How the Daytona 500 Works

If you're watching the Daytona 500 on television, it might seem as if the commentators are speaking a foreign language as they describe the action on the track. NASCAR has its own distinct lexicon. Consider the glossary on this page NASCAR Lingo 101. It will arm you with enough knowledge to appreciate what's happening during the Daytona 500, or any other NASCAR race.

Aerodynamics: The flow of air over and around the car. "Speed" is nothing more than how fast a 3,400-pound stock car can push its way through the air.

Caution flag: The yellow flag that's waved to signal trouble on the track -- usually debris from a crash -- and the field to slow down.

Caution lap: Under caution, drivers can duck into the pits for gas and tires, taking advantage of the slow caution-flag pace on the track.

Crew chief: He's the coach of a race team, the guy who radios instructions to his driver and maps out strategy. Remember Robert Duvall, Tom Cruise's crew chief in the movie "Days of Thunder?" The crew chief gets dirty and grimy; the driver gets the glory and the girl.

Garage: The area in the track infield where mechanics work on the cars while the drivers talk to the media and chat up pretty girls.

The NASCAR garage is where the race cars are worked on.
The garage is where the cars are prepared for battle.

The big rig that hauls the race car to the track, along with the tools and other equipment.

Pit crew: The men who service the car during pit stops, changing tires, adding gas, and cleaning the windshield. The pit crew does all of this in about 15 seconds -- just like your mechanic back home.

Pit road: The lane that runs along the front stretch. It's where drivers pull in to make their pit stops.

PR people: They are assigned to keep the media away from their drivers. Seriously (kind of), they're the ones who provide the media with information and facilitate interviews with the drivers and other team members.

Push: When the front tires have difficulty turning.

Retaining wall: The concrete barrier that keeps spinning cars from going off the track. Such walls account for much of the "Ouch!" factor in racing.

Sponsor: The corporate sugar daddy that writes the checks that keeps the cars running. For about $15 million a year, a company gets to paste its name and logo on one of NASCAR's flying billboards.

Sponsorship is what drives the sport of NASCAR.
Sponsors pay big bucks to get their names on NASCAR race cars.

Stock car:
A souped-up version of the very car you drive to work. That's the NASCAR myth, anyway; in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. Real stock cars went out with the moonshiners back in the 1950s.

Victory Circle (Lane): Where the race winner goes to celebrate, hoist his trophy, pose for photos, plug his sponsor, and kiss Miss Lug Nut.

Tech: The technical inspection every car has to pass before it goes onto the track. Everything must meet strict NASCAR requirements, such as weight, height, width, and so on. Tech inspectors are referees with a tool box.

Tight: Opposite of loose (duh!). It means that the car is hard to turn. Having to crank a balky car makes a driver, well, cranky.

Track bar: No, it's not a nearby joint where everybody heads after the race. It's part of the car's rear suspension that keeps the tires centered. If the track bar breaks, the driver can leave early and head to the other track bar.

For more information on NASCAR and on high-performance cars, check out:
  • The Daytona 500 has produced some legendary finishes. We pinpoint the best of the best in The Top 10 Daytona 500s Ever.
  • Ever wonder what makes a stock car go? Read How NASCAR Race Cars Work to find out.
  • Driver safety is a huge concern in NASCAR. Learn what measures the series takes in this area by reading How NASCAR Safety Works.
  • Muscle cars embody the NASCAR philosophy of speed and power. Here are features on more than 100 classic muscle cars, including photos and specifications for each model.

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