Racetracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are far from homogeneous. They vary in size, shape and capacity.
Some are shaped very nearly the same, yet each one has a particularly different flavor. This could be related to the track's history, its unique shape, or factors that do not neatly fall into either of those categories.
This is an attempt to sum up each track with the utmost brevity.
One word can conjure many images and memories; under the mantra of that approach, this is an attempt to do that with every track currently included on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
Enjoy, and new suggestions are more than welcome.
Mecca is the city where the world's most important mosque is located and also the spiritual capital of Islam. The term "mecca" has also taken on a meaning of basically any place that is a shrine or hallowed destination.
In NASCAR, that is Daytona. There is no bigger race than the Daytona 500. This is the Superbowl of racing, except for the fact that it is held here every year and never changes venues.
With the possible exception of becoming the overall Sprint Cup champion, there is no single, greater accomplishment than a checkered flag in February in Daytona.
Phoenix is now the most newly-paved track of any surface in the circuit. That would not be as significant if it were done hosting Sprint Cup races in 2011.
However, it will be tested during the second-to-last race of the Chase. Technically, it has been tested by most drivers in clinical practice sessions, but it has yet to be traversed in a full race.
This makes the untested, uncharted waters of Phoenix a true question mark. How will it perform and how will the Chasers adapt? That test will be graded come the end of November.
Las Vegas has a well-deserved reputation as being an adult playland. Even NASCAR analysts and commentators go out of their way to note how much they enjoy this particular weekend.
To add to the festivities, Las Vegas scheduled a real carnival in the vicinity of the track that coincided with the race weekend in 2011. It really does sound like one the best weekends of the NASCAR year.
Pictured here is Carl Edwards, this year's "carnival director" about to cross the finish line first. A little sideshow ensued after the conclusion that saw Edwards perform his customary victory flip off of his car, in true carnival fashion.
The short length and steep banks of Bristol Motor Speedway hearken back to the early days of stock car racing when it was not a nationally televised sport.
Many a driver cut their racing "teeth" on dirt tracks shaped similar to Bristol. Of course, Bristol has no dirt, but is often noted that experience in maneuvering steeply banked dirt tracks can be a big help to a driver once they hit the gas at Bristol.
Some love it; others detest it. Either way, it is the track that most conjures up images of what stock car racing used to be.
For reasons not completely clear or proven, Auto Club Speedway, located near Los Angeles, has had difficulty in attracting fans to its bleachers.
It has recently been demoted. It used to host two Sprint Cup races, but in 2011 that was cut in half.
The most flummoxing part of this is its location. Southern California is a huge market. It almost seems too big to fail. If Phoenix can support two races per year, it follows that Southern California should at least be able to do the same.
This describes the confines, not the racing. The racing is very rough and makes it almost impossible to finish the race with an unscathed car.
This is the smallest track in NASCAR. Martinsville Speedway promoters boast the track is so small and the seats so close, that no fan is ever more than 100 yards away from a car.
While it does not offer NASCAR's fastest driving, there is literally a wreck waiting around every corner based on the drivers' constant proximity to one another.
I do not know if it is the sponsorship involved or some other anonymous factor, but a victory at Texas Motor Speedway is the richest regular season purse for the winner of any track, and it is not even close.
As a caveat, this does not include the Daytona 500 and the All-Star Race. Both of those are million dollar purses for the winner.
Texas, however, garnered winner Matt Kenseth over half a million dollars for his win at the first race there in 2011. No other purse has exceeded four hundred thousand dollars besides the two "special" races.
Who knew? Everything is just bigger in Texas.
Talladega is not a safe place. It is safer than it used to be with the introduction of restrictor plate racing, but the "Big One" always looms.
Carl Edwards and Bobby Allison both survived horrible crashes at this Super Speedway. In Allison's case, his collision into the guard rails could have killed some fans had the fence not absorbed the tremendous force of the impact.
On an even more ominous note, Talladega is rumoured to be cursed.
Richmond is a classic NASCAR track that has been a regular stop for decades. In 2004, it transformed to become a very strategic track with the advent of the Chase format.
It has always served as the last race before the beginning of the Chase. It is both a last chance and the last to hurdle to secure a spot.
For those drivers picture here, Richmond was sweet; those not included, just a bitter pill to swallow.
Darlington advertises itself as "Too Tough to Tame". This is an apt description. It has a very unique shape that gives crew chiefs fits on how to properly configure the car. Think of it like a pear: at the top it is small, but at the bottom it is much larger and rounded.
I have no experience driving race cars in any real sense, but I can attest that after playing NASCAR 2011: The Game on the Wii, this track is really tough to maneuver.
I have earned countless racing "stripes" at this track by banging into the wall, repeatedly, coming off of turn four. It can make one feel helpless.
Also known as "The Lady in Black," Darlington is a very tough lady indeed and requires the utmost care.
Dover is known as the "Monster Mile". Driving it has been described as riding on a roller coaster.
It does not seem like a Monster for some. For others, however, it can be a truly monstrous experience. During the 2011 Chase, Tony Stewart won the first two races, only be eaten alive by the Monster and finished 25th.
On the other hand, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards both had very strong days, finishing second and third, respectively, and prolonging their Chase hopes.
Winner Kurt Busch and his crew chief, Steve Addington, do not look a bit scared of this monster.
If Daytona is the Mecca of NASCAR racing, then Charlotte surely has to be the Medina, or, its second most holy venue.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame enshrines its members here. Almost all of the drivers and teams are located in the vicinity of Concord, NC.
On a side note, Charlotte has been anything but holy for Hendrick Motorsports this year. Jimmy Johnson recently almost impaled himself by crashing very hard on the back straightaway. Earlier in the year, teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the race won coming off of turn four only to run out gas and finish out of the top 5.
Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick (the 2011 race winners) most likely have different opinions of their experiences at these hallowed grounds.
There is just not much to say about Kansas Speedway. It is flat, straight and long just like the plains that begin to endlessly stretch out west of the track.
There are not very many cautions or wrecks. This may change in the future, as Kansas has announced that it will repave the track and change the banking for racing in 2012.
Until then, it will remain a big spoonful of vanilla.
Pocono may be described as unique however many of the tracks on the circuit can be described in the same manner. That word does quite fit.
Pocono is just weird. It is shaped like a triangle. Turn three, pictured, is the last turn before the front stretch to the finish line.
This is not meant to be a pejorative. Michigan International Speedway is just simply located in the backyard of three of the four car manufacturers' headquarters in NASCAR.
A Sprint Cup Race there is a big deal for Ford, General Motors (Chevrolet) and Chrysler (Dodge). For the corporate big-wigs it represents all of their testing, time and money on display for a large television audience.
Much like Las Vegas, the surrounding atmosphere of Infineon Raceway helps in formulating one word to describe it. That atmosphere is very different.
The race occurs in June, which is a beautiful time of year in Central and Northern California. The sky is clear and sunny with usually very low humidity.
It is nestled in wine country, providing a great combination for the weekend of wine sampling and racing.
Also, it may just be my personal perception, but the drivers do not seem as awnry during this race. Sure, there is the usual bumping and shoving that goes along with any road course racing, but it just seems more placid.
At Sonoma, the pace is a bit slower but the atmosphere seems to bring fans back year after year.
The seats look full in the picture, but, from all reports, many fans did not ever make it to Kentucky Speedway to see the first Sprint Cup race ever held there.
Some reports claimed traffic was backed up from both sides of the interstate for 20 miles when the green flag dropped. Others ranted how there was not even close to sufficient parking even if fans could get there.
This race was an absolute disaster, thus it now has a tainted reputation.
Fortunately, the Kentucky Speedway has purchased ample amounts of land around the track that it plans to convert into parking facilities. The Kentucky Legislature has even stepped in to enact bills aimed at improving the transportation infrastructure around the track.
This is one of the flattest tracks in the Sprint Cup, but it is two times as long as Martinsville. The turns are banked the same at 12 degrees, with one degree difference on the straightaways.
Speeds can climb much higher with the greater distance travelled at New Hampshire vice Martinsville.
Indianapolis is actually flatter than either of these two, but it is so large that the flatness gets subsumed.
The surrounding grandstands also make the track look flat because they appear to go further back rather than up higher. At any rate, they are at least a bit less slanted than most racing grandstands.
This is not to imply that it is boring, but merely that every time I see this track it strikes me how truly flat its surface is.
This may be the most famous racing facility in the world. It is officially a National Historic Landmark.
It does not get much more historic than that.
Watkins Glen is somewhat akin to Sonoma: both are road courses nestled in the middle of wine country. The Glen is located at the bottom of Seneca Lake in the middle of New York.
The difference with Sonoma is its proximity to major population centers. Sonoma is just north of San Francisco. The closest city to Watkins Glen is Syracuse, which is not a major population hub.
Also, it is not right off a major highway, like the rurally located Kentucky Speedway.
It is a fairly serene and quiet area with an Ivy League university just around the corner (Cornell). This is not a typical Sprint Cup setting.
The elements have been cruel to Atlanta Motor Speedway. In 2011, the race had to be run on a Tuesday due to heavy rain. In past years it has been hit by a tornado and a blizzard. It once served as a makeshift evacuation shelter during a hurricane.
The elements of wind and water have struck Atlanta hard. Hopefully, in the future, it will not complete the elemental cycle and be struck by earth and fire. A major earthquake or fire could take it completely off the circuit.
This is not a knock on the track itself. Simply put, Chicagoland was built as a NASCAR expansion tool to bring in the lucrative market of Chicago.
It is similar to other 1.5 mile tracks, but in a different location.
It is great for the Chicago area, but it does not really stick out in any way other than that.
Homestead Miami is literally the end of the road. It is where the new (or repeat, as has been the case of late) champion is crowned.
All Chase races are decisive, but Miami is the last hurdle in a long season. It tests the mettle of all drivers still mathematically able to come out on top of a NASCAR season.