Types of NASCAR Tracks
When most people think of NASCAR, they think of the Sprint Cup series that airs weekly on Fox, TNT or ESPN. The Sprint Cup is the series inhabited by the leading drivers in the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racers, AKA NASCAR. However, there are a number of lower-tiered racing series that NASCAR sanctions. These include the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. The organization also sanctions many local tracks around the country.
This article will focus upon the tracks that host Sprint Cup races over the course of a year. The stats of the various tracks vary widely, as do the seating arrangements. Most provide fans a great experience as the cars reach up to 200 miles per hour on the straight stretches of several tracks. Of course, it's best to get near the top of the grandstand to get the best view at a race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Season
There are currently 23 tracks that host Sprint Cup races during the NASCAR season that runs from February to November. The drivers race 38 weekends of the year, with 36 of the weekends holding official points-paying races. The Budweiser Shootout is held annually the weekend before the season-opening Daytona 500 and the Sprint All-Star Race is held the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. These two events do not count toward the season points championship.
For the 2012 season, NASCAR continued the Chase for the Championship, which allows the top ten drivers in points and two wild card who qualify based upon wins and/or points to compete over the last ten races for the season title. Each race has 43 cars in the field, so these 12 spots are quite coveted and difficult to secure. NASCAR breaks its tracks into four different categories: short tracks, intermediate tracks, super speedways and road courses.
Short Tracks on the NASCAR Schedule
NASCAR got its start running mainly on dirt bullrings throughout the Southeastern United States. Many of the early drivers were moonshine runners who souped up their cars and then raced them on the weekends for bragging rights. Before the first major speedway was built in Darlington, South Carolina, all of the races took place on short tracks. Many of these tracks had dirt surfaces in the early days. Today, all of the short tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit are paved.
There have been three short tracks on the annual schedule since the removal of North Wilkesboro Speedway in the mid-1990s. They are Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Richmond International Speedway. The short tracks are usually some of the more popular races of the season because of the close racing action (and the wreck that result).
The shortest of the short tracks is the paper clip shaped Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, which measures just over one-half mile at .526 mile. The banking is low in the corners and racing is close.
Bristol Motor Speedway is just slightly longer at .533 miles. The banking is much higher around the entire track, reaching between 24 and 30 degrees in the turns (the banking is gradual).
Richmond has a 3/4-mile D-shaped track that has multiple grooves for side-by-side racing. The track usually hosts the last race before the Chase field is set. Both Richmond and Bristol have more than 100,000 seats for spectators, and all three short tracks frequently sell out.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Intermediate Tracks on the NASCAR Schedule
NASCAR classifies those tracks between 1 mile and 2 miles in length as intermediate tracks. The most common length among these tracks is 1.5 miles, although these tracks vary in design and banking. Some are ovals, but the most common configuration is the tri- or quad-oval that allows for better vantage points for viewing a race from the front stretch.
The most significant of the intermediate tracks are Charlotte Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. Darlington is unique on the circuit for its 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout that was necessitated because the owner of a fishing pond refused to sell out to the track promoters. The track was the first of the "speedways" on the NASCAR circuit and traditionally held the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. Recently, the track's schedule has dropped from two races to one, and the remaining race is held in the spring.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile quad-oval that hosts NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600. It also hosts the All-Star race annually, and bills itself as the "Mecca of Motorsports."
Homestead-Miami also merits mention. This 1.5-mile oval track is significant, not for its long history, but because it is the track that hosts the final race of the Sprint Cup Chase each year.
The other intermediate tracks on the circuit include: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, and Texas Motor Speedway.
Road Courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule
There are currently two road courses on the NASCAR schedule each year. These races are unique in that drivers are forced to make both right- and left-hand turns during the race. All other races go counterclockwise around a generally oval-shaped track in which only left turns are required.
The two road courses are Sonoma Raceway in California, and Watkins Glen International in New York. Sonoma is a 1.99-mile, 10-turn track, while Watkins Glen is a 2.45-mile, 8-turn course. Frequently, teams near the bottom of the standings will employ road course specialists to try to steal a race at one of the road courses.
Talladega From the Air
Super Speedways in NASCAR
NASCAR classifies those oval tracks that are over 2 miles in length as super speedways. Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California are very similar tracks that measure exactly 2 miles with intermediate banking. The other speedways are unique.
Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania is a 2.5-mile track that is shaped much like a triangle. The front straight is the longest in NASCAR. Each of the three turns on the course has a different banking, so getting the handling of a car throughout the track is very difficult.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is best known for hosting the Indianapolis 500, an open-wheel race. Since 1994, however, the 2.5-mile track has hosted NASCAR races in the Brickyard 400. The tradition of the track makes this race one of the most coveted on the circuit. The track itself is unique in that there are four turns and four straights. The front and back stretch are long, while there are "short chutes" between turns 1 and 2 and turns 3 and 4.
The final two tracks are what most people think of when they think of super speedways. Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway are so fast that the sanctioning body requires the use of restrictor plates to slow the cars down. This leads to large packs of cars and "The Big One" that fans expect as numerous cars crash and flip because of the close-quarters racing at 190-200 miles per hour.
Talladega, in Alabama, is the largest track on the circuit, measuring 2.66 miles. The banking in the turns is also the tallest at 33 degrees. Bill Elliott set a track and NASCAR record by turning a lap at an average speed of 212.809 miles per hour during qualifying in 1987.
Daytona is the flagship track and the headquarters of NASCAR. This 2.5-mile tri-oval hosts the annual race formerly known as the Firecracker 400 on the weekend following July 4. It is most famous for the Daytona 500, which is the first race of the year. The buildup leading up to the race and the complicated qualifying system, combined with the number of cars that attempt to make the race make the Daytona 500 the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing."
Enjoying a NASCAR Race
Just about any track can be an enjoyable and exciting experience. Most people will enjoy short tracks because of the ease of view. Seats near the bottom are actually the worst, because the other side of the track will be obscured by the trailers and garages in the infield area. Some of the larger tracks like Daytona have few seats that provide a view of the entire track, although some tracks have installed jumbo visions to televise the race to fans who may not be able to see. Also, it important to note that earplugs are highly recommended, especially at the short tracks.
Chris Price (author) from USA on September 06, 2012:
Thanks for visiting and commenting. Glad it was informational. That was the intention.
Chris Price (author) from USA on September 06, 2012:
Thanks for reading. I was really big into NASCAR for several years. I don't live near any tracks other than a local short track now, so I haven't been to any really big races for about four years. Seeing them in person is much better than watching on TV.
NMLady from New Mexico & Arizona on September 06, 2012:
Ohhhh-kay I know virtually nothing about NASCAR but I DO know that one of the largest sporting events in Phoenix AZ is the PIR, Phoenix International Raceway.
Learned some things by reading your hub. It was good.
mjkearn on September 06, 2012:
thanks for this look into Nascar. I'm a big motor sport fan but don't get to see much of the American races. I've seen the Indi 500 from time to time and the odd bit of truck racing which I love.
Good job and enjoyable read,