Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Keep Paint Schemes Simple, Stupid

Nothing about last weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway got my engine revving, for better or worse.

It was the definition of what the kids call “mid” these days.

But at least the race saw a 19% increase in its TV rating from last year. Whether you want to credit Netflix, Chase Elliott‘s presence in the field, the Iowa women’s basketball game that preceded it or whoever the person is behind the IcyVert Twitter account, 700,000 more viewers is nothing to sneeze at.

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So, this week I’m gonna talk about something very important in the world of NASCAR: paint schemes.

It was brought to my attention over the weekend that some people in the NASCAR ether apparently didn’t like Denny Hamlin‘s Brakes Plus paint scheme.

Which absolutely made no sense to me.

This scheme rocks.

Why does this apple red car appeal to my visual senses?

Because it pops without overwhelming them.

This is the kind of scheme that, if used long enough, would be instantly recognizable in a wide shot on TV (at least not when a network like FOX uses a helicopter shot pulled back so far for multiple laps you can’t tell the difference between anyone).

Bright red car? That’s Hamlin.

Long gone are the days when a team used one paint scheme for all 30+ races in a season.

Show a NASCAR fan old enough a wide shot of the field running through the tri-oval at Talladega Superspeedway back in the day, and they can likely name off most of the drivers in an instant.

Why did so many fans of a certain age gravitate toward Jeff Gordon in the 1990s?

Because of his instantly recognizable rainbow DuPont scheme.

20 years ago, simple was iconic.

Now? Iconic is whatever happens to be on the track most often.

Arguably, the last paint scheme that was instantly recognizable from a bird’s eye view was any of Danica Patrick‘s GoDaddy.com cars.

Bright green car? There goes Danica.

The mid-2000s brought about an economic downturn and the decline and disappearance of season-long sponsorships.

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Then came one of the worst things to ever happen to NASCAR: wraps.

Instead of the time-consuming effort of painting a car, now teams could just design a scheme in a computer program and then print it off.

This has led to some … very busy-looking cars.

Schemes that make you want to tell the sponsors and teams “you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”

There are exceptions to this.

Notably, the on-off “Gen X” and “Millennial” schemes Kevin Harvick ran.

They were paint schemes no one asked for, but they were fun.

If we’re coming down to a rule of thumb, an ideal paint scheme shouldn’t have more than two colors, unless your sponsor is rainbow-based like DuPont/Axalta and Skittles.

Also, this Alex Bowman scheme from 2022 at Nashville Superspeedway.

It’s colorful, but in a way that pops.

Also, Dale Earnhardt Jr. designed it.

And last, but lost least, I have to address “Patriotic” paint schemes.

How I hate 99% of them.

Either they’re all in your face about it or they’re the same scheme used year after year (stares at Brad Keselowski’s Miller Lite scheme).

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Photo by Daniel McFadin

Dale Earnhardt Sr.‘s scheme for the 1996 Winston is iconic because it was new (and the Olympics were held that year in Atlanta).

Then 9/11 happened, and patriotism became a competition.

That’s why Bowman’s 2019 Coca-Cola 600 scheme really impressed me.

It didn’t want to brag.

It was classy.

You just had to be paying attention.

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Photo by Daniel McFadin

There’s no reason to go over the top with a paint scheme.

In 2024, teams and sponsors should take notes from the likes of Busch Beer, Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing, Ally Financial and even Brakes Plus.

And in the case of this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway: Kaulig Racing and Mountain Dew and Cheetos.

Without screaming it, this scheme screams Mountain Dew.

Though, I would have used it for the Bristol Night Race.

This is Daniel McFadin’s 11th season covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his fourth year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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One black car with minimal ads was iconic for many years…especially with the red painted interior. Always could find it on the track. Usually at the front.


Changing the paint scheme for every event doesn’t help and neither does multiple sponsors for an event.


I agree – I used to be able to pick out cars by their paint schemes during each race. Now I have to try & find the number OR even worse try & figure out where they are by using the ticker scrolling on the screen. That’s unreadable & aggravating.

Jeff H

I dislike the same sponsor on multiple cars with nearly the exact same scheme. Monster with two black cars. Why not do one for one of their other flavors? Bass Pro is another guilty of this.

Kevin in SoCal

“And last, but lost least, I have to address “Patriotic” paint schemes.
How I hate 99% of them.”

Well this just lowers my already low opinion of you.


I agree with your article, with the invention of wraps, things have gotten way to weird. Also agree with post about multiple cars with same sponsor, see Monster…
while not a Hamlin fan I did like that wrap scheme, easily seen, identifiable , etc.
I do like a good Patriotic scheme, but bad ones are , Really Ugly.
But , yea, with the full time sponsor going the way of the DoDo Bird, we have been subjected to so many different ideas.

Steve C

Oh my, the great scribe here should explain to the unwashed masses where the ” unnecessary loud” line is . Please, us this all you’ve got?


If the car gets noticed the paint scheme worked.

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