Review: Netflix’s NASCAR: Full Speed Targets Newcomers, Satisfies Oval Obsessives

Cameron Neveu

Tuesday was a big day for stock car racing as NASCAR: Full Speed debuted on Netflix. The five-episode docuseries follows last year’s 16 playoff drivers as they race toward the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

If you’re apprehensive about yet another motorsports documentary, I get it. I certainly was.

Since its debut in 2019, F1’s Drive to Survive has become a global phenomenon, perhaps making the biggest waves right here in the States. According to a Nielsen study, the sport’s U.S. fan base grew about 10 percent in light of the show’s success. Fun stat: More than 360,000 viewers who didn’t view F1 in the latter part of the 2021 season watched F1 racing in 2022 after first watching Drive to Survive.

F1 US GP at the Circuit of The Americas on 2022 Austin Texas
F1’s US GP at the Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas. Peter Fox/Getty Images

These stats were likely regurgitated in the board room of every motorsports sanctioning body here to Timbuktu, as aspiring documentarians pitched other series on similar ideas. In the past few years, plenty of disciplines have rushed to make a bare-all docuseries. In 2022, the USA Network premiered a 10-episode NASCAR series, Race for the Championship. Last year, IndyCar launched 100 Days to Indy on the CW. Both were legitimate attempts but lacked the trademark rawness and drama that Drive to Survive served in its five seasons.

The rumblings surrounding NASCAR: Full Speed signaled that the show might be different. For one, the project had some serious power players in the mix. The production studio Words + Pictures was behind the lens. If that sounds familiar, this is the same group who created The Last Dance, a ten-part documentary that focuses on Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, and the 2017 Academy Award-winning O.J.: Made in America.

Oh, and retired NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the executive producer.

Still, I’ve been bit before. When you know a subject matter so intimately, a production’s flaws can stick out like a sore thumb. I recently watched a tennis expert break down the inconsistencies in Break Point, another hot Netflix doc produced by the Drive to Survive crew.

Girding myself for disappointment, I tuned into the big red ‘N.’

Netflix Nascar Full Speed TV Series Poster
Netflix/Word + Pictures/Nascar Studios

The first episode opens in Martinsville, Virginia, at the penultimate race of the season. It’s a time of high stress for the remaining playoff drivers who are attempting to make the final four cutoff for the season-ending showdown in Phoenix. This is a great snapshot of the sport at its most tense. The intimate pre-race convos between lovers and teammates, which are rarely shared during the event’s traditional coverage, excellently build the suspense. Long gone are the early-season races, where a mulligan or two can be tolerated; it’s go-time in Martinsville.

Then, the show quickly pivots, jumping back a couple of months to the days leading up to the playoffs and the respective cutoff race in Daytona. This Tarantino-style timeline could be confusing to the entry-level viewer, however, the doc employs a fuzzied shock jock radio voice to slowly explain the context. We join Denny Hamlin as he prepares his two daughters for school.

NASCAR Cup Series M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 denny hamlin
Long Pond, Pennsylvania: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022. Getty Images | Logan Riely

Throughout the episode, we’re given incredible access to the personal lives of each driver in the spotlight. This is where the show shines. It’s intriguing to watch these superstars who wrestle race cars around the track at 200 miles per hour performing mundane tasks. Hamlin burns a pancake during his family’s morning routine.

Unsurprisingly, it is the veteran driver Hamlin who provides the best sound bites: “I don’t want my competition thinking ‘Oh gee shucks, what a nice guy.’ F*ck that.”

In addition to interviews with a roster of drivers, you also hear from plenty of pundits and even executive producer Dale Jr., who eloquently explains the sport’s subtle complexities and provides clear context. In fact, as you roll through the midpoint of the episode, the experienced NASCAR fan will start to understand the intended purpose of this docuseries: make new fans.

Netflix Nascar Series Footage Daytona
Netflix/Word + Pictures/Nascar Studios

First, the decision to set the first episode at Daytona is intentional. It’s the same track that will open the 2024 season in a couple of weeks. What a way to prime an audience. Second, the explanation of NASCAR’s playoff system, one of the most nuanced components of the sport, is laid out and explained multiple times so that even a person who has never witnessed a stock car race can comprehend. Drafting, inspection, personas, reputations—everything is laid out like a grade school curriculum.

At one point, bored of explanation, I started to reach for my phone. Then, the cameras travel inside a hauler to listen to a prerace speech from a crew chief. Wait, I’ve never seen that. We even see team owner Coach Joe Gibbs pull Hamlin aside to talk about a soundbite that aired on the driver’s podcast earlier in the week. Juicy!

And it’s all shot and composed really well. There’s plenty of neat framing, unique perspectives, and a great soundtrack.

Netflix Nascar Racing Docuseries crowd
Netflix/Word + Pictures/Nascar Studios

Despite setting most of the first episode at Daytona, a place where Dale Earnhardt dominated but ultimately passed away, there is no mention of the Intimidator. There isn’t mention of any Hall of Fame driver, for that matter. Make no mistake, the series is here to explain today’s NASCAR. That might rub some fanatics the wrong way, but for the sake of the sport’s future, I’m fine with highlighting modern-day heroes. The lack of personality is one of NASCAR’s current issues and NASCAR: Full Speed is trying to provide a remedy.

Bubba Wallace, the second-ever Black driver to win in NASCAR’s premier level, is chronicled heavily in the first episode. Rightfully so. Wallace has worked his tail off to be in the Cup Series, and found himself right on the playoff cut line during the show’s filming. He also drives for Hamlin and co-owner Michael Jordan. Yeah, that Jordan.

Bubba Wallace talking with reporters Daytona International Speedway 2023
Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota, speaks to the media after the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 26, 2023. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The episode ends with the closing laps at Daytona. A huge flip is followed by late-race dueling, and a triumphant—and exhausted—Bubba Wallace on pit lane receiving congratulations from teammates and Jordan alike. Orville Peck’s “Daytona Sand” accompanies the scene. This doc consistently has the kind of stuff that will likely put your arm hair on end, even if you aren’t a NASCAR fan.

NASCAR: Full Speed is an excellent primer for new fans and provides plenty of intimate never-before-seen moments for the most devout followers, and it wraps it all in a shiny cinematic bow. I’m excited to watch the next episode.




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    I loved NASCAR from the late 60’s to the early 2000. Once they started all this chase crap I left. Same on their new street races etc.

    NASCAR had a good product then they got to thinking they could compete with the NFL and lost all that made them good.

    It used to be the best drivers got in. Now the best drivers get passed over too often. The Earnhardts and Pearsons would never have a chance today as they would be thought of as too unrefined for the media.

    NASCAR is more a rural and southern reginal sport as this was their strongest area, yet they keep trying and keep getting rejected in LA.

    I am more IMSA anymore though the GTD cars are missing from Mid Ohio, I expect they get a discount as this race is right around Lemans and the teams are preparing to go over there. I want to see the cars that are closer to stock race more than any,

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