Choosing Tracks for NASCAR's Dream 10-Race Chase for the Cup
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship begins in less than two weeks. The playoffs open in Chicago and wrap up 10 weeks later in Miami.
But are those the best tracks to start and finish the playoffs? And what about the eight tracks in between? Are they the right choices to host an all-important playoff race?
In an ideal situation, NASCAR's Chase would consist of an equal mix of short tracks and superspeedways that combine afternoon races with a handful of night races.
The last 10 races of the year should not only challenge the drivers at a variety of tracks, but it should also be set up to give the fans the best and most competitive playoffs in all of sports.
So what would the ultimate 10-race playoff look like?
In the slides ahead we will answer that question by designing our very own "Dream Chase" schedule.
1. Talladega Superspeedway: Daytime
Whether you are a fan of restrictor-plate racing or not, it is a part of the sport and as such it deserves to have a spot in the Chase.
Talladega gets the nod over Daytona because of the two, it provides the more entertaining racing. Three or four-wide racing is not uncommon at the two-and-two-thirds mile track, while at Daytona it is much more common to see just two lines of cars.
In the current Chase, Talladega is the sixth of 10 races. That is too late based on the unpredictable nature of the race.
Talladega is always referred to as the wild card of the Chase. It makes the most sense to just get it over as soon as possible, so if a team does get caught up in the inevitable "big one" they would have more time to get back the points that may have been lost.
2. Dover International Speedway: Daytime
After beginning the Chase at a superspeedway, the series should shift to a short-track that races like one.
Dover International Speedway is a one-mile concrete oval that produces higher speeds than other tracks of similar size.
Nicknamed "The Monster Mile," Dover is a high-banked track and is not uncommon to multi-car incidents reminiscent of some of the larger tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. It is already in the Chase and deserves to stay.
Already this season, Dover provided us with one dramatic race.
Jimmie Johnson had the car to beat all day long, until he was black flagged for jumping a late-race restart. This handed the lead to Juan Pablo Montoya.
With three laps remaining, Tony Stewart caught Montoya and made the pass. He would go on to win his only race of the year.
It is that kind of late-race drama that fans love, and just one of the reasons why Dover is a great playoff race track.
3. Texas Motor Speedway: Nighttime
One-and-a-half mile race tracks make up the bulk of the Sprint Cup Series schedule, so proper representation in the Chase is a must.
Texas Motor Speedway gets the privilege of being the first of three such tracks to host a playoff race.
Ideally the Texas Chase race would run at night. It is one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, and running in the cooler hours of the evening would only help to amp up the speed a bit more.
Texas has been a fixture in the Chase since 2005, and since that time it has been the third-to-last race of the season.
The only reason to move it up to the third race of the Chase is because it is the only one of the three mile-and-a-half tracks that would run its race at night in the playoffs. After two daytime races to open the Chase, a race under the lights would be a good change of pace.
4. Martinsville Speedway: Daytime
Race number four of the Dream Chase should go to the series' shortest track. Martinsville Speedway hosts two 500-lap races each year, with one of those being run during the 10-race playoff.
As the shortest track, cars are always in tight quarters and very rarely is a driver ever able to relax. Martinsville is one of the most physically demanding tracks on the circuit and easily separates the top drivers from the rest of the field.
Martinsville is a flat half-mile track that where the bottom groove is usually the only way around. Getting stuck on the outside makes racing tough, as the lack of banking gives a driver very little momentum coming off the corners.
Besides the great racing that Martinsville offers, it has a place in the Chase just from a historical point of view. It has been a fixture on the NASCAR schedule since the first days of the sport back in 1949.
5. Sonoma Raceway: Daytime
Much like restrictor-plate racing, road racing is a part of the NASCAR landscape so it deserves to be represented in the playoffs.
The Sprint Cup Series only features two different road courses: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. While both offer their own unique challenges, Sonoma gets to host a playoff event for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Sonoma lays claim to possibly the most famous turn in all of NASCAR. Turn 11, known as the hairpin, is an extremely sharp right-hand turn that forces the drivers to drop down to a speed of approximately 35 miles per hour to make it safely through.
The turn is a feeding ground for action and excitement.
Secondly, Sonoma is on the west coast, whereas Watkins Glen is in the east. By the time the fifth race of the Chase runs, the calendar is in early to mid-October.
At that time, the west coast of the country is much warmer than the eastern side, and the likelihood of weather interruptions is much less.
While the trip from Martinsville to Sonoma would be the most difficult for teams to make during the Chase, the western side of the country deserves to have at least one or two races during NASCAR's playoff season.
6. Phoenix International Raceway: Nighttime
Seeing as how the series would already be on the western side of the country for the fifth race of the Dream Chase, why not just stay out there for the sixth and begin to work their way back east from then on?
Race six of the playoffs makes it's home in Phoenix.
Phoenix would be the second, and last, one-mile track in the playoffs. Contrary to Dover, the other one-mile track in the Chase, Phoenix is relatively flat and would switch from a daytime race to one that gets run under the lights.
This would mark the second night race of the playoffs, and running it on a Saturday night would give the teams an extra day to make the trip back to their home bases on the east side of the country.
7. Michigan International Speedway: Daytime
The seventh race of the playoffs would be on the two-mile oval in the Black Hills of Michigan. This track has already produced two exciting races in 2013, and would be the only two-mile track in the Chase.
From a weather standpoint, this race could potentially be tough. By the time we got to this point on the schedule we would be in the late stages of October. This is typically the time in Michigan when the temperature begins to drop as winter is on the horizon.
Assuming weather isn't an issue, fans can expect a great race that has the potential to come down to strategy.
For one reason or another races are often decided on a team's willingness to pit or not pit in the late stages of a race at Michigan.
In the most recent race at this track Mark Martin led the field as the laps wound down. With three laps to go he ran out of fuel, handing the win to Joey Logano.
8. Kansas Speedway: Daytime
The eighth race of the Chase and second mile-and-a-half track featured is Kansas Speedway. The track features progressive banking which allows for multiple grooves of racing.
Kansas gets the nod over Homestead-Miami as the progressively banked track in the Chase for a couple of reasons.
While both tracks feature similar configurations, Kansas is a much faster track than its Miami counterpart.
The seating capacity in Kansas is also higher than in Miami. Approximately 82,000 fans can fill the grandstands in Kansas while that number is 17,000 less at the Florida-based race track. That is a fairly significant difference and, the more fans that get to attend a live playoff event, the better.
The fans in the Kansas Speedway region have really supported the track, and its spot in the Chase is well deserved.
Like Michigan, the weather in the Kansas City area for this race could be on the cool side. This race would take place around the first week of November and temperatures at that time are generally in the mid-50 degree range.
9. Bristol Motor Speedway: Nighttime
The night race at Bristol is arguably the most entertaining race of the year. It features 43 cars on a high-banked half-mile oval. At the drop of the green flag the cars at the back of the field are only entering Turn 3, making them half of a lap down at the start of the race.
It really doesn't get much more exciting and intense than that.
While we have already included one short track in the 10-race Chase, a second one would only add to the intrigue of the playoffs. Short tracks offer plenty of action and are the types of tracks where a lot of fans learned to love racing.
Bristol has been on the NASCAR schedule twice per year since opening in 1961. With its extremely high banks, and grandstands completely surrounding the track, it is a race fans dream. There is no bad seat in the place and the action is always non-stop.
Again, cool weather is a potential issue for this race, especially running it at night. But seeing as how this is the Dream Chase, there is no reason not to include "the toughest ticket in NASCAR," a nickname given to this race due to the scarcity of available tickets.
While this is a very popular race in the minds of the fans and would be a great season-ending race, there is one other track that probably should host the championship deciding race.
10. Charlotte Motor Speedway: Daytime
Some may argue that the racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway isn't exciting enough to host the final event of the year. While cars do have a tendency to get spread out around the mile-and-a-half oval, it is NASCAR's unofficial home track, and that is reason enough why it should host the championship deciding race.
Charlotte hosts three Sprint Cup Series races annually, though one is a non-points counting All-Star Race. All three of those races run during the night.
While night racing is great, the season-ending race should run in the light of day with the championship ceremonies taking place as the sun is setting and nighttime begins to fall.
In all sports, it is every team's hope to have home-field advantage. By moving the season's final race to Charlotte, it would give NASCAR teams that same feeling, that after a long season they get to run the championship race at their "home-field track."
With its headquarters in the city and the NASCAR history that Charlotte holds, it makes it the logical place to close out a season as opposed to anywhere else.