5 NASCAR Tracks That Separate Contenders from Pretenders
Over the course of a Sprint Cup Series season races are held on 23 different tracks. While it takes a certain amount of skill to win at any of them, there are certain tracks that will separate the championship contenders from the rest of the field.
While Daytona and Talladega offer some exciting and heart-stopping moments, the rules package that NASCAR brings to those tracks has made them more about luck than skill. Every driver has a realistic chance of scoring a win.
And while Charlotte is considered the home track of NASCAR, there are plenty of other mile-and-a-half race tracks that offer a better opportunity to gauge where a driver ranks among his peers.
In the slides ahead, I will take a look at five tracks the Sprint Cup Series races on that can go a long way towards telling us which drivers are championship contenders and which ones are not.
The most famous race track in the world is also known as a place where only the sport's premier drivers win.
Only two drivers that have won in Indianapolis in Sprint Cup competition have fewer than 15 wins in their career. And Paul Menard is the only driver to record his first career win at the two-and-a-half mile facility.
Through the 2012 season, eight of the 19 drivers who have won the Sprint Cup Series race in Indianapolis went on to win the championship in the same season. In the four races from 1998 through 2001 the winner at Indianapolis turned into the series champion in each season.
In total, 22 series championships have been won between the 12 drivers that have claimed victory in Indianapolis.
There is no doubt that winning at the Brickyard is proof that a driver is championship worthy.
Texas Motor Speedway
Texas Motor Speedway is a mile-and-a-half oval that the Sprint Cup Series races on two times per year.
Compared to other tracks on the schedule, Texas is still a relatively new venue for the series. The first Sprint Cup Series race was held there in 1997, and it wasn't until 2005 that the series started making two trips per season to the venue.
Of the 25 races run at TMS, only one has been won by a driver with fewer than 17 career wins.
Since the Chase format was adopted in 2004, the winner of the spring race in Texas has gone on to qualify for that season's playoffs every year. Thirteen of the 17 Texas race winners from 2004 through 2012 ended the season inside the top five in points.
Considering the young history of the track, the results prove that Texas is a place where only the best of the best will be successful.
Auto Club Speedway
Auto Club Speedway is another relatively new track to the NASCAR scene. The first Sprint Cup Series race was held at the speedway in 1997.
After hosting two events per year from 2004 through 2010, the track has gone back to one event for the last three seasons.
The last 15 winners at Auto Club Speedway are drivers that are ranked 11th or better in the current point standings. Only two of the 24 winners in the short history of the track have fewer than 16 wins over the course of their career.
Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with five wins at the two-mile oval. Jeff Gordon, winner of the inaugural race at Auto Club, and Matt Kenseth have both visited Victory Lane on three occasions.
Martinsville Speedway has been on the Sprint Cup schedule since the series' inaugural season of 1949. The list of winners from the half-mile track is a who's who of NASCAR greats.
Everyone from Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson to Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have won at the famed race track.
Since 1950 Martinsville has hosted two races per year. Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, Martinsville has been the only track under one mile in length to be included in the 10-race playoff.
Being the shortest track on the circuit, Martinsville can easily separate contenders from pretenders. It is one of the most physically demanding tracks that the drivers face all season, and it features a grueling 500 laps of bumper-to-bumper racing.
Dover International Speedway
Dover International Speedway is another challenging track that the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series face twice per year. The one-mile oval has been on the NASCAR schedule since it opened in 1969.
The Monster Mile, as Dover is affectionately known, is a high-banked concrete short track that races like a superspeedway. Speeds at Dover are higher than other tracks of similar size.
Dover is another track where only the best of the best are victorious. Only six of the 87 Sprint Cup Series races held at DIS have been won by a driver with fewer than 18 career victories.
Like Martinsville, Dover has been a mainstay in the 10-race playoff since the inception of the Chase in 2004.