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Have you noticed drivers shifting differently in the 2022-present NASCAR Next-Gen cars? You’re not imagining it: NASCAR tossed the standard H-pattern manual transmission for a cutting-edge new unit. Though this car shifts in a very different way, it still has a clutch pedal. Here’s why NASCAR drivers rarely use that third pedal.

The 2022-present NASCAR Next-Gen transmission is a sequential manual

Drivers and team members stand by a row of NASCAR race cars before a race.
NASCAR’s Next Gen cars | Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Though the new NASCAR Next Gen transmission is a little different than the old H-pattern manuals, it is not an automatic transmission. Drivers still have control of every single shift. But they control the transmission in a new way.

NASCAR’s new transmissions are called sequential manuals. They are similar to the ratchet shifters used in drag racing. The cars still have a floor-mounted shift lever, but it only has two positions. Drivers push the lever forward to downshift and pull it back to shift up a gear.

These new shift levers technically have a third position: drivers can pull the lever straight upwards to engage reverse. While the 2021 NASCAR transmissions only had four speeds, the new sequential manual transmissions offer five speeds.

NASCAR Next Gen cars have a clutch pedal

After NASCAR announced its new Next Gen spec, officials went into detail about the new sequential manual transmission. But no one discussed whether the new car would have two or three pedals.

Many automatic muscle car owners have installed ratchet shifter upgrades. So, NASCAR fans were unsure whether the sport’s new “sequential manual” was a true three-pedal car or not.

One racing fan actually put the question to the Reddit NASCAR fan page. You might be surprised who chimed in with an answer.

Chase Brisco, driver of the #14 Ford Mustang, frequents Reddit. Fans enjoy the insight he provides as /u/C_Briscoe. He answered, “Does Nascar still have an ‘clutch pedal’ in the Next Gen Car ? (sic)” with a straightforward response: “Yes it does.”

Why did NASCAR not make a bigger deal out of the fact that the Next Gen car still has three pedals? Because the clutch pedal is not a big part of a NASCAR race. Drivers use the clutch to get the car into first. But while hurtling around the track, most drivers just match the next gear to the engine RPM and shift without a clutch.

The new NASCAR transaxle transmission is part of the rear axle

Driver Joe Logano popping his NASCAR Next Gen car's clutch and doing a burnout down pit road while his team cheers him on.
Joey Logano’s #22 Next Gen Ford Mustang| Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

One aspect of the NASCAR Next Gen transmission affects racing much more than its shift pattern: its location. The new sequential manual transmission is part of a Next Gen transaxle unit at the back of the car.

The NASCAR Next Gen car features a front engine/rear transaxle layout to better balance the drivetrain’s weight. This new layout resembles the past three generations of the Chevrolet Corvette (but not the eighth-generation rear-engine Corvette).

The new transmission does not drive a solid rear axle, but instead spins two half-shafts. These axle shafts each float on independent rear suspension, just like the Toyota, Chevy, and Ford stock cars the Cup car is supposed to represent.

Finally, the new transaxle leaves enough room for NASCAR’s first full-length underwing. This aerodynamic feature evacuates air from beneath the car and creates 1,000 pounds more downforce. This is one of the reasons the NASCAR Next-Gen cars ride higher off the ground than the Generation-6 cars.

Next, read up on all the technologies that make the NASCAR Next Gen cars possible in our full series:

Or see how the Next Gen car works for yourself in the video below: