When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more here.

Are NASCAR Cars Manual Or Automatic?

With all the recent updates that NASCAR has made to their cars, you’re probably wondering, are NASCARs manual?

NASCAR cars use a manual transmission and have done so since 1950.

Unlike Formula 1, NASCAR is all about skill.

While Formula 1 cars feature sequential semi-automatic transmissions, NASCAR cars are all 6-speed manual cars (as of 2022).

While the NASCAR gearbox may be updated from time to time, NASCAR cars will likely always remain manual.

Manual transmission cars allow the races to be more interesting.

There is much more room for human error, which means the drivers need to be more engaged in all aspects of driving.

There are many other reasons why manual transmission is best for professional racing, which this article will highlight.

NASCAR Next Gen Cars are Still Manual

nascar Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

NASCAR cars have always been manual, despite the fact the transmission system has been regularly updated.

Back in the 1940s, NASCAR cars had 3-speed manual transmission.

Then, in the mid-50s, NASCAR cars started featuring 4-speed manual transmissions.

In 2021, NASCAR switched from 4-speed manual transmission cars to 5-speed sequential transmission cars.

Then, in 2022, NASCAR rolled out manual transmission cars that feature one reverse and five forward transmission speeds.

These changes make it slightly easier for drivers to switch gears while keeping the cars manual.

Do NASCAR Drivers Have to Shift Gears Often?

Despite the manual NASCAR car gearbox, shifting gears is actually a rare occurrence for NASCAR drivers competing in an oval race.

In a standard oval NASCAR race, the driver only needs to shift gears during the transition between yellow and green flags, when at a pitstop, or when starting or restarting the car.

A standard NASCAR race that takes place on an oval track requires a consistent speed.

For this reason, NASCAR drivers do not have to shift gears while racing.

However, this is not the case for NASCAR road courses, however.

Road courses involve a number of sharp corners, which each need a different transmission speed.

Why Are NASCAR Cars Still Manual?

As we’ve seen with the Next Gen car models, NASCAR shows no sign of ever changing to manual transmissions – but why?

Formula 1 stopped using manual transmission cars back in 1991.

The reasons they made the change to automatic transmission cars were safety and convenience.

It’s more convenient for the driver to focus only on the steering wheel and let the computer shift gears for them.

The main reason why NASCAR cars are still automatic is that it makes the races more interesting.

With a manual gearbox, NASCAR drivers need to be more skilled than F1 drivers.

There’s much more room for human error and, therefore, a significant amount of risk involved.

This makes the NASCAR racing series more impressive than other races.

In addition to this, NASCAR Next Gen cars continue to be built with manual transmissions for the following reasons:


Manual cars are simpler than automatic transmission vehicles.

With fewer parts, fewer repairs are needed.

Automatic transmission vehicles are less durable because they’re so complicated.

They feature far more mechanical components, including a torque converter, a flywheel, and a planetary gear system.

With many moving components, automatic race cars tend to need a lot more maintenance work than manual cars.

Manual cars can take a lot more wear and tear than automatic cars, which makes them ideal for the racetrack.

High speeds and frequent gear changes are no problem for Next Gen cars.

They can literally be pushed to the limit before they need any repair work.

Easy and cheap to repair

Even when NASCAR manual cars do break down, they’re easy and cheap to fix.

As aforementioned, manual cars have less complicated parts.

They also feature less expensive parts than automatic cars.

Whenever a manual race car breaks down, repairing or replacing the part will likely be inexpensive.

The same cannot be said for automatic transmission vehicles.


Even Next Gen car models are lighter than modern automatic cars, which makes them easier to drive.

With fewer parts, less weight is added to the vehicle.

This allows manual cars to move faster along the road.

Fuel economy

Due to their lightness, manual cars provide better fuel economy than automatic models.

Instead of having to power a bulky car around the race track, the engine on Next Gen car models has a lighter load to carry.

Therefore, less fuel is required.

NASCAR drivers prefer manual cars

Because of all the reasons listed above, NASCAR drivers simply prefer driving manual cars than they do automatic ones.

Race car drivers feel that driving an automatic transmission car can in fact improve their race.

Although reliable, manual cars are faster-acting than automatic cars when it comes to changing gears.

Human instinct can be more reliable than a computer, which is why race drivers particularly like using manual cars for road races.

Split-second decisions can sometimes be the difference between a driver winning a race and a driver losing it.

Plus, when a driver is in full control of the car, they can take full responsibility for a victory.

They had no assistance from a computer.

NASCAR listens to its drivers, understands that they’re not interested in an automatic NASCAR car, and sticks to manual.

How do NASCAR Next Gen Manual Transmission Gearboxes Work?

Originally, NASCAR cars featured a H-pattern gearbox.

However, recent updates to the transmission system have seen their cars switch to sequential transmission.

Obviously, the new transmission system does not move in the shape of a ‘H’.

Instead, it moves forward and back.

This makes it easier to use for drivers, and also brings it closer to the design of automatic transmissions.

While NASCAR strives to keep their cars manual, they want to make their cars as safe as possible for NASCAR drivers.

Sequential transmissions make it easier for drivers to shift gears.

To operate, drivers must use the clutch pedal, which is the one on the left-hand side.

The clutch pedal can be used to disengage and engage the engine from the transmission.

Drivers must then use the shift stick to shift gears.

The Different Types of NASCAR Manual Gearboxes

The Xtrac P1334 manual sequential shift gearbox can be found in all NASCAR cars in 2022.

However, there are two different models of Xtrac P1334: the helical-cut gear and the straight-cut gear.

Helical-cut gear

The more durable of the two, the helical-cut gears are used in the Nascar Xfinity Series.

They’re noted for being the quieter gearbox type.

Straight-cut gear

Straight-cut gears differ in that the gear face teeth face outward.

They produce more noise than helical-cut gears but are the more efficient option.

Final Thoughts

NASCARs are manual cars – always have been, and likely always will be.

The new NASCAR vehicles series of cars feature sequential manual transmission, which makes shifting gears easier and safer for drivers.

While this change brings NASCARs closer to auto transmission vehicles, they remain manual car models.

Not only do the manual cars make NASCAR races more exciting, but they’re also more fuel efficient, durable, lighter, and easier to repair.

Overall, it is the manual aspect of NASCAR cars that set them apart from the likes of Formula 1.