Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rookie Stripe: The Inside Track on NASCAR Tracks

36 races. 23 tracks. 20 states. 

On my rookie journey, one conclusion I’ve come to is: numbers are pretty important in NASCAR – and that goes beyond just the numbers on the sides of stock cars.

There are 36 points races in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Races run at different tracks, and some tracks host two Cup events during the year. Teams are always on the move across the country all season long; 23 tracks in 20 states to be precise.
CREDIT: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

Every track is different, varying in size, composition of the surface material, layout and other elements depending on its geographic location. For example, the oval track at Bristol is .5333 miles in circumference while the Superspeedway at Talladega is a whopping 2.66 miles around. Banking, or the incline of the outside lanes that helps drivers turn, is calculated in degrees at each site and can vary widely. These factors and more are pivotal in racing strategy for each driver and his or her team as they move from track to track.

In some ways, traveling between tracks reminds me of frogs hopping among the lily pads in a pond. They hang out on one lily pad for a while, do their important work like catching bugs and surviving, and then move on to the next lily pad. Every lily pad has its unique characteristics, just like no two tracks are the same. The frogs might even go back to a lily pad previously visited that same season and see if their luck gets better. In the big pond, all the lily pads have an important role; it just comes down to game plan and taking chances to get ahead.

Just don’t ask the frogs to count their bugs please. We have enough numbers to contend with already.

One of the most helpful ways to classify NASCAR tracks to understand them is by size. Tracks that are less than one mile are called short tracks, greater than one mile but less than two miles are intermediate tracks, and longer than two miles are superspeedways. There are also road courses, which includes left and right hand turns, instead of the typical oval that allows for only left-hand turns. Although all races are quantified by both laps and distance, many fans think of short tracks by laps and speedways more in mileage.

Here’s a list of the tracks in each category that are currently part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series:

Short Tracks: Bristol, Dover, Martinsville, Phoenix, Richmond
Intermediate Tracks: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicagoland, Darlington, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Texas
Superspeedways: Daytona, Fontana, Indianapolis, Michigan, Pocono, Talladega
Road Courses: Auto Club Speedway, Watkins Glen

One of the first terms I learned when I started following NASCAR was ‘circuit’, as it relates to racing or track-hopping. The Sprint Cup NASCAR circuit begins at Daytona in February and concludes at Homestead Miami in November. On its website NASCAR has a current list of tracks that are on the Sprint Cup Series race circuit, and the length of each:

Atlanta Motor Speedway (Hampton, Georgia) Length: 1.54 miles
Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, California) 2 miles
Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tennessee) 0.533 mile
Charlotte Motor Speedway (Concord, North Carolina) 1.5 miles
Chicagoland Speedway (Joliet, Illinois) 1.5 miles
Darlington Raceway (Darlington, South Carolina) 1.37 miles
Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Florida) 2.5 miles
Dover International Speedway (Dover, Delaware) 1 mile
Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Florida) 1.5 miles
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis, Indiana) 2.5 miles
Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kansas) 1.5 miles
Kentucky Speedway (Sparta, Kentucky) 1.5 miles
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Las Vegas, Nevada) 1.5 miles
Martinsville Speedway (Martinsville, Virginia) 0.526 mile
Michigan International Speedway (Brooklyn, Michigan) 2 miles
New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon, New Hampshire) 1.058 miles
Phoenix International Raceway (Avondale, Arizona) 1 mile
Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, Pennsylvania) 2.5 miles
Richmond International Raceway (Richmond, Virginia) 0.75 mile
Sonoma Raceway (Sonoma, California) 1.99 miles
Talladega Superspeedway (Talladega, Alabama) 2.66 miles
Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas) 1.5 miles
Watkins Glen International (Watkins Glen, New York) 2.45 miles

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