NASCAR: The 7 Most 'Fun' Tracks on the Sprint Cup Circuit
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There are certain race tracks that Sprint Cup drivers just seem to more eagerly anticipate going to than others.
Typically, it's the layout of the track that gets drivers almost giddy, knowing they're going someplace where they can let it all hang out and have fun—rather than having to worry about things like precision and drafting at places like Daytona or Darlington.
Given that I've covered NASCAR for well over a decade and have visited all tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule numerous times, I have come to know what are the most fun tracks for drivers—and the results that follow bear that out.
Interestingly, four of the seven tracks I list are short tracks between a half-mile and one-mile in length. One reason why those places are so popular is they oftentimes bring a driver back to the early days of his racing career, where short tracks were the norm and places longer than a mile were the rare exception.
I really wanted to add one track to this list, but I didn't because A) it's not on the Sprint Cup schedule and B) it has yet to have a sanctioned NASCAR race run upon it.
I'm talking about Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway, which plays host to the first Camping World Truck Series race on dirt on July 24. Having been to the track several times for Stewart's Prelude to the Dream charity event, drivers from all levels of NASCAR (and other motorsports sanctioning bodies, as well) are clamoring to be part of that inaugural race.
And the No. 1 reason? Because it's going to be so much fun. I have yet to talk with any racer—be it from NASCAR, NHRA, World of Outlaws and others—who hasn't had a ball at Eldora. They haven't had to worry about points, standings, schedules or anything else and are just racing for the sheer fun of it.
Who knows, maybe some day we'll see a Cup race at Eldora, but for now, let's look at the top seven other tracks that are the most fun in NASCAR's premier series (not ranked in any particular order).
Richmond International Raceway
If that smile doesn't prove how much fun Richmond is, nothing will.
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Richmond International Raceway is the virtual prototype when drivers, fans, media and even NASCAR officials talk about when conversation turns to where the next great track will be built in the U.S.
When NASCAR proposed building a track in the New York City area several years ago, they chose Staten Island and a track layout that would have been a virtual twin of RIR.
Unfortunately, land acquisition and environmental issues sunk the plan, but if the economy ever picks up enough to sustain another try, a Richmond-style track will likely be the kind of facility the Big Apple will get.
At three-quarters of a mile, this D-shaped facility harkens back to under the lights Friday night or Saturday night racing for many drivers when they were first starting out in their racing careers.
The 14-degree banking in the turns is just right, while the frontstretch and backstretch provide plenty of room to pass. It's kind of like a Michigan or Talladega in miniature form, given how wide it is.
Not only do drivers like racing there, it also holds the distinction of playing host to the final race that decides the 12-driver field for every season's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Not just any track would be bestowed that honor, but Richmond has been since the beginning and takes that responsibility quite seriously.
Phoenix International Raceway
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Phoenix International Raceway, a one-mile flat track in the desert just west of Phoenix not only offers great racing, but what other track in Sprint Cup has a mountain as its next door neighbor and where fans can watch the race while picnicking on the mountainside?
To me, Phoenix has been one of the brightest shining gems in NASCAR. Whether a race is run in daylight or night—or starts in late afternoon and finishes under the lights—it's rare that you won't get your fill of excitement while watching it.
There's a sort of irony at PIR, as well. Prior to 2003, the dogleg that shoots out from turn 2 was one of the most difficult challenges any driver would face because it was so unique among all other tracks.
When the track was resurfaced in 2011, the dogleg was pushed out and expanded, while reducing some of the challenge and headaches it had previously given.
Among drivers who consider PIR among their most favorite and fun tracks are Kevin Harvick, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and a number of others.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
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Virtually all by itself in the further reaches of the north east, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is to NASCAR what the Green Bay Packers are to the NFL: they're both community icons.
Racing at NHMS has a long history, not only in the Sprint Cup, but also Indy cars, late models, modifieds and pretty much anything else that has four wheels and a motor (and sometimes even two wheels will work just fine).
NHMS is similar to Phoenix, a relatively flat one-mile track that offers room to pass and take chances at places you might not otherwise do.
Plus, with a huge contingent of fans from Canada that come down for the two annual Cup races, the place takes on an international flavor that you just don't find at most other Cup tracks, save for maybe Watkins Glen in upstate New York.
Drivers love to trade paint at NHMS for both position and just for the sake of hitting another driver. More often than not, even if a driver has a bad race, he's still likely to climb out of his race car and say something like "now that was fun!"
Is it any wonder that NHMS is considered racing's crown jewel of the north east?
Bristol Motor Speedway
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Even with its crazy-high banking and the 160,000 fans that overlook the track like vultures eyeing their prey, Bristol is kind of like racing at a miniature version of Daytona International Speedway.
You have the high banks, plenty of fender banging, temper tantrums galore at times, and you can get around the place in about 26 seconds for an average lap.
Bristol is one of the most history-filed and legendary tracks on the circuit. And ever since Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. bought it, it has become unquestionably one of the finest and most exciting facilities in motorsports—not to mention one of the most fun, as well.
But Bristol does have an irony of sorts, that most of the other short tracks we've talked about don't have: while virtually every driver comes to Bristol with a smile on his face and optimism in his heart, a really bad race can cause that same driver to have a dour look on his face and make him want to get out of the track and put it in his rearview mirror as fast as he possibly can.
Texas Motor Speedway
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They always seem to do things bigger and better at Texas Motor Speedway, truly living up to the state's unofficial motto, as well.
The mile-and-a-half moderately banked TMS is historically ranked as one of the top three fastest race tracks on the circuit. And drivers love speed, particularly when you have a wide track like TMS to really let it all hang out.
Plus, much like the folks in Bristol, Texas fans really throw out a big Texas-style welcome mat to not only drivers and teams, but also fans. True Texans take it to heart if their guests don't enjoy the experience at one of the best tracks in the sport.
And with downtown Fort Worth only a few miles away and downtown Dallas about a 30-minute ride away, the off-track opportunities for entertainment and outstanding food and just overall good times, is it any wonder that TMS has one of the highest ticket renewal percentages in the sport?
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
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Las Vegas Motor Speedway looks and acts a lot like its sister track in Texas, a mile-and-a-half moderately banked facility. You can't go wrong with the racing there in most cases, for sure.
Plus, with things like the Neon Garage in the infield that has become a huge fan favorite, and even a spa next to the media center to be pampered before, after and even during the race, they do things up first-class at LVMS.
But just the ambiance of coming to Las Vegas not only for a race, but also any number of charitable functions during the week leading up to the race—things like charity poker games between drivers, numerous meet-and-greet opportunities for fans and drivers and world-class entertainment that is a good way to cheer up after a bad day of practice or qualifying.
Heck, NASCAR loves Las Vegas so much—and the city loves it back equally—that the sanctioning body moved its season-ending awards banquet to Sin City in 2009 after nearly a 30-year run in New York City.
The change in the enthusiasm and the feeling of being wanted in Vegas, as opposed to the feeling of almost being unwanted interlopers in the Big Apple has been like night and day.
And if I'm a betting man—pun intended—something tells me that Las Vegas Motor Speedway will get a second race each season in 2015, and we'll see the season finale race move there.
Homestead Miami Speedway has done a great job as host for more than a decade, but no other track could put on the kind of show that LVMS could if the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks seasons were all on the line heading into the final race of the season in the so-called championship weekend.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
You never know when a tightrope walker may show up at CMS.
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Charlotte Motor Speedway—yes, another member of the dreaded mile-and-a-half fraternity of Cup tracks—is not only a fun place to race at, but it's also near and dear to both drivers' hearts and their homes, since most live within an hour's drive or less from there.
One of the reasons why CMS is looked upon so well by drivers, the sport's officials, team owners and the like is it's always so accessible and willing to help out in whatever way possible.
In a sense, the track is part racing facility and part concierge, never being unwilling to go that extra mile to offer help or a better overall experience.
Charlotte also has a lot of room to race and pass on, the world's largest video screen on the backstretch, some of the most educated race fans in the world, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame is only a 20-minute drive away if you get some downtime on a race weekend.
If there are any other tracks that you feel should be among the most fun facilities in Sprint Cup, drop us a line. We'd love to hear from you.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski