What Is a Pace Lap in NASCAR? What Happens During Pace Laps?

Published 04/19/2021, 1:15 PM EDT
Apr 18, 2021; Richmond, Virginia, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (48) crosses the finish line to win the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports


Ahead of every race, the vehicles always perform one final preparation lap before the action begins. In NASCAR, the formation lap is known as the pace lap and is usually performed with a pace car at the head of the field. After the single slow lap, the pace car pulls into the pit lane until it is needed again for any cautions.

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Obviously, drivers are not allowed to overtake each other until the green flag waves. There are many purposes for a pace lap, the first is to allow the drivers to warm up their tyres to get better grip. This will obviously be beneficial for drivers to get good launches when the green flag waves.

Another reason for the pace lap will be for driver to get one last look at the track. This will definitely be a useful trick as NASCAR drivers can identify key overtaking spots or areas that could have better grip.

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What else does a pace lap do in NASCAR?

On a different note, the pace lap can take a PR twist. To be precise, there are rare occasions where a celebrity or a NASCAR legend, drives the pace car. Speaking of the pace car itself, it differs from the NASCAR cars, because it is a consumer car. To be exact, some manufacturer provide car to act as the pace car in order to show it off.

Apr 10, 2021; Martinsville, Virginia, USA; NASCAR Cup Series drivers cross the start line during the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Ryan Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, if some drivers are a lap or more down, they can try and get back to the lead lap. So, while the rest of the field is slowly circulating around the track, previously specified cars are given the go-ahead to overtake. From there, they can unlap themselves.

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In addition to that, pace laps practically neutralizes the race. This means that if there were large gaps between cars, the pace car slows everyone and bunches up the field. On occasion, drivers may make a strategic pitstop while the pace car continues to navigate the track.

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Dhruv George

11383 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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