Are you all hyped for the comeback of NASCAR? That’s right—if you haven’t seen the news yet, NASCAR will resume its Cup Series at the Darlington Raceway on Sunday, May 17, 2020.
Unfortunately, the races will be held minus the fans to comply with COVID-19 quarantine—but of course, you can still watch the races live while staying safe at home.
And if that’s not enough to give you your NASCAR fix, why not live the excitement on the track by playing a NASCAR racing game? The much-awaited NASCAR Heat 5 game is slated to be released on July 10, so now is the time to familiarize yourself with previous releases.
While you wait for this highly anticipated iteration of the game, there are tons of other console and PC NASCAR games out there to hold you over.
7 Best NASCAR Racing Games of All Time
To help you pick the perfect simulated NASCAR experience, we’ve listed the most well-received NASCAR video game franchises of all time. This list includes games that run on PC and console.
Amp up the hype while you’re stuck at home! In no particular order, here are some of the best NASCAR racing games you can play (if you have the compatible console, that is) while waiting for NASCAR Heat 5:
Gran Turismo 5
Available on: Playstation 3
Released exclusively for the Sony PlayStation 3, Gran Turismo 5 was extremely successful and was the first in the GT series to introduce downloadable content (DLCs) to further enrich the user’s gameplay.
The graphics of both vehicle models and track environments were considered top-tier at the time of its release. Gran Turismo 5 offered realistic vehicle damage, weather changes, and even a featured that allowed players to create their own course.
Gran Turismo 6 continued the inclusion of NASCAR races. However, what makes GT5 a standout is that it delivered a refreshing virtual experience that is unlike any of the NASCAR games at the time—even those from EA Games.
NASCAR Thunder 2004
Available on: PlayStation 2, PlayStation, GameCube, Microsoft Windows, Xbox
Considered one of the most comprehensive NASCAR games ever made, NASCAR Thunder 2004 pioneered the game feature “Alliances and Grudges.” This became a common feature in succeeding titles.
“Alliances and Grudges” allows the player to team up or play with an ally to eliminate their enemies. It was a cool feature that most of the game’s fanbase loved.
NASCAR Thunder 2004 allows the player to create their own team, progress on a well-rounded career mode, allocate budgets, and even become the big boss of the team.
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season
Available on: Windows, Mac
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is arguably one of the most popular NASCAR racing video games in history since Richard Petty’s Talladega, which was released in 1984. It has since amassed a devoted following, with fans even petitioning for the game’s source code to fans and modders.
Speaking of modders, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season or NR2003 is one of the most modded NASCAR games out there, with game modifications being released even more than a decade after its release. For a stock car racing game, having a modding community says a lot about the quality and feel of the game.
It was the last but most successful game series from the developer Papyrus before EA Games acquired the rights to NASCAR.
Fun Fact: NR2003 is supposedly the base code for iRacing (also on this list). The latter recently partnered with NASCAR and FOX to create the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series—a multi-week series of competitive virtual races between professional drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and even retired NASCAR legend, Jeff Gordon.
NASCAR Dirt to Daytona
Available on: PlayStation 2, GameCube
Ever wonder what it’s like to climb the ladder to success in NASCAR racing? Well, you’re in for a treat with NASCAR Dirt to Daytona. This game allows you to experience being a NASCAR racer from the ground up—by starting from the bottom to becoming a pro.
Who says you can’t be productive during quarantine? NASCAR Dirt to Daytona will literally have you working your way through the ranks to become the best of the best in NASCAR—and while it may be a game, that’s still going to take some dedication.
NASCAR The Game: 2011
Available on: Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
When it comes to realistic damage and convincing details, NASCAR The Game: 2011 is one of the few titles that top the charts. The crash damage simulation was unmatched at the time of its launch, with realistic road debris that’s convincing enough to complement the intense laps you’ll be driving.
NASCAR The Game: 2011 is also a great choice if you’re a first-timer as it features a spotter mode that helps the player win the race.
Even though this feature can give the game an arcade-y feel, it’s still quite fulfilling to win the race every once in a while as an armchair racer, right?
NASCAR HEAT 4
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
If you really can’t wait for the release of NASCAR Heat 5, the perfect game to play would be none other than its predecessor, NASCAR Heat 4. It’s one of the few updated NASCAR games you can play, as it simulates the 2019 season.
If you got hooked by the 2019 season, you should give NASCAR Heat 4 a try. You can experiment with different NASCAR Heat 4 setups to further improve your gaming experience and make it more immersive.
After all, it’s the most logical game to play to prepare for the up and coming Heat 5.
Available on: Windows, Mac (with Windows emulator)
It may not be the best-looking when it comes to racing simulation graphics, but iRacing probably is, by far, the closest one to reality. It’s so realistic that it can stand as the stepping stone for future NASCAR big names.
Take the story of William Byron as an example. The 22-year-old NASCAR pro driver of the iconic #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet started his career on iRacing.com. He reportedly has won over 100 races and finished 298 top-5s throughout his iRacing years. Byron now races with Hendrick Motorsports.
As previously mentioned, NASCAR partnered with iRacing to conduct competitive races on an alternative platform. This was due to the recent COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. In these virtual races, professional NASCAR drivers were able to compete against one another without flouting safety restrictions and social distancing measures.