NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 10 Most Dangerous Tracks on the Circuit

David DeNennoContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 10 Most Dangerous Tracks on the Circuit

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    Not all racetracks are created equal. All are dangerous, but some have have particular features that make them especially perilous to the drivers.

    Some tracks are known for death and/or seriously violent crashes. Others leave a small margin of error in tight confines. Still others quite simply take the drivers out of their comfort zones, fabricating dangerous situations when they otherwise would not be so.

    There a various factors that come into play when determining the level of danger at a specific track: Speed, banking and driver familiarity are probably the most pertinent in the sense of physical danger.

    A few tracks on the NASCAR circuit are relatively safe within the context of physical danger. However, there do exist tracks that are so unpredictable that such things as maintaining a "points lead" or "trying to nab a spot in the Chase" can create a dangerous level of uncertainty.

    Here are 10 of the most dangerous and notorious tracks on the circuit today.

10. Atlanta

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    Atlanta is not, by any means, the most dangerous track around. However, this wreck of Brad Keselowski at the hands of Carl Edwards shows the potential that exists when cars have a close proximity at high speeds.

    Also, Atlanta may be one of the most dangerous tracks for fans to visit: The track has been hit by a tornado, completely postponed a race due to a blizzard and has served as a hurricane shelter for refugees from Florida.

9. Martinsville

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    Any driver, whether they are in first or 31st, can run out of room very quickly here. It is the shortest of short tracks.

    Leaders can run into lap traffic. The incessant bumping that goes along with short-track racing can victimize even the most docile of drivers in the blink of an eye.

    Granted, because of the smaller size of the track, speeds are accordingly reduced. No driver is ever likely to die here.

    Drivers are likely, however, to lose some paint off the side of their car, perhaps a tire and surely a lead unless they run flawlessly. A flawless hardly ever seems to happen.

8. Bristol

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    Bristol is slightly longer than Martinsville, but much more steeply banked. This allows for slightly higher speeds and harder collisions. One of the turns at Bristol used to be particularly dangerous to maneuver.

    It was unprotected and probably contributed to the horrible results that left Michael Waltrip's car disintegrated in the video clip.

    That turn has since been fortified and is much safer today. Still, any kind of forced, close racing can be dangerous, even at reduced speeds.

7. Loudon, New Hampshire

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    New Hampshire Motor Speedway is much safer than in days past, but it certainly has a violent history.

    Not known for its huge crashes, New Hampshire has claimed the lives of two drivers in the recent past (Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr).

    This actually prompted NASCAR to put restrictor plates on the cars at the next New Hampshire race, the only time it has happened besides Daytona and Talladega.

    That practice was quickly abandoned because that race was painfully dull to watch due to a result of exactly zero lead changes in its first and only iteration.

    This track was also the reason, or the last straw, that forced NASCAR to institute the "free pass" during cautions.

    With the inclusion of SAFER barriers and new banking, New Hampshire is safer than ever before, but still constitutes a dangerous day of racing.

6. Dover

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    The track's mascot "Miles" looks scary enough by himself.

    Actually there is no one single defining trait that makes Dover dangerous. However, a confluence of factors converge to make it so.

    It is a short track, but a little bigger than the other NASCAR short tracks. Speeds are higher, though the banks are still mountain-steep like Bristol. The track is hardly smooth. It is bumpy and uneven, including a few pseudo hills that truly can make it feel like a roller coaster.

    Also, the surface is concrete, which the drivers have less familiarity with than asphalt.

    Nothing here sounds dangerous in and of itself. Added together, it brings credibility to the phrase "taming the Monster".

5. Darlington

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    Darlington is the opposite of Dover in that it is dangerous for one particular reason. However, it is a huge reason.

    The shape of Darlington is quite odd. Turns one and two are very sharp, small and not banked particularly high. Once the driver traverses the back straightaway, he comes upon turns three and four, which are huge and steeply banked.

    Bottom line: the cars cannot be calibrated properly for both pairs of turns. Every driver is piloting a car that is not set up properly for one of the turn pairs on every lap of the race. This gets even more dangerous as a green flag run continues and the cars' tightness/looseness change and tire traction lowers.

    There is a reason you "earn your stripes" at Darlington. The best stock car drivers are expected to hit the wall at least once in their careers. It seems this happens earlier rather than later, but even the most seasoned Darlington driver can be seduced by the walls of "The Lady in Black."

4. Charlotte

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    It should be noted that Jimmie Johnson was not touched, bumped or physically redirected by a car during this 2011 race in Charlotte. It was simply the force of the air at high speed that jostled him.

    Thankfully, the SAFER barriers were able to absorb most of the force upon the impact. Had this occurred in 2001 instead of 2011, I truly feel that Jimmie Johnson would have been killed or suffered serious bodily harm.

    Either way, that would have ended his Chase, mathematically and/or physically, because the only vehicle he would have been driving after a hit like this—sans SAFER barriers and a required HANS device—is a wheelchair.

    Even with all that, it knocked the wind out of him and sent him for a brief stint in the on-site medical center.

    Charlotte is safer than it used to be, as are almost all NASCAR tracks, but this particular speedway has an element that others cannot touch: it is a sort of "home" track for all drivers. It subconsciously seems to increase the effort and the will to win in the drivers.

    It makes for some great, exciting racing, but it also ups the danger level in ways that are impossible to duplicate at the vast majority of other tracks.

3. Pocono

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    The crash here is evidence enough that the long straightways can prove dangerous at Pocono. I want to point your particular attention to the end of the video which shows Marcos Ambrose hitting a barrier on the infield grass.

    Did you see it? That is basically earth blocked with a thin metal guard rail. That is simply unsafe.

    The link below is not quite as big of a pile up, but better shows the infield collision of Elliot Sadler with the earth barrier.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQXugT11Js8 

    Sadler's hit holds the record as the hardest collision in NASCAR history in terms of blunt force.

    After this, SAFER barriers were thankfully installed on the infield. The question is, why did it take so long?

    Dangerous. Even with SAFER barriers.

2. Daytona

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    This is the track that ended the life of one NASCAR's greatest champions. Of all the crashes shown in video on the this slideshow, Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s is by far the most seemingly benign.

    The results were not.

    Daytona has since installed the SAFER barriers as a direct result of this accident. Indeed, almost all tracks in NASCAR sport them today.

    After being repaved, Daytona now requires drivers to practice tandem drafting. This is a dangerous practice, in and of itself. It disallows the "pushing" car any real track vision while travelling in excess of 180 mph.

    There will be another terrible crash at Daytona in the future. It probably will not result in death, but there will be another horrific incident at some point in time.

1. Talladega

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    Talladega is the modern poster child of danger. Since it is currently a Chase race, the danger factor increases even more so as drivers and teams get more desperate to finesse wins late in the season.

    Notice how the commentators in the video cite an eerily similar accident that occurred in 1987 with Bobby Allison. Carl Edwards experienced the same thing 22 years later after many more safety measures were put in place.

    Additionally, this is dangerous for the fans. Carl Edwards' crash could have easily slung some shrapnel into a fan, either killing or seriously maiming an unlucky spectator. I would not want tickets in that section of turn four.

    During the most recent race in October 2011, my heart skipped a beat when Reagan Smith was redirected into the wall head-on near turn three.

    The context was that IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP driver Marco Simoncelli had just died in accidents and bad things usually occur in threes. It was a great relief to see him get out of the car. Then, after the race, his hauler truck caught on fire.

    Did I mention that this place is strongly rumoured to be cursed because it was built upon Native American burial grounds?

    This is a treacherous venue and, like Daytona, will see another horrific crash in the future.