What if electric vehicles ran the Daytona 500 and other NASCAR races?

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By Arthur Murray
For business
The NASCAR Daytona 500 race would look a lot differently with electric vehicles.

OK, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. The current vehicle lineup for the racing circuit’s top division features the gasoline-powered Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the Ford Mustang, and the Toyota Camry. But what if they didn’t? What if cars at the Daytona 500 and all other top-level NASCAR races were powered by electricity instead?

Yes, the idea is far-fetched. Of the three automakers involved in NASCAR, only Ford makes an electric version of its signature car – and many car enthusiasts argue that the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which will be available on car lots later this year, isn’t a “real Mustang” – and it is in no way designed for racing.

Nevertheless, ChooseEnergy.com® analysts made some assumptions – pricing for 98-octane gasoline, not available to the average motorists, for example – to estimate the costs, lengths of races and more if they were run on electricity instead of gasoline.

Here’s what we found:

Longer races, for two reasons

Electric vehicles aren’t as fast as gasoline-powered vehicles. The average fastest speed of topspeed.com’s Top 8 fastest electric cars is 119.25 mph. The average winning speed of the slowest Daytona 500, run in 1960, was 124.74 mph.

Under normal conditions, gasoline-powered vehicles complete the race in roughly three hours. But that includes cautions – periods where the vehicles aren’t going top speed – and pitstops.

About those pitstops: The longest pitstops, which entail changing all four tires and filling up with what passes as gasoline – take 12-16 seconds. Getting two tires and gas takes about 5-7 seconds. Late in a race, drivers will sometimes just get a splash of gas – that takes 2 seconds.

It would take an electric car about 4 hours and 12 minutes of full-speed driving time to complete the race. That’s not counting “refueling” – filling up the “tank” with electricity.

As the chart below shows, none of the fastest EVs can finish a 500-mile race without recharging.

Eight fastest electric cars Speed (mph) Range (in miles)
Nissan Leaf 75 226
BMW i3 93 200
Chevrolet Bolt 91 238
Audi e-Tron 124 204
Jaguar I-Pace 124 234
Tesla Model 3 162 310
Texla Model X AWD P100D 130 325
Tesla Model S P100D 155 295
Average 119.25 254

Charging times vary greatly by the type of charger – let’s assume NASCAR teams would install DC fast chargers along pit row (since Tesla superchargers are reserved for Tesla owners). According to evcharging.enelx.com, it would take the average EV nearly two hours – longer even than a Super Bowl halftime show – to recharge to the point it could finish the 500-mile race.

Add the two-hour recharging time to the 4 hour and 12 minutes of full-speed driving time and the race would last at least 6 hours and 12 minutes – excluding any cautions. NASCAR officials would need to be really creative with that quiet period while cars are recharging.

Charging time (minutes) Miles per charge
10 25
30 75
60 150
120 290

Cheaper racing, especially in some states

Vehicles used in NASCAR average about 5 miles per gallon during a race, meaning they need about 100 gallons of fuel for a 500-mile race such as Daytona. Our best estimate of the cost of the 98-octane gasoline NASCAR currently uses is $8.41 per gallon. That would cost about $841 per race. (Keep in mind that this excludes practice, qualifying, etc.)

The Federal Department of Energy has developed a measure of what it calls eGallons – the cost of the electricity needed to travel an equivalent distance to a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. The eGallon cost in Florida is $1.12 – substantially lower than the price of NASCAR fuel.

Following are the states with NASCAR events and the eGallon cost in each:

State eGallon price (as of Feb. 1) State eGallon price (as of Feb. 1)
Alabama $1.14 Michigan $1.44
Arizona $1.10 Nevada $1.13
California $1.83 New Hampshire $1.84
Delaware $1.21 New York $1.64
Florida $1.12 North Carolina $1.05
Georgia $0.98 Pennsylvania $1.28
Illinois $1.21 South Carolina $1.19
Indiana $1.13 Tennessee $1.00
Kansas $1.17 Texas $1.11
Kentucky $1.00 Virginia $1.10

Other benefits of EV racing

If you’ve ever been to a NASCAR race, you know it’s loud – really loud. Most reliable estimates put the level of noise at 100 decibels. HearingHealthUSA.com says it takes about 16 hours to recover from exposure to two hours of sound at 100 decibels.

Electric vehicles make very little noise – to the point that manufactures add sound to their engines so that pedestrians will hear them coming. That could be a big relief – and a health benefit – to fans at the race.

NASCAR brags that its current fuel reduces greenhouse emissions by 20 percent from the previous fuel formulation, and it has promised to plant enough trees near its tracks to make up for its carbon emissions for the next 40 years.

Electric vehicles, according to the Energy Department, produce zero direct emissions. But they do account for emissions in the way electricity is produced. In Florida, for example, natural gas and coal account for more than 81 percent of the state’s electricity – and both generate emissions. On the whole, however, EVs generate roughly about the third of the emissions of gasoline.

Will NASCAR switch to electric vehicles? No, not in the foreseeable future. But wouldn’t it be something if it did?

Arthur Murray directs ChooseEnergy.com’s newsroom, taking advantage of years of newspaper and magazine experience. His articles have appeared on Zillow.com, Business.com, Nasdaq.com, and USNews.com, among others. You may reach him at amurray@chooseenergy.com.