The Difference Between NASCAR’s Three National Series

The Difference Between NASCAR’s Three National Series

NASCAR, or the National Association of Stock Car Racing, has been shaping auto racing in the United States since it was founded 75-years ago. The sport has evolved and expanded since that time, and now officially has three national series drivers can compete in.

Read on to learn about the three NASCAR series, their similarities and differences as well as how to watch them at home live.


Since the formation of NASCAR, there have been multiple series that have evolved into the three series we have today. These are the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series and the Craftsman Truck Series.

On the surface, the biggest difference between the series is their level of difficulty. And while that is true, only the very best in the sport make it to the NASCAR level at all, and the lower divisions are by no means “easy.”

Here is an overview of each of the series, from their start to what they look like today.


The Cup Series is NASCAR’s most competitive division as well as the sports’ claim to fame, although it hasn’t always been called the Cup Series. Since its inception in 1948, the series has changed names many times, but its purpose has remained the same all along: to provide a racing platform for the best of the best racers in the industry.

The many names of the series include:

  • Strictly Stock (1948-1949)
  • Grand National Series (1950-1970)
  • NASCAR Winston Cup Series (1971-2003)
  • NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (2004-2007)
  • NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (2008-2016)
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (2017-2019)
  • NASCAR Cup Series (2020 -)

After many name changes – mostly due to changing sponsorships – NASCAR got back to basics in 2020, changing names again to what it is today. Now, instead of including partners’ names in the title, NASCAR has a group of Premier Partners, that is made up of Busch, Coca-Cola, GEICO and Xfinity.


A common misconception is that all NASCAR races are just drivers going in circles for 500 miles. And while some competitions do look like that, it’s not the only format. Cup Series drivers can compete in races on four different kinds of tracks: short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways and road courses.

Short tracks are typically between .5 miles and 1 mile and consist of four turns around the track. Intermediate tracks are typically between one and two miles long, while superspeedways are longer than two miles. All three of these tracks are usually four-turn ovals.

The NASCAR Cup Series has been racing on the final type of track since the beginning, but road courses are only starting to become more prominent in the last few years. During the 2023 season, there were five races that took place on road courses, adding a level of excitement and novelty to the traditional four-turn race.


The latest version of the official NASCAR car is the Next Gen, which started being tested for competition in 2020. These cars can reach up to 200 mph and are extremely aerodynamic, yet they closely mirror the look of stock cars regular folks drive today. The current manufacturers of the Next Gen are Cheverolet, Ford and Toyota.


The series right below the Cup is the Xfinity Series, which usually acts as a steppingstone to reach the highest level of the sport. This division has also been called by a number of names, including:

  • Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series (1982-1983)
  • NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (1984-2002)
  • Busch Series (2003-2007)
  • NASCAR Nationwide Series (2008-2014)
  • Xfinity Series (2015-)

One of the main differences between this series and its elite counterpart is how long they have been around. In this case, what is now the Xfinity Series didn’t officially start until 1982, more than 30 years after the Cup. Another difference between the two series is the length of races. The two share the same tracks and schedules but an Xfinity Series race tends to have fewer laps.

The car regulations and production also differ, as the Xfinity cars are built with composite bodies, which makes it easier to replace one aspect of the car’s exterior, rather than needing to replace the whole steel body, as they do in the elite division. This design element may be brought up to the Cup Series at some point. 


If the Xfinity Series is a steppingstone for drivers on their way to the big leagues, the Craftsman Truck Series is the jumping off point. Many of the drivers in the top standings of the Cup and Xfinity Series today have tried their skills in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The division has been around since 1995 and has gone by several names:

  • Craftsman Truck Series (1995-2008)
  • Camping World Truck Series (2009-2018)
  • Gander Outdoors Truck Series (2019-2020)
  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (2021-2022)
  • NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2023-)

The main difference between this division and the other two is the type of vehicles being raced in. As the name suggests, drivers race in modified pickup trucks, which means different rules and regulations than the others. Truck Series races used to only be on short tracks but have since expanded to speedways as well.


The sections above give an overview of the three different national series racers can compete in and their main differences. In this section, learn more about NASCAR’s playoff format and how it changes depending on the division.

On a basic level, the NASCAR playoffs take place after the regular season has ended. For the Cup Series, the 16 drivers with the highest number of points (you can find a breakdown of how the point system works in this Guide to NASCAR Playoffs) move on to the Round of 16.

During this round, drivers compete in three elimination rounds, and the 12 drivers with the highest number of points move on to the Round of 12. This continues until there are four drivers left, who compete one final time for the championship.

The only difference between this playoff structure and those of the Xfinity and Truck Series is the number of playoff contenders. The second division sends 12 drivers to the postseason, while the Craftsman Truck Series sends 10. Apart from that though, the rules and format are quite similar.


And there you have it: the three national series of NASCAR. By now, you know the difference between the three divisions and are ready to get into the action.

And with DIRECTV, you can get the best seat in the house for these races. You can catch every Cup Series race live on either NBC Sports or USA networks with your DIRECTV subscription. You can also catch the Xfinity Series races on the same networks. Typically, Xfinity Series races take place on Saturdays, while the Cup Series races happen on Sundays.

Not to mention, you can catch the Craftsman Truck Series races on FOX Sports Networks. So, whatever league you want to watch, DIRECTV has got you covered.

And check out more NASCAR content on the Insider Blog – from race previews, highlights, race results and the latest NASCAR news – to stay up to speed on America’s favorite motorsport.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 national series of NASCAR?

NASCAR has 3 levels of competition, the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

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