Unlike previous entries, which would normally add a few extra features but leave most of the game identical to its predecessor, the game brought massive change to the series. One example is the inclusion of NASCAR series other than the NEXTEL Cup Series; the National Series (Busch Series), the Craftsman Truck Series, and the Featherlite Modified Series, plus muscle cars. More examples include the implementation of NASCAR's new Chase for the Cup points system, and Fight to the Top mode, where you control a custom driver throughout his career starting in the lower series and working up the ladder (similar to '). Another change is the absence of the cockpit view and the absence of makes and models in the Truck series, all of which appear to be Ford F-150s. This was the last NASCAR game released for the Nintendo GameCube.
While a large number of real drivers are present in the NEXTEL Cup Series, Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series in NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, fantasy drivers are still present, sponsored by ficitional or unused sponsors. However, the Whelen Modified Tour is entirely made up of Fantasy drivers. Dale Earnhardt is the only legend in the game and can be unlocked by buying his Thunder Plate or via cheat code.
For reasons that were never made clear by EA Sports, there are a couple of elements, which were in fact part of the 2004 NASCAR season, missing from this version of the video game. NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield was not included in the driver lineup for the game despite actually qualifying for the Chase for the Cup in 2004.
Some of the drivers that raced during the season were not included in the game including Ken Schrader, Dave Blaney, Kirk Shelmerdine,Jimmy Spencer, John Andretti,and Boris Said.
Also, Pocono Raceway, a 2.5 mile tri-oval located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, is not included on the schedule in any of the game's racing modes ("Online," "Race Now," "Season," or "Fight to the Top") even though the Sprint Cup series (then NEXTEL Cup Series) visits that circuit twice each year (as of 2008). However, in "Fight to the Top" mode, each season still lists 36 races on the schedule (omitting both Pocono events would drop the Cup Series schedule to 34 events). Gamers who follow through an entire season of Cup racing will still, in their season statistics, see 36 races under the "Starts" category. It is not clear where the other two events come from, or if the computer simply adds them so that the numbers will appear more realistic. Ironically, this was the site of Mayfield's first win, but there is no known connection between the omitting of Mayfield and the omitting of Pocono.
Lightning Challenge mode includes challenges of moments that happened in NASCAR from 2003 and the 1st part of 2004. Michael Waltrip, driver of the #15 NAPA chevrolet, returns as the commentator for all the challenges except for two, Kevin Harvick does the challenges that involve Michael being the driver in the challenge. These challenges are played on all difficulty levels. The player must beat a number of challenges at that difficulty level before going to the next difficulty level.
One feature of NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup is driver memory. If, as a user, you wreck, make contact with, or slam into another driver, that competitor "remembers" how you've raced him and will not treat you with courtesy the next time you are near one another on the track. Certain offenses are less rattling to Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., drivers, and thus may not necessarily result in him attempting to wreck the gamer in return.
Though this feature (which was first introduced in "NASCAR Thunder 2004") exists to simulate realism during gameplay, it often works against itself, especially during Player vs. Computer competition. For example, an A.I.-controlled driver may lose control of his car, collect the gamer and cause him/her to be involved in a wreck, and then blame that contact as initiated by the user. Essentially, the computer causes a collision and then only registers the contact as the gamer "wrecking" the A.I. driver, thus resulting in that driver blocking and sometimes retaliating against the innocent user later in the that same race.
The debut of NASCAR 2005 marked the debut of "Chase for the Cup Mode" for EA's franchise as well. However, gameplay in this mode is highly cumbersome. Instead of running one race at a time, with time for practice, qualifying, and racing, a user must run each of the 10 Chase races back-to-back-to-back without the flexibility of saving the game following each event. Saving is possible, but it eliminates practice time when gamers return to a saved "Chase."
Because both the NASCAR Busch (Now Nationwide) Series and Craftsman Truck Series (Now Camping World) do not race at the same track each week as the Cup series, and due to the fact that each competes at courses which the Cup series never does, the inclusion for venues is not comprehensive in this game. The only such tracks that were included were Milwaukee, IRP(Now ORP), and the now-defunct Nazareth Speedway. Thus, users must race on "Fantasy Tracks" created in the imaginations of EA Sports' programmers (though these are often based on or modeled after real life racing facilities) to make up the balance of a full season.
Bump drafting, though always present throughout the history of stock car auto racing, has become more and more popular amongst both drivers and fans at certain racetracks which hold NASCAR sanctioned events. Most notably, these venues are Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway; the only two facilities where Cup cars are intentionally slowed down by engine-power-sapping restrictor plates for safety purposes. EA Sports capitalized on this by including a bump draft function in NASCAR 2005, however executing such a maneuver does not result in a competitive advantage as it does in real life. Utilizing this technique in the video game causes A.I.-controller drivers to instantly let off the throttle and, consequently, slows down both cars.
On the contrary, during two-player mode, gamers can employ the bump drafting technique to inscrease their speeds and pass cars as NASCAR's drivers do in real life.
In the case of most EA Sports' NASCAR games, the low line on the racetrack seems to be the fast way to drive through the corners of each race track. NASCAR 2005 incorporates realistic track characteristics so you can run near the top of certain race tracks and still be competitive. Some of these tracks with progressive banking are Bristol, Chicagoland, Dover, and Darlington. Other tracks with conventional banking require careful vehicle tuning to stay competitive "up top."