NASCAR Sprint Cup: Toughest Tracks Left on Cup Schedule

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Toughest Tracks Left on Cup Schedule

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    The game-changing road-course tracks may be out of the way, but within the collection of intermediate tracks, there is a challenging variety of venues in the mix that take drivers to season's end at Homestead.

    Only four races remain until the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

    The elite drivers of the sport will then do battle on 10 tracks to see how the points will shake out and who will get the title.

    The 1.5-mile tracks make up six of the remaining 14 races. Though they are referred to as "cookie-cutter" tracks, each has some unique traits.

    The rest of the tracks offer variety with short-track drama, the superspeedway crap shoot, fast, banked ovals and a track with a dogleg that is described as a "roller coaster," all could make for dramatic racing.

    This slideshow will highlight the tracks that may present some of the toughest challenges to the drivers not only going for the championship, but also those who just want to end with a decent season.

Michigan International Speedway

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    The two-mile banked oval in Michigan is now the fastest track on the circuit since the repave that was completed in 2012.

    Cars dive into the corners at speeds in excess of 200 mph. The track is relatively wide with banking at 18 degrees in the turns.

    It is not unusual to see long periods of green-flag racing at this track. Strategy with fuel and tire management could be the key to winning and finishing well.

    Teams will be taking chances with pit stops, and any miscues can be really costly this late in the season.

    Grip will be good with the new track surface and the cars will be really fast, so when things go wrong it can become really ugly really quick.

Bristol Motor Speedway

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    Fans longed for the racing that made Bristol Motor Speedway the one track where tickets were so treasured that they were passed down through families. It used to be difficult to buy a ticket.

    That changed when the track was repaved and progressive banking eliminated the contact racing that fans found so exciting. Tickets were becoming available and many seats were empty during events.

    Drivers will return to a new BMS that had the top groove of the world's fastest half-mile track ground down after the spring race.

    The upper groove will now share the same degree of incline as the middle part of the track, creating a tighter racing area for drivers.

    Though racing will never be quite like days of old, drivers could well face some game-changing moments during this race that is the third from the start of the Chase. The unknowns could have surprising results.

Richmond International Raceway

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    The Saturday night race at the 3/4-mile D-shaped oval with 14-degree banking in the turns will be the last chance for drivers in NASCAR's premier series to make the Chase.

    Tension will be running very high and for some, taking chances will be mandatory. So much is on the line for drivers in the top 10 of the standings and those trying to capture the wild-card slot.

    Racing is fast on this short track that races more like a much larger track. Wrecks can happen fast and drivers will do whatever they need to do to gain advantage. Pit strategy will be critical as well.

    The last race to the Chase is guaranteed to be dramatic.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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    The one-mile oval, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, is shaped much like Martinsvillle with fast, tight corners on a flat track.

    Without banking, drivers must take their cars to the edge, find the optimal line in the turns and try not to use up their brakes. Track position is as important as balance on the car. Passing can be difficult.

    This is the second race of the Chase and drivers going for the title may not be taking as many chances as they will in the last five races, but the rest of the field will be fighting hard for wins.

    The battle of the Chasers and non-Chasers could be interesting with passing at a premium. Strategy will be a test of team grit with who can gain position on pit road.

Dover International Speedway

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    The one-mile banked concrete track is known as the "Monster Mile" for a reason. The fast track with 24-degree banking can take a car and slam it hard not only into the wall, but also other cars.

    The 400-mile race at Dover International Speedway can often be a test of patience with the drivers. The corners come up fast and passing at the wrong moment can be disastrous.

    This will be the third race of the Chase and drivers contending for the title will start to get more aggressive, but the non-Chase drivers have nothing to lose and will go for the lead pack.

    The driver who walks away with the "Miles the Monster" trophy will have worked hard for the win and wrecks could be the one thing that shakes up the Chase.

Talladega Superspeedway

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    Talladega is the wild-card track within the Chase. It is the fourth race of the 10-race playoff for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

    The 2.66-mile tri-oval has 33-degree banking in the turns and the relatively new track surface has lots of grip.

    Pack racing is back at Talladega and the close racing will lead to the inevitable big wreck. It really doesn't matter where you start the race because it is easy to go from the back to the front with a strong car.

    Danger lurks at every turn on every lap and one twitch of a car at the wrong spot can trigger a multi-car event that could weigh heavy on Chase contenders.

Martinsville Speedway

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    Martinsville Speedway is the shortest track on the circuit at .526 miles with it's paper-clip shape and 12-degree banking in the short, quick turns.

    The track is challenging with the asphalt straightaways, concrete turns, tight pit area, narrow racing grooves and curbing on the inside of the track.

    This is an old-school track and racing can get rough. When something goes wrong, there is little room to maneuver around it. Wrecks are pretty much inevitable.

    Martinsville is the seventh race of the Chase, so contenders will be aggressive. This point of the Chase may well be giving us a glimpse of just who the champion might be for 2012.

Homestead-Miami Speedway

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    All the cards are on the table at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is the final race of the season, the champion will be crowned and the final point standings will be calculated.

    The 1.5-mile track with variable degree banking is a wide, fast oval. It isn't a tough track for the drivers to race on, but the pressure that comes with this final race of the season makes it a very tough race.

    If the battle for the title is close, racing can be intense with the contenders. It could be a career-changing race for the driver who hoists the trophy. The title could come down to the last lap of the season.