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NASCAR’s three national series, how they work

NASCAR has three national series that it sanctions for racing. Here is a look at each of them, starting from the top in the NASCAR Cup Series.

NASCAR Cup Series

The Cup Series is the most elite level of all three series. Beginning in 1949 as the Strictly Stock Division, the series is what put NASCAR on the map and is the highest level that a professional NASCAR driver can reach.

From 1950-1970 the series was known as the Grand National Series before becoming the NASCAR Winston Cup Series from 1971-2003. That kicked off an era in which the series name included a sponsor name with iterations including the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Now, the series is known as the NASCAR Cup Series with multiple sponsors making up the Premier Partners of NASCAR. Currently, those Premier Partners are Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, GEICO and Xfinity.

The Cup Series holds races all over the United States on short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways and road courses. In 2023, NASCAR raced for the first time on the streets of Chicago and saw Australian Supercar driver Shane Van Gisbergen take the win.

Sixteen drivers qualify for the Cup Series playoffs, with elimination rounds whittling the field down to 12 drivers and then eight and then four for the Championship 4 in the final race. The best finisher among the Championship 4 drivers in the final race is crowned the champion.

The first champion of NASCAR’s top division was Red Byron in 1949 driving for owner Raymond Parks. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the most Cup Series titles at seven apiece. Jeff Gordon is next on the list with four titles. Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart each have three championships.

Active drivers with a championship include Kyle Busch (two titles), Joey Logano (two titles), Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

The Xfinity Series is the second tier of racing and often serves as a stepping stone for Cup drivers and teams. The series is where drivers make a name for themselves and build their fanbases.

From 1982-1983, the series was called the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series before becoming the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series for the next 18 years. From 2003-2007, it was known as the Busch Series before becoming sponsored by Nationwide. This changed the name to the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 2008-2014 before changing sponsors to Comcast and becoming today’s name, the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The Xfinity Series holds races on the same tracks as the Cup Series, but with fewer laps. A flange-fit composite body is used for the Xfinity cars.

Instead of 16 drivers making the playoffs like in the Cup Series, only 12 drivers make it to the Xfinity Series playoffs. The field is whittled down to eight and then four for the Championship 4, where the best finisher among the Championship 4 drivers is crowned the champion in the final race.

Jack Ingram won the first Xfinity Series championship in 1982 in the No. 11 Pontiac and repeated the feat three years later. Ingram is one of nine two-time champions in the series, a list that also includes Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick.

Cole Custer won the 2023 series championship at Phoenix Raceway for Stewart Haas Racing.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

With its debut in 1995, the modified pickup truck races are in the third tier of NASCAR racing under the Xfinity Series and Cup Series. This is where most drivers make their national series debut.

Originally, the races took place on mainly short tracks in the West. Now, races also take place on speedways and subsequently have similar schedules to the other series.

The series has gone through several sponsorship and name changes over the years. It has gone from NASCAR SuperTruck Series, to Craftsman Truck Series in 1996, Camping World Truck Series in 2009, to Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, to Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020, back to Camping World Truck Series in 2021, and finally returned to Craftsman Truck Series to start the 2023 season.

Ten drivers make it to the Truck Series playoffs, with the field getting reduced to eight and then four through elimination races before the Championship 4 in the final race, where the top finisher out of the Championship 4 drivers is crowned the champion.

Mike Skinner won the first Truck championship in 1995. Ron Hornaday Jr. holds the most series championships at four. Jack Sprague and Matt Crafton are next with three titles apiece. Todd Bodine and Ben Rhodes have two championships.