10 Most Exciting Races Left in the Sprint Cup Season

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJune 6, 2012

10 Most Exciting Races Left in the Sprint Cup Season

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    In a season which has been saturated with long green-flag runs, there are still certain races that conjure up thoughts of excitement, where drivers must race hard and trading paint becomes mandatory.

    We head into the summer stretch when not only the weather gets hot, but so do the drivers, as the chances to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup become fewer.

    Drivers race from the right coast to the left coast which puts stress on teams with car preparation and logistics involved in getting the cars to the tracks. It is especially critical for teams with limited equipment.

    A pair of races leading to the Chase have drivers turning right and left on the road courses which can be real game-changers.

    Some tracks just standout from the others that remain on the schedule.

    There will be great racing at tracks like the newly repaved, super-fast Michigan International Speedway, but the drama factor may be more at play on the tracks highlighted in this slideshow.

Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

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    Drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to the hills of wine county in Sonoma, California, to turn right and left on the 1.99-mile road course.

    Speeds may not be fast in comparison to most races, but action that results from the 1100 turns the drivers must make during the Toyota Save Mart 350 is guaranteed to get a little wild.

    Road-course races can be real game-changers, and the point standings often get a bit of a shakeup.

    Kurt Busch is the defending winner for the race that will be run June 24.

Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

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    Fireworks are pretty much guaranteed during the hot summer race at Daytona International Speedway. Drivers take to the high banks of the superspeedway knowing chaos could break out at any moment.

    Expect the unexpected when it comes to racing on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Pack racing should return to the recently repaved track, though there could be a little tandem racing in the final laps.

    When it comes to racing at Daytona, most of the drivers on the lead lap have a crack at taking the checkered flag.

    David Ragan is the defending champion for the race that will be run July 7.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen

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    The Cup drivers head to the quaint village of Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of New York for a tour of the 2.45-mile road course.

    This race is the fifth race from the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Tensions run high on the track with its seven turns, and racing can turn vicious with passing for position in tight quarters.

    Those drivers who are not solid in the top 10 of the point standings can face devastating hits at a time when points are becoming very critical.

    The road-course pros clearly have an advantage over those drivers who face challenges with the twists of the track.

    Marcos Ambrose is the defending champion for the race scheduled August 12.

Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol

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    Attendance had been falling at the track known as the "World's Fastest Half Mile."

    The consensus was that it was due to the less-than-exciting racing on the track that had been reconfigured with progressive banking in 2007.

    Since the spring race, Bristol Motor Speedway has removed the top groove of the banking in an effort to tighten up the racing and make it more like it was when sellout crowds were consistent.

    The Irwin Tools Night Race is always a race fans look forward to with it being only the third race from the start of the Chase.

    This race should be one that creates a lot of buzz. Will the changes indeed payoff with the great racing that have drivers trading paint and going for some unfortunate spins that result in wrecks?

    Brad Keselowski is the defending winner of the race scheduled for August 25.

Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond

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    Richmond International Raceway is a .75-mile track, but it races like one that is much bigger and faster.

    Night races are always fan favorites, but when it is the final race for drivers in the Cup series to make a run for the Chase, you can bet the drama that unfolds will please the fans.

    We may be halfway to the Chase, but the next 12 races can make it critical for a driver to win or finish well in that 26th race of the season.

    The defending winner of the Federated Auto Parts 400 is Kevin Harvick for the race that will be run September 8.

Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega

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    The fourth race of the Chase is on the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway. Drivers know that racing on this track can quickly take you out of contention if you are part of a big wreck.

    Pack racing is back with the new rules in place to break up the tandem pairings. Contact is pretty much inevitable at speeds approaching 200 mph on the 33-degree banking.

    Clint Bowyer is the defending champion of the Good Sam Club 500 which is scheduled to run on October 7.

Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas City

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    The sixth race of the Chase may be at a familiar track, but the racing surface of the Kansas Speedway was torn up immediately after the spring race.

    The track that was 15-degree banking will now be variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees with the new repave.

    Many drivers were sad to see the worn surface replaced. New track surfaces offer a lot of grip, and often, that leads to the cars just circling the track under long green-flag conditions.

    At a time when drivers will be fighting to gain position and finish well, it may be difficult with the new track surface. It may also be a very fast track that exhibits exciting racing.

    The return to Kansas will have lots of unknowns at a time when drivers only have four more shots at the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

    The defending winner of the Hollywood Casino 400 is Jimmie Johnson. This year's race is scheduled for October 21.

Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

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    The Martinsville track is the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit. Its paper-clip shape and high inside curbing makes for some of the best racing we see all season.

    This is the seventh race of the 10-race stretch in the Chase, and patience with the drivers is running pretty scarce. This track will test tempers, and contact is inevitable between participants.

    Martinsville Speedway is a great old-school track known for red hot dogs and good racing, but the changing fall weather can sometimes be problematic with fog, rain and cold temperatures.

    The Tums Fast Relief 500 was won by Tony Stewart in 2011. This year the race is scheduled for October 28.

Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix

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    Phoenix International Raceway was repaved in 2011 with dips and elevations on the dogleg and backstretch, providing a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the drivers.

    It is the next to the last race of the season with only one more chance to change the outcome of who will be the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

    Racing can get intense with so much at stake as the season nears its end.

    The Kobalt Tools 500 defending winner is Kasey Kahne who was then driving for Red Bull Racing. This year we shall see who the winner is on November 11.

Ford 400 at Homestead

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    Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile track that is the venue for NASCAR's crowning of the Sprint Cup champion. For one driver it is a celebration, but for the other title contenders, it is disappointment.

    Last year was an anomaly with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied in the point standings, but Stewart captured the title by virtue of his five wins during the Chase.

    It is unlikely we will see a repeat situation this year, but with the latest system of calculating points for the standings, there could certainly be some dramatic racing.

    The Ford 400 saw Stewart get his fifth win. We shall see who becomes this year's Cup champion and who the race winner will be on November 18 when the season ends.