It's pretty obvious which venue should rank at the top of every NASCAR fan's list.
All race tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are not created equal.
There are 1.5-mile tracks and short tracks, road courses and superspeedways.
Tracks aren't always maintained equally, either. In this day and age when fans demand more from a live sports experience, track operators are constantly searching for new ways to enhance it in a way that will keep the paying customers coming back and wanting more.
Of course, then the tracks have to deliver. Here are 10 that do in such a way that every NASCAR fan should strive to attend at least one race at each venue before they pass on to that big race track in the sky.
Watkins Glen is full of interesting twists and turns, and it's fast.
You've gotta love The Glen.
First of all, NASCAR could use more road courses like this tricky, challenging 2.45-mile course that features seven turns, including the famous Esses, and long straightaways where the race cars reach speeds you wouldn't normally expect on a road course.
The top national touring series in NASCAR first raced at The Glen in 1957. But it didn't return for another seven years and then raced for only two more in 1964 and 1965 before a triumphant return in 1986, long after a renovation in 1971. The stock cars have been coming back every year since, and NASCAR is better off for it.
Infineon Raceway has a certain charm to it aided by great sightlines for fans.
Another road course?
While there are plenty of folks who bristle at the thought that Infineon Raceway is a better stop for hardcore NASCAR fans than The Glen, let's just say that both offer a certain charm that's missing from all 1.5-mile stops on the circuit and that this 1.99-mile, 12-turn layout wins out over The Glen by the slimmest of margins in a tiebreaker.
The sight lines for fans are fantastic at Infineon, and that makes a difference. There are plenty of seats where virtually the entire track can be viewed—and besides, you can never underestimate the ambiance of a place where the winner of the race gets to chug wine in Victory Lane.
Martinsville Speedway has been open for NASCAR business since 1949.
There was a time not too long ago when there were rumblings in NASCAR that Martinsville Speedway didn't deserve to keep its current two race dates.
Fortunately, those rumblings have passed.
When original owner H. Clay Earles opened for business in 1947, he had only 750 seats and 6,000 fans showed up. Two years later in 1949, Earles hosted his first NASCAR racem and the stock cars have come roaring back ever since.
When the track was purchased from the Earles family in 2004 by the International Speedway Corporation, owned by NASCAR's ruling France family, court documents revealed seating capacity was considerably less than the previously advertised 90,000. But as it turns out, the actual grandstand capacity of 65,000 is better suited to this day and age, when too many other tracks now are overbuilt.
Plus the racing action on the .526-mile short track shaped like a paper clip usually is brisk, banging and, well, interesting. Fans can't seem to get enough of the action or the famous $2 Martinsville hot dogs served up at the concession stands.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a must-visit at least once for NASCAR fans.
Charlotte Motor Speedway may have ranked higher on this list only a few years ago.
It's still a great place to watch a race, with all of the amenities, history and plenty of race-related stuff for fans to do in the area in between the time they spend at the track. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is a short drive away, and shops such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are even closer.
And if you're into that kind of stuff, CMS boasts (for now) the largest high-definition television screen in America. (Texas Motor Speedway currently has one under construction that will be 25 percent larger, according to the Dallas Morning News).
The only downside? The racing at all of NASCAR's too many 1.5-mile tracks could be better, and that includes Charlotte.
No one is ever certain what is going to happen at Talladega.
Talladega Superspeedway is a NASCAR fan's guilty pleasure.
Most realize it's not the safest place to race, no matter what NASCAR officials attempt to do to make it less dangerous. Most drivers do not like racing there because of the totally unpredictable nature of the races, which usually include at least one huge, day-altering wreck that is often completely out of their control yet dictates their fate.
But all of those reasons are why fans can't take their eyes off of the action. It's four-wide at times, with the cars zooming along at 200 mph in packs of 15 or more. Anything can and does happen—and while the overriding thought is that you hope everyone comes out alive, the action simply is spectacular toward the end of races, even if it's sometimes mundane single-file racing leading up to it.
Besides, every fan needs to experience one night in the infield at Talladega. Sometimes that's a test of survival, too.
Darlington Raceway represent old-school NASCAR, which fans love.
Nicknamed "The Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame," Darlington Raceway is pure old-school NASCAR, and the fans love the place for it.
Located pretty much in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina, its unique egg-shaped design features completely different configurations at both ends of the track and narrow straightaways that make it difficult for crew chiefs to set up the cars and, by extension, even more difficult for the drivers to drive them without running into each other or the outside walls.
The track, which opened for business on Labor Day in 1950, lost one of its two annual races in 2004. But it has made a comeback in popularity in recent years with the one remaining date—partly aided by a total of $16 million spent on improvements to the aging facility, beginning in 2008.
Richmond International Raceway rises up out of a local neighborhood, and that's cool.
Richmond International Raceway springs up in the middle of a residential neighborhood much the same way football's Lambeau Field or baseball's Wrigley Field does. There is something inherently cool about that.
The .75-mile layout gives it that short-track feel and leads to the type of action associated with that style of racing, but it's sort of between a short track and a 1.5-miler and thus has its own unique feel that offers special challenges for the drivers.
For fans in recent years, it has been tough to beat the action and drama of the fall race at RIR. It is traditionally the final race of the Sprint Cup regular season and helps determine who gets in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field and who is left out.
That aspect has only added to the character of an already charming facility.
It's difficult to beat the combination of racing, weather and area activities in Phoenix.
Phoenix International Raceway might be a bit of a surprise on this list to some, but it's an awesome venue.
Another facility that once claimed to have many more seats than it actually had, its somewhat modest grandstands hold only 56,000.
But if you really want to experience the place, don't sit there. Head up to grab a piece of scrub brush on Rattlesnake Hill, which overlooks the track and also is open for business. And if you aren't at risk for a heart attack, climb all the way to the top of it for a breathtaking view (or maybe that was the climb up that took the breath away), not only of the track below but of all the surrounding area.
Did we mention that the weather and the racing are usually pretty awesome too?
Nothing beats Bristol when it comes to short-track racing in NASCAR.
The night race in August at Bristol Motor Speedway remains a must-see for any NASCAR fan compiling a bucket list.
There is something special about night racing in general in NASCAR, and there is no better after-dark event than the one at Bristol late in the season, when usually there is a whole lot on the line. It lends itself to drama and rarely disappoints.
The event comes with a vibe like few others. The pre-race festivities, dripping with patriotism and anticipation of the night of racing ahead, are akin to waiting for a Super Bowl to kick off. The buildup is almost as good as what usually follows—except on those most fortunate nights when the racing on the .533-mile short track is even more spectacular and packed with action and raw emotions.
Speaking of spectacular, no trip to Bristol is complete without a visit to nearby Ridgewood Barbecue, which is located only a short drive from the track.
Daytona is the birthplace of NASCAR, and the track is built for maximum speed.
Every NASCAR Sprint Cup season begins at Daytona International Speedway with the Daytona 500. It is a race—and a venue—that every fan needs to visit at least once in his or her lifetime.
The speedway is currently undergoing a $400 million renovation that will reduce seating capacity from 146,000 to 101,000 but improve amenities across the board (from offering wider and more comfortable seats to twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands).
But the real action that counts is on the track, and both the 500 and the second Daytona race on the July 4 weekend always seem to deliver.
The mayhem that can occur on either of NASCAR's superspeedways always looms as a possibility but seems more controlled at DIS than at Talladega. And fantastic, unexpected finishes in NASCAR's most prestigious race have become almost the norm.