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SRIGLEY: NASCAR’s ‘Full Speed’ Rises Above Concept of Americanized ‘Drive To Survive’ Reboot

NASCAR's 'Full Speed' debuted Tuesday on Netflix, with a five-episode series focusing on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The series showed a great deal of authenticity, more than 'Drive to Survive', despite the series' similar structure and concept. Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

When NASCAR and Netflix first released the plans for a docuseries focusing on the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, many were hopeful that the sport would be receiving the same treatment as Formula One has with ‘Drive to Survive’.

So, if you have already made the four-hour commitment to watching the entirety of ‘NASCAR: Full Speed’ since it was added to Netflix on Tuesday, there’s a solid chance that you’re pleased with how you’ve spent your time.

That’s not to say there weren’t some aspects that could be improved upon should the series have a second season ordered by Netflix, but even those issues – such as the notable absence of some big names – are things that require collaboration on all fronts.

Now, for those who had hoped ‘NASCAR: Full Speed’ was just going to be an Americanized reboot of ‘Drive to Survive’ — that’s not what is happening here, and honestly, that should please you very much.

‘Full Speed’ takes the conceptual framework put forward by ‘Drive to Survive’ and other docuseries of that nature, and eliminates all of the manufactured drama and bullshit, fostering a program that is more authentic, pure, and true to the nature of the sport.

The docuseries focuses on eight prominent figures at NASCAR’s top level, each of whom played a major role in determining the outcome of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship battle.

With a smaller orbit of focus, viewers are provided the chance to learn more about the personalities and mannerisms of drivers away from the racetrack, as well as how they prepare for races and the added pressure during the Playoffs.

Delving further into the personal lives of NASCAR’s top athletes, the one-on-one driver reflections provide an unrivaled perspective on the thoughts and feelings of said driver, right from the source.

Likely dismissed as an unimportant detail, those driver reflections are filmed in locations personalized for each of the eight featured drivers. Sure, it’s not a decision that sends the series over the top, but it adds a sense of intimacy to the project while delivering the message that authenticity is the desired result.

Well, that message was easily driven home when viewers were reminded of the national treasure that is Marty Smith – who alongside Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Shannon Spake, provided in-depth analysis into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the drivers.

So, why does this behind-the-scenes-type docuseries seem to have a more profound impact when covering the NASCAR Cup Series championship fight, versus the season-long battle of Formula One?

The biggest factor is the stark difference in competition levels between the NASCAR Cup Series and Formula One. As NASCAR continues to become more competitive with each passing season, the current era of Formula One has lacked on-track excitement, with Max Verstappen capturing the victory in 19 of 22 events last season.

Consistently, the NASCAR Cup Series can produce an exciting on-track product, incredible racing, and a myriad of different winners (or at the very least, contenders), plus some tangible rivalries across the field. The series doesn’t lack excitement, which leaves no room for the fabrication of rivalries and storylines.

As far as motorsports-based docuseries are concerned, ‘Full Speed’ is among the best of the best, and delivers the highest-quality product when it comes to authenticity, and painting an accurate picture of the series’ landscape.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a NASCAR newcomer, a die-hard fan, or just someone who stumbled upon the series while scrolling through Netflix, regardless, there’s something in these four hours of television for everybody to enjoy.

The biggest question mark, though, is whether or not ‘Full Speed’ will have the same impact on NASCAR that ‘Drive to Survive’ did on Formula One, launching the international racing series into the mainstream of American media.

As of the time of publishing, no indication has been made whether or not a second season of ‘NASCAR: Full Speed’ has been picked up by Netflix. Should an announcement be made in the short-term, it will be added to this story as an update.

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