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NASCAR: Full Speed | Netflix’s Latest Sports Series is a Revelation

February 16, 2024

In most sports categories, a season typically ends with the biggest event of the year. Only last week in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs went up against the San-Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

While Formula 1’s audiences have only experienced a final-race showdown once in the past seven years, in the United States, NASCAR does things differently, and thanks to the championship’s Playoff format, it ensures a four-way fight for the title every single season.

NASCAR: Full Speed is the latest sports series on Netflix and deals with this very subject, focusing on the Cup Series title battle by covering the final 10 races of 2023 over the course of five episodes.

The show’s release arguably couldn’t have come at a better time for the championship.

Last year, NASCAR was overtaken by Formula E as the fourth most viewed form of motor racing worldwide*, but with the Daytona 500 coming up this weekend, Full Speed is sure to inject fresh blood into NASCAR’s following.

Full Speed is gritty and raw, and away from the natural glamour and allure of motorsport, it showcases the very real pressures of daily life as a professional racing driver more than ever before.

Where similar shows have often failed to deliver genuine insights in this regard, NASCAR: Full Speed excels at introducing the paddock’s personalities, showcasing their character with authentic humanity at the most intimate level.

Viewers are introduced to characters including underdog, Bubba Wallace Jr., whose car is co-owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan, and next generation drivers like William Byron and Christopher Bell, yet few personalities stand out as much as Denny Hamlin, who we meet in Episode One.

Photo Credit: Ben Earp [via NASCAR Media Site]

Hamlin is a veteran of the championship, and his success knows no bounds. He has more than 50 Cup Series wins, but as he enters the twilight stages of his career, one thing is still missing – an elusive first championship title.

The hopes and aspirations of every competitor shines through, but with Hamlin, balancing his life’s work with life at home, and sometimes, against time itself, makes for fascinating viewing.

In this show, there is no hero, and there is no villain – there are only high-performance athletes who will do anything and everything they can to achieve their dreams.

The result is mesmerising. To a non-NASCAR fan, Full Speed will suck you into the world of stock car racing. For an existing fan, it’ll pull you in even further, and it will never, ever, let you go.

From the third episode onwards, the pressure that stems from NASCAR’s Playoff format starts to radiate through the screen.

There is a physical sense of inevitability in the narrative, and this paints a very clear picture of the magnitude of what is at stake.

As 26-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr – who also serves as the show’s Executive Producer – tells viewers: “only a few drivers get to become a champion. You don’t know how many opportunities you’re ever going to get to be in the final four.”

Episode by episode, the Playoff field only gets smaller until we have our final four: Byron, Bell, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney. All are deserving champions, but only one can assume a place in history.

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images [via NASCAR Media Site]

For anyone who has worked in motorsport, the glorious feeling of victory and the crushing feeling of defeat are all too real, yet at times, it can be difficult to effectively explain such emotions.

In Episode Five, NASCAR: Full Speed contextualises the feeling perfectly. Taking every chance in life matters, because in life, it’s impossible to know which opportunity will be your last.

Where Full Speed succeeds in comparison to its competitors, however, is in its storytelling. Thriving on real-life drama to hook its viewers, it uses its authenticity to its advantage.

Since its release on January 30, Full Speed has, unsurprisingly, found strong viewership in North America, but can the show expand NASCAR’s audience into Europe?

This author thinks it can.

Drive to Survive took multiple series to establish a foothold in the US, so for NASCAR to build its profile in Europe, a yet to be confirmed second series of Full Speed is a must.

US sports are coming to Europe. The NFL first played in London in 2007, and its popularity at Wembley shows no signs of slowing down.

The prospect of NASCAR racing outside of the US is said to be a matter of not if but when, especially as it looks to build its appeal with younger audience demographics.

While no silver bullet, a race in Europe – perhaps at Brands Hatch as suggested by Earnhardt Jr – could be a key to this door. If it was, Full Speed’s role will be integral.

Drive to Survive proved to be a revelation for F1. With time, Full Speed could very well prove to be the same for NASCAR.

*Source: FIA Formula E