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NASCAR Full Speed on Netflix is a love letter to everything great about the Cup Series

This is NASCAR as it should always be portrayed

NASCAR: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Finally.

NASCAR Full Speed, now streaming on Netflix, is the docuseries fans have always deserved and wanted. No hyperbole. It’s that compelling.

Produced by Words + Pictures, the studio behind Super League: The War for Football and Countdown: Inspiration 4 Mission to Space alongside legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and legacy executive Ben Kennedy, it becomes clear from the opening seconds that NASCAR Full Speed is a love letter written by those who love Stock Car racing the most.

Connor Schell and Libby Geist, who served as executive producers behind The Last Dance and OJ: Made in America, keep the documentary pointed in a direction that potential new fans will find easily consumable as well.

In a market that already has Formula 1: Drive to Survive and Dirt: The Last Great American Sport, Full Speed doesn’t do anything innovative or revolutionary but it’s still a tremendous breath of fresh air in how it accurately portrays the NASCAR Cup Series to the masses.   

NASCAR is a drama and not a comedy.

It’s not Stroker Ace, Talladega Nights or The Crew. Race for the Championship on USA in 2022 walked so Full Speed could run.

Where the USA show attempted to humanize competitors through behind-the-scenes access that primarily provided insight at life away from the race track, Full Speed leaps entirely towards super-humanizing Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace for what they do behind the wheel.

Veteran sports reporter, and former full-time NASCAR beat writer Marty Smith, sets the tone immediately.  

“If you’re a race car driver, you have the opportunity to get hurt or killed but you do it anyway. Think about what a badass that is.”

Exactly.

For a variety of reasons, previous attempts to chronicle NASCAR in documentary form, usually spearheaded in-house by NASCAR Productions, have shied away from the most vulnerable or sensitive moments.

Some of that was an unwillingness from drivers to provide access to that vulnerability but much of it was the sanctioning body seemingly not fully understanding its own identity — frequently working to create a more lighthearted, friendly and professional image over the 2010s.

To a certain degree, that portrayal has changed over the course of this decade, and a lot of that has to do with the current roster. This group of contenders have largely rewritten the etiquette of what it means to be a Cup Series driver into something far more ruthless.

NASCAR Full Speed is a snapshot of the current championship format and the cutthroat consequence of everything that transpires over the final 10 weeks of the season.

Hamlin is the star of NASCAR Full Speed, serving as something of a mix between Daniel Ricciardo and Guenther Steiner, for those who have watched and enjoyed the Netflix Formula 1 show over the past five years. This portrayal tracks since Hamlin serves as both a marquee driver and the co-owner of his own team.

Love him or hate him, Hamlin is the most audacious personality in NASCAR right now.

And true to a brand established by his Actions Detrimental podcast, Hamlin opens his doors to most everything happening in his professional orbit for NASCAR Full Speed. That includes the construction of the new 23XI Racing building, an expectation that his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team should have been in the Championship Race and the private conversations in the aftermath of their elimination.

There is also a feature on Dennis Hamlin that will make every single one of you root for his son in some capacity in 2024.

NASCAR: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The best way to articulate NASCAR Full Speed is that it is authentic, honest and raw. The show concedes that it never banked on Christopher Bell advancing to the championship race and they admit it to him as well. It uses that really candid exchange as a segue to characterize Bell as an unwitting underdog and someone who legitimately resents being overlooked.

It’s a chip in his shoulder authentic to everyone that knows him.

Really, NASCAR Full Speed is the show that insiders will recognize as being true to the spirit of the Cup Series. Diehard fans can take solace in knowing this isn’t manufactured drama. Those who lived the final 11 weeks will recognize this show for its authenticity.

The pit crews and spotters also get their moments to shine. This is a show that holistically showcases the sport at every level.

Perhaps most importantly is that it’s packaged in a way that should be consumable for non-fans in the same way that Drive to Survive was in launching a Formula One craze in the United States. It’s probably unrealistic for the NASCAR show to have the same affect but this is spiritually derivative.

Lake Norman in North Carolina will never be confused for Côte d’Azur but NASCAR Full Speed masterfully balances making the Cup Series elite look like superstars on a scale while also being way more everyman in nature in comparison to their F1 counterparts.

That’s always been the chief appeal of NASCAR, right?

It’s not in the show but a quote from the late, great Ken Squier stands out when it comes to closing the book on the first season of NASCAR Full Speed — that this discipline is “common men doing uncommon things.”

And for the first time in the digital streaming era, a documentary about current NASCAR events nails this truism.

NASCAR Full Speed is the Stock Car racing world we all know and love and want to share with the rest of the world.   

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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