Flags are among the most crucial elements of all NASCAR races. Here’s a quick guide to what each NASCAR flag you’re likely to see means:
- Green – start race or continue race under normal conditions
- Yellow – race under caution
- Red – race is halted
- Black – driver must leave track
- White – one lap remaining
- Checkered (Black and White) – race has ended
- Checkered (Green) – race stage has ended
- Blue with Yellow Diagonal Stripe – leaders approaching a lapped driver
- Blue – road courses, normal conditions but hard-to-see problems ahead
- Yellow and Red Striped – road courses, debris on track
- Red with Yellow Stripe – pits are closed
- Red and Black (2 flags) – end of practice or qualifying session
What NASCAR race flags mean
From the start of a race (green flag) to the finish (checkered flag), flags control the flow of every race. Cars and drivers on the track must adhere to each flag, lest they be waved off-track and disqualified (black flag with an ‘x’ stripe).
There are 15 different flags or flag combinations (two flags that are waved together at the same time). The flagman, who typically stands above the race track and at the start-finish line in what is informally referred to as the “crow’s nest,” is essentially the race controller and chief flag waver.
Here are brief descriptions of what each solo flag or flag combination means:
Has four primary purposes when it waves: during qualifying and practice sessions, indicates the start of a race, racing continues under full-speed conditions, and also when a race transitions from a yellow caution period/flag back to full-speed restart conditions. Perhaps the best way to keep this flag in mind: Green means GO!
Brings the race to a slowed pace and indicates a caution period on-track due to a crash or debris that would impede the race from continuing under full-speed conditions. When the flag waves, the pace car enters the track and controls the field behind it.
Means the race must immediately come to a halt. Cars must either stop where they are at on the track, or are brought to pit road due either to extensive on-track debris that must be cleaned up following a crash, or when weather forces racing to stop. Teams are prohibited from working on cars in the pits and garages under red-flag conditions. If and when a race resumes, conditions typically go from red flag to yellow flag (caution) and then back to green (go!).
Typically is directed toward a particular driver who NASCAR officials or scorers have determined has committed an on-track offense — or cannot maintain a consistent and competitive speed to continue racing — and must leave the racing surface and return to the pit area immediately. Also called a “consultation flag,” as the driver and his team will meet with a NASCAR official in the pits to determine what the infraction was and if there will be a resulting penalty.
BLACK FLAG WITH CROSSED WHITE LINES:
If a driver fails to follow the flagman’s instructions to immediately go to pit road within five laps, this flag is displayed to indicate the driver’s on-track progress is no longer being scored. Driver is also typically disqualified at this point.
Indicates there is just one lap remaining in the race. If a caution period occurs on the final lap while the white flag is displayed, the field is frozen and the event ends immediately.
CHECKERED FLAG (BLACK AND WHITE):
The race is over when this flag flies. Each car remaining on the track must cross the start-finish line and pass under the checkered flag to have its finishing position officially scored. The checkered flag is also used at the end of each driver’s qualifying attempt.
CHECKERED FLAG (GREEN):
Indicates that a race stage has concluded.
BLUE FLAG WITH YELLOW DIAGONAL STRIPE:
Is used to alert one or more cars that leaders or a pack of lead lap cars are approaching and to either move over or be courteous, particularly if they are likely to be passed shortly.
BLUE FLAG (solid blue, no stripe):
Used only on road courses to warn drivers of hard-to-see problems ahead of them, such as if a car has spun off the course but the race remains under green-flag conditions.
YELLOW AND RED STRIPED FLAG:
Yellow with vertical red stripes. Another flag used only on road courses to indicate debris on the track.
RED FLAG WITH YELLOW STRIPE:
Located at entrance to pit road, indicates pits are closed. Flag is withdrawn when all cars on-track line up behind the pace car under caution/yellow flag conditions, indicating pits are reopened.
RED AND BLACK FLAGS TOGETHER:
Flagman displays both flags simultaneously to indicate practice or qualifying session has concluded.
TWO CHECKERED FLAGS TOGETHER:
Indicates the race has reached its halfway point (optional usage by flagman).
GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FLAG SEQUENCE:
If a caution occurs in the final two laps of a race, NASCAR will continue the race under yellow flag conditions in the hopes of eventually returning to and finishing the race under green flag conditions. When the event returns to clear and raceable conditions, NASCAR will have a two-lap run to the finish, where the green flag will be displayed at the race restart, followed by the white flag with one lap remaining and the checkered flag then falls to signal the end of the race. If additional caution situations occur, NASCAR allows up to three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.