NASCAR Power Rankings: Talladega and Other Sprint Cup Tracks
NASCAR is an equation of drivers, teams, fans and tracks, with each having unique traits. Just as fans defend their favorite drivers because of their personalities and driving talent, they choose the tracks that provide the most interesting racing for them. Meanwhile, drivers may choose their favorite tracks for the challenge they find when they race there.
Talladega provides a love/hate relationship for drivers who either love the high-speed challenge or fear the carnage that may ruin their day at the track and, perhaps, their standing in the points.
The northern Alabama track opened in 1969 as Alabama Motor Speedway on land adjacent to a closed airport facility and nearby interstate. It was also said to be on Indian burial grounds that have stirred up stories of mysterious happenings and untimely deaths at the track, which eventually became known as Talladega Motor Speedway in 1989.
The 2.66-mile track is the biggest and fastest track on the NASCAR circuit, with 33-degree banking in the turns, 18-degree banking on the tri-oval and a 4,000-foot backstretch.
Fans count on action-packed restrictor-plate racing, always anticipating "the big one," which is guaranteed to tear up lots of equipment in what seems to be the blink of an eye.
Dale Earnhardt, the Intimidator, was dominant at Talladega, with 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.
The first race was problematic when Charlie Glotzbach won the pole at 199.466 and the tire company didn't think its tires would hold up more than a few laps at those speeds. Many drivers who belonged to a group known as the Professional Drivers Association, led by Richard Petty, left the track.
Bill France was determined to put on a show for the fans who had traveled to the track. He used the remaining drivers and drivers from a race the previous day, to run a full 500-mile race and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1987, Bill Elliott set a record of 212.809 mph average speed which stands today. It was during that race Bobby Allison was involved in a crash and went airborne causing NASCAR to mandate restrictor plates.
The massive track, with seating for 175,000 people, hosts two of the most anticipated races on the circuit, especially the fall Chase race which can be a real game-changer.
Now, let's take a look at various tracks that provide challenges for the drivers and entertainment for the fans. These tracks top my list of those who host NASCAR Sprint Cup races. See if you agree.
No. 10: Dover International Speedway
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The one-mile concrete track in Dover, Del. is known as the "Monster Mile" and is part of an entertainment complex that includes a harness-racing track and a casino owned by Dover Motorsports.
This track opened in 1969 and now has seating for 140,000 fans. In 2006, the facility was renovated to include a 46-foot monster monument at Victory Plaza and enhanced FanZone amongst other improvements.
The unforgiving concrete surface is tough on equipment and challenging to drivers. However, the Dover complex provides lots of entertainment for visitors in addition to the great racing.
No. 9: Martinsville Speedway
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Martinsville Speedway is the shortest and slowest track on the circuit, yet it requires hard acceleration coming off the concrete turns into totally-flat asphalt straightaways. The bright-yellow curbing on the turns can easily turn a car should it run up on it at the compact track.
More of NASCAR's top-tier races have been run at the 0.526-mile track with the Tums Fast Relief 500 being the 124th. The first 12 races were run on dirt.
Richard Petty has the most wins, with 15, at the track known as the "paperclip." Petty also had the most top fives with 30 and the most top 10's with 37.
Tempers flare with the bumping and banging typical of short-track racing. This track's second race is part of the Chase and is also a wild card for those contending for the championship.
Fans get a taste of old-school racing at the track built in 1947, which now has seating for 65,000. One of the fan favorites at the track is the famous red hot dog. It's a fun place to visit in the foothills of Virginia if you want lots of action on the track without the glitz of the bigger speedways.
The winning driver gets the unique perk of a grandfather clock too.
No. 8: Richmond International Raceway
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Richmond International is the 0.75 mile oval that has short track-style racing with the feel of a larger track. The track was built as a half-mile facility and converted in 1988. The Virginia stop on the NASCAR circuit is known as "America's Premier Short Track."
RIR hosts two races, both under the lights, with the September race being the final race before the beginning of the 10-week Chase.
The track opened in 1946 and currently has seating for 112,000 fans. It is part of a 1,000-acre entertainment complex that hosts many other types of events.
Racing is exciting on the asphalt track, with 14-degree banking in the turns, eight degrees on the front stretch and two degrees on the backstretch.
Richard Petty holds the record for the most wins, top fives and top 10's at this track.
Fans are sure to see a show where rubbin' is racin' when they attend an event at Richmond International Raceway. And drivers look forward to finalizing the points in the race before the Chase.
No. 7: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
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The 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened with the Indy Racing League in 1996. The first NASCAR Cup race was March 1, 1998.
In 2006, the track was reconfigured with progressive banking, which increases the degree of banking as you move up the track. The increased banking of up to 20 degrees allows for the drivers to run at higher speeds, with laps in excess of 185 mph.
For the fans, Las Vegas Motor Speedway not only has great racing and seats for some 140,000 people, but also a fan zone called The Neon Garage, sometimes referred to as the "Disney World of Nascar."
The glitz of Las Vegas offers fans many forms of entertainment besides the racing, with shows, casinos, great places to eat and a plethora of places to stay.
Another sight to behold is the NASCAR Hauler Parade as it rolls down Las Vegas Boulevard in the dark of night to the delight of fans lined along the street. It is a spectacle well-worth seeing.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Banquet is held in Las Vegas at the end of the season. During "Champions Week," racing activities can be found throughout the city in abundance.
No. 6: Infineon Raceway in Sonoma
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Infineon Raceway, formerly known as Sears Point, is one of two road-course tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. It is a 10-turn, 1.99-mile course for Cup cars that finds the drivers having to snake their way around the track in California's wine country.
For drivers, it is a true test of ability to handle a race car as they manipulate the many turns. Some think a road course such as Infineon Raceway or Watkins Glen should be in the Chase because a champion driver in a series should be able to handle such a course well.
The unique track provides hillside seating as well as permanent seating and temporary facilities that bring total seating capacity to 102,000.
Infineon Raceway is unique because of its location in Northern California. Just 35 miles from San Francisco, it attracts a different type of fan. The racing experience is very different from that of the typical NASCAR ovals. It attracts the wine-and-cheese lovers to the Napa area. It also gives people of that area a chance to see a NASCAR Sprint Cup race with the only other California race being at Auto Club Speedway, which is a pretty good distance away.
Car and Driver rated Infineon as one of its favorite tracks because of the way it tests a driver with the elevations and technical skill on the esses, amongst other features.
Some fans don't like the road courses being part of the NASCAR series even though you can count on exciting racing. Many drivers find this type of track fun and challenging, while others dread it. But one thing is for sure: It looks like they can't wait to get to the start/finish line in the above picture.
No. 5: Charlotte Motor Speedway
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Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered a hometown track because the majority of the teams are located in the Charlotte/Mooresville area and drivers, owners and team members have homes nearby.
It is a 1.5-mile, quad-oval with 24-degree banking in the turns. The track was the first to host night races in 1992 and it's home to the longest race in NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600.
In May, NASCAR runs the Sprint All-Star race, which is an exciting non-points extravaganza with huge payouts. One of the 10 Chase races is also scheduled at CMS.
The track is owned by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc., so you can always expect to be entertained. CMS opened in 1960 and has evolved into a complex with a Legends track and a state-of-the-art Z-Max Dragstrip adjacent to the main speedway, known as the "Beast of the Southeast."
Fans can always expect exciting concerts and pre-race surprises with the city of Charlotte hosting many race-related events in-and-around the downtown area. One of the latest advancements by the track is the installation of the high-definition video board that will be 200' x 80' situated along the backstretch.
Drivers rate this track highly not only for the prestige of winning at their "hometown" track, but because of the fast racing, ability to pass and great facilities.
No. 4: Darlington Raceway
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Darlington, nicknamed "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and "The Lady In Black," was the original Superspeedway. The Southern 500 was the original "big one" on the NASCAR circuit.
The egg-shaped, 1.366-mile track opened in 1950 on land that was previously cotton and peanut fields. The track was narrowed at one end, making the turns closer together, because the owner wanted to retain the minnow pond nearby.
For drivers and teams, the unusual configuration of the track has presented problems with setups. The banking is 23 degrees at one end and 25 degrees at the narrow end. The track has always been very fast and can be slick. The white walls surrounding the racing surface are usually blackened by the end of every race. Many of the cars hit the wall and earn their Darlington stripe.
Fans are fascinated with Darlington because of its history. David Pearson had the most wins there with a total of 10. Though the track has had considerable upgrades, including switching the backstretch to the frontstretch, it retains the old-school feel.
Darlington is a very tough track on drivers and it carries a certain prestige to have garnered a win there. Fans not only get to see exciting racing, but they have an opportunity to visit the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum that is full of history and memorabilia.
No. 3: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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The 2.5-mile oval track in Indianapolis, Ind. opened in 1909 and was known primarily for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar race. In 1994, the first NASCAR Cup series race was run as the Allstate 400, and Jeff Gordon took the inaugural win. In 2005, the name of the race was changed to the Brickyard 400.
The winner of this race carries out the tradition of kissing the yard of bricks with his team. The track was originally made of brick and in 1961 the last of the bricks were paved over—except for the sacred yard of bricks at the start/finish line.
Sometimes fans may face periods of boredom during the race because the cars tend to get stretched out on the wide, somewhat-flat track with maximum banking of 12 degrees. The excitement of the final laps and the battle for the win tend to compensate for any slow times.
Fans also enjoy the ambiance and history of the track as they view the massive grandstands on both sides of the main stretch and the towering pagoda. There are in excess of 250,000 seats, but the track has a capacity of nearly 400,000.
For drivers, the Brickyard 400 carries prestige second to that of Daytona. A win at this track is a goal for every driver lucky enough to race at the historical facility.
No. 2: Bristol Motor Speedway
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Bristol Motor Speedway is the one track every NASCAR fan should visit and hopefully get to watch a very loud race in a bowl.
It is a 0.533-mile track with banking of 26-to-30 degrees in the turns, There is seating for some 160,000 fans that seems to rise straight up from the track. BMS hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup races each year, with the fall race being under the lights.
For the drivers, just surviving the typical short-track action can be a challenge. But add to that the concrete racing surface and the unique set of pits, with one on the frontstretch and the other along the backstretch, and you can prepare for an exciting event.
For fans, a ticket to an event at Bristol Motor Speedway was very difficult to get. For years, many passed tickets down through their families. The track was always a sellout. But the recent decline in the economy has allowed people to buy tickets.
The track is the second shortest after Martinsville on the NASCAR circuit, but because of the banking, the cars are faster. Should drivers have to make a green-flag pit stop for a cut tire or some other reason, it will easily cost them a lap or two.
The track opened in 1961 with the first race being held before a packed house of 18,000 fans. Brenda Lee sang the National Anthem, the total purse was $16,625 and 42 cars started, but only 19 finished. My how times have changed at BMS.
The one negative for the fans is the lack of lodging in the area. So to compensate, it's become a huge camping area with some people arriving a week or so before the race.
No. 1: Daytona International Speedway
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Daytona is the home of the "Great American Race"—the Daytona 500. NASCAR is unique in that it has its "Super Bowl" kick off the season.
Since the track opened in 1959, the Daytona 500 has been considered the most prestigious race for a driver to win in NASCAR.
The track is a 2.5-mile, tri-oval track that is currently being repaved in preparation for possible testing in January and Speedweeks in February next year.
The Superspeedway has 31-degree banking in the turns with 18-degree banking at the start/finish line. The 180-acre facility has a sports-car course, 29-acre Lake Lloyd and room for thousands of infield campers. Estimated seating capacity at the facility is in excess of 160,000.
Fans can enjoy the many events that are held during Speedweeks in Daytona and at the track. The FanZone allows viewing access of the garage area, autographs and other forms of entertainment, including pre-race concerts.
Drivers know the danger that lurks during any given race on the fast, high-banked track. It is inevitable that there will be at least one large wreck, known as the "big one," on this restrictor-plate track.
Many deaths have occurred at DIS, with the most notable being Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001. A great many safety features have resulted from these tragedies to protect the drivers today.
Fans have an opportunity to attend the events during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway and, once again, for night races the weekend of the Fourth of July.