NASCAR: The Most Diabolical Tracks on the Sprint Cup Circuit

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

NASCAR: The Most Diabolical Tracks on the Sprint Cup Circuit

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    Certain Sprint Cup tracks tend to have a more diabolical aura than their counterparts. Be it due to a track's legend and reputation or toughness, certain racing facilities just seem to stand out.

    Granted, there are 23 different tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule, ranging from the smallest tracks (Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond) to the largest (Indianapolis, Daytona and Talladega).

    Just because a track is known as diabolical isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can actually be quite an honor, putting that particular track head and shoulders above the rest of its fellow tracks as one of the toughest racing surfaces in the sport.

    To make this fair and focused, I've chosen just eight tracks. Too few would be too little; too many would make the selection process less meaningful.

    If you feel another track or tracks should be on here, let's hear your thoughts, as well.

8. Phoenix International Raceway

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    With the dogleg coming out of Turn 2, the only track of its type on the circuit to have one, the one-mile relatively flat racing surface at PIR is unique and one of a kind in the sport.

    While the dogleg seems simple enough to get through, especially if you're a race fan watching it on TV or in person at the track, the truth is it's anything but.

    When you hear drivers constantly talking about how much they dread it, you know it's something special—or in this case, diabolical.

7. Dover International Speedway

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    Dover seems a simple enough track. One mile long, nice banking in the corners, a fan favorite, too.

    But what appears to be simplicity on the surface belies what drivers really have to deal with: DIS is the only all-concrete racing surface on the circuit. They don't call the place "The Monster Mile" for nothing.

    With many drivers used to driving on all types of different racing surfaces in their careers, including dirt, asphalt and the like, you think most with that kind of variety in their racing background would excel at a place like Dover. I mean, what can be so hard racing on concrete?

    Yet for whatever reason, Dover just presents a challenging combination that has befuddled even the greats for a long time.

    Let's hope this track never gets repaved with asphalt because it would take away much of the monster that is in this one-mile fan favorite.

6. Daytona International Speedway

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    The crown jewel of NASCAR, any list of diabolical tracks wouldn't be complete without the 2.5-mile, high-banked track at Daytona.

    How many drivers dread going there year after year? Even one of the sport's greatest drivers, the late Dale Earnhardt, needed 20 tries before he finally broke through with a Daytona 500 win in 1998,  his first and only win in the Great American Race.

    The two most diabolical elements of Daytona are its high banks and the backstretch, where oftentimes more action occurs than on the front stretch. Of course, this is a restrictor plate track, which lends itself to even more diabolical action, particularly when someone triggers a huge multi-car wreck.

    Daytona has been called a lot of things over the years, and all things considered, diabolical is actually one of the nicer ones in a funny kind of way.

5. Watkins Glen International

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    We had to include this track. After all, what is more diabolical than a road course, with its twists and turns, it's blind curves and propensity for more beating and banging than on a "conventional" race track?

    While Sonoma Raceway is also a road course, it doesn't have the relative tightness that Watkins Glen has, especially the last turn before the final straightaway to the checkered flag.

    Remember last season's race at The Glen, when Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch didn't just go at it on the final lap, it was all-out, sheer outright war?

    If it's your first time to Watkins Glen, you can't help but admire the bucolic nature and rural charm of the place, with its rolling hills and surrounding farmland. It's almost like Woodstock for NASCAR fans.

    But under that deceiving surface lies one of the most diabolical places a racecar driver will ever set foot or drive onto.

4. Bristol Motor Speedway

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    Now this is beating and banging of another type at its finest. Where else can you squeeze 160,000 fans into seats that surround one of the most famous bullrings in racing today?

    Bristol is the real deal, a place that is likely on more individual bucket lists to visit than perhaps any track other than maybe Daytona.

    Watching a race at Bristol is an all-out assault on the senses. You not only see and hear all the action, you can literally reach out and touch it, feel it, smell it and embrace it.

    By the time you leave the track 3.5 or 4 hours after the drop of the green flag, you will likely feel like you've just been at a rock concert (for all the noise), coupled with a light show (for all the flashes of color brilliance), and the smell of burning tires and brakes will be in your nose for a few days.

    What's more, while Bristol may look deceivingly simple, it's one of the hardest tracks to learn, let alone master. And there are still many veteran drivers who have yet to conquer Bristol. Now that's diabolical.

3. Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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    When NASCAR first raced at the fabled Brickyard in 1994, it was the hottest ticket in town. Now, 20 years later, the folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway can't give tickets away.

    It really has nothing to do with the racetrack. It always seems to put on a fine show during the month of May for the annual renewal of the so-called "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indianapolis 500.

    But for some reason over the last seven or eight years, Indy has lost a great deal of its luster to fans of NASCAR. Where the Brickyard 400 used to come close to selling out in its early days, now the stands are lucky to be half-full whenever NASCAR comes to town every July.

    There have been attempts – or at least suggestions – to compel NASCAR to leave Indy and give its race date to another track. But really, does NASCAR want to leave such a legendary, fabled track? What's more, what other type of track would be able to draw as many or more fans than Indy does even on a bad day?

    Yes, Indy is a difficult track to tame, particularly the short chute between Turns 1 and 2, which truly are diabolical.

    And yes, Indy was not designed with stock cars in mind (let alone Nationwide cars and Camping World Trucks).

    But still, this is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you're going to claim you're the biggest and best racing series in the country, as NASCAR does, there's no way you'd ever be better off leaving the venerable brickyard. It's like marriage vows: for better or worse.

2. Talladega Superspeedway

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    They just don't make racetracks like Talladega Superspeedway anymore. With enough landmass in the infield to hold a small third-world nation, Talladega at 2.66 miles around is the longest conventional racetrack on the Sprint Cup circuit.

    It's also one of the most—if not the most—difficult tracks on the circuit due to the necessity of having restrictor plates placed on cars to slow them and their inherent horsepower down.

    'Dega has become almost an anomaly of sorts. While its tradition and lore precede itself, the Alabama track has become the setting for not only great racing at times, but equally known (if not more so) for the ultra-spectacular and ultra-diabolical crashes hat typically occur at least once in each race.

    Face it, the words "big one" and "Talladega" go together hand-in-hand perhaps more so than any other racetrack on the circuit. It's kind of like the old saying about hockey, where someone goes to the fights and a hockey game breaks out.

    It's the same thing with 'Dega. People go to see a race and, more often than not, a demolition derby breaks out.

1. Darlington Raceway

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    Darlington isn't known as the "track too tough to tame" or the "Lady in Black" for nothing. It is, almost without a doubt, the most diabolical track on the Sprint Cup circuit today—and it's been that way for decades.

    The unique egg shape of Darlington is reminiscent in a way of Pocono Raceway (even though Pocono looks nothing like Darlington), with no two turns alike. Where staying off the walls at every other track is procedural, Darlington is practically the only track on the circuit where drivers are lauded for brushing the wall numerous times during the race, thus earning them the so-called "Darlington stripe" (the result of what you saw in the photo on the opening slide of this exercise).

    In fact, some drivers like Jimmie Johnson have made it almost an art form to utilize the ability to bounce off Darlington's walls—known as the hardest walls in NASCAR—and still manage to gain an advantage over other drivers. That's not only savvy, it's diabolical in its own right for drivers that use the track's nuances to their advantage.

    Darlington is a track that can bring even the best drivers to their knees, a facility that seems simple to comprehend but is ridiculously difficult and diabolical to make even one lap around is 1.33-mile layout—let alone make 200 or 300 laps around  it in a race.

    To paraphrase an old Lynyrd Skynyrd song, instead of "Gimme a T for Texas, gimme a T for Tennessee," NASCAR's version would be more like, "Gimme a D for Darlington, gimme a D for Diabolical."

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