar and NASCAR unique and entertaining sports. 

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