On the surface, NASCAR seems like a pretty simple sport to follow. About 40 drivers line up, somebody waves a green flag, and the drivers race for a set amount of laps until a winner is crowned.

While that is all true, there’s a lot more to NASCAR–or National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing–than meets the eye.

When Does the NASCAR Season Begin?

The highest level of competition is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (formerly known as the Sprint Cup Series). The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season consists of 36 races over 10 months. The season begins in February with the Daytona 500 and ends in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The defending Cup Series Champion is Jimmie Johnson, who won five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010.

What to Expect When Attending Your First Race

NASCAR races are often considered among the most fun sporting events that a fan can attend. Given the nature of the setup and the size of each track, crowds can swell past 150,000 people. Many fans come in for the whole race weekend. Usually, races take place on Sunday afternoons and there are practice races and qualifying rounds to determine racing order on Saturday. If you watch a race, you’ll notice fans have set up camps on the infield of the racetrack, which provides spectators with an unforgettable vantage point of the race.

How Does the NASCAR Scoring System Work?

Over the last few years, NASCAR has made changes to the scoring system and has broken down each race into three stages. For example at the Daytona 500, Stage 1 concludes after lap 60, Stage 2 after lap 120 and Stage 3 ends with the race.

Drivers who are running 1-10 at the conclusion of Stage 1 will receive stage bonus points, starting with 10 points for first place, nine points for second place, down to one point for 10th place.

After a caution following the conclusion of Stage 1, a green flag is dropped for a restart and Stage 2 begins. Bonus points in Stage 2 are the same as Stage 1.

After another caution flag at the conclusion of Stage 2 (which offers fans a break in the action), the final stage begins with a green flag and then drivers race to win the event. The winner will then receive five bonus points.

The final stage is different from Stage 1 and 2 in that it produces final results, so whoever crosses the start/finish line first at the checkered flag is the race winner and then race points are awarded to the entire field based on finishing order. The winner receives 40 points. Second place receives 35 points, third place receives 34 points, fourth place receives 33 points, all the way down to one point for drivers who finish 36th-40th.

(Image courtesy of Chad Sparkes via Flickr.)