Fantasy NASCAR: Track Analysis
by Jeffrey Price
on January 8, 2009 @ 00:00:00
Short Tracks (less than one mile)
Bristol Motor Speedway
Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Analysis: Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most exciting tracks to watch a race, whether in person or on the couch. It is one of the shortest tracks on the circuit and has the privilege of being the steepest banked track that NASCAR runs on. This results in greater speeds and cars exchanging more paint than positions. The track was repaved in 2007, adding two more grooves to the track that was known for just having one. The key to winning on this track is staying out of trouble; the best way to do that is to stay at the front of the field, making qualifying very important.
Location: Martinsville, Va.
Analysis: Martinsville Speedway is relatively flat. This combined with its paper clip shape makes it difficult to pass. With passing at a premium, track position is a must for racers. If a driver attempts a pass, it will usually be to the inside, because of this, cars hook the bottom in hopes of holding off potential passers. A successful pass will almost certainly require a driver to either out-brake the lead car or nudge the car out of way, often both. Brakes are also important for slowing out of the relatively long straight-aways into the sharp turns. All told, there isn't a track on the Sprint Cup circuit where brakes are more important.
Richmond International Raceway
Location: Richmond, Va.
Analysis: Richmond International Raceway is a favorite race track for many drivers. It is known for its side-by-side racing and plenty of passing. Richmond is a downforce track, so teams will play with their shock packages. Brakes are also important, as passes are often a result of getting into a turn first and out-braking the other car. Turns 1 and 2 are the tighter part of the track, naturally where most of this track's accidents occur. Richmond hosts the last race before the Chase, adding to the track's reputation for holding some of NASCAR's most exciting races.
Intermediate Tracks (1.0-2.49 miles)
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Location: Hampton, Ga.
Analysis: Atlanta Motor Speedway is the fastest track on the Sprint Cup circuit - bar none. Qualifying speeds border on 200 mph. Drivers often run wide open, never using the brakes. Horsepower is a must to have a chance to win, but holding the throttle down and running high RPMs can be hard on engines. In recent seasons, Atlanta has featured late lap passes and some of NASCAR's closest finishes.
Auto Club Speedway
Location: Fontana, Calif.
Analysis: Opening in 1997, Auto Club Speedway, formerly California Speedway, is one of NASCAR's newer arenas. The track features fast straight-aways and flat corners. Handling is a key at Fontana. Engine attrition can also be an issue. Long green flag runs are common, making fuel strategy a factor, as well. Tire wear is not a factor, so taking two or no tires for track position is a common tactic. Auto Club Speedway is very similar in configuration to Michigan International Speedway. The two tracks are often considered sister tracks, with teams that perform well at one track usually performing well at the other.
Location: Joliet, Ill.
Analysis: Chicagoland Speedway features several grooves that allow cars to race all over the track. It is a sister track to Kansas Speedway as the dimensions at both tracks are very similar. Chicagoland is a fast track with room for a lot of passing. Cars run high RPMs and engine wear can result. Passes, and therefore crashes, most frequently occur in Turn 2. Tire wear is minimal here, so tire strategy rarely comes into play. With the race run in the mid-summer, the track can get hot and slick, which causing cars to slide, thus increasing the chance for accidents.
Location: Darlington, S.C.
Analysis: Darlington Raceway is the "original superspeedway," if you were to ask them, while also being known as the track that's "Too Tough to Tame." It is unique in that it has two very different sets of turns - many tracks are symmetrical or close to it. This can make finding the right setup difficult. Cars that are even a little off will wind up with "Darlington Stripes," or marks on the right side of the car from their contact with the wall. To further the problem, Darlington eats up tires, so a good handling car can become a bad one very quickly. Yellow flag stops to get four new treads is pretty much mandatory, as any track position gained by staying out quickly disappears behind cars with fresher tires.
Dover International Speedway
Location: Dover, Del.
Analysis: Dover International Speedway is a unique track, perhaps most similar to Darlington Raceway, due to the relatively short length and high banking. Like Darlington, the track owns an ominous nickname, "The Monster Mile." In 1995, the surface of the track received a "Monster Makeover," and Dover became NASCAR's first concrete-paved Superspeedway. The car setup focuses on the long, sweeping turns, as drivers do not want their car too loose entering the turns. A pass will often take over half the track to complete. The unique track surface and configuration, combined with the high-banking, leaves drivers little room for error. One-car spins often result in multi-car pileups.
Location: Homestead, Fla.
Analysis: Homestead is the only track on the Sprint Cup circuit with variable banking. That means the banking on the track is gradually increased from 18degrees on the bottom to 20degrees at the top. Theoretically, this creates multiple lines for cars to run and promotes three-wide racing. In practice, it has proven to be a risk to run more than two-wide. The track recently was repaved with new asphalt, which has caused tire blistering, which in turn has led to cautions. Additionally, the Florida heat, even in the fall, can make the track slick. The graduated banking has made Homestead a faster track than it was prior to 2003, when it was one of NASCAR's flattest tracks with 6degrees banking. With drivers staying on the throttle around the track, cars run high RPMs and blown engines can be a factor.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Location: Speedway, Ind.
Analysis: Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of five intermediate tracks that falls into the sub-category of a flat track. A flat track represents any track with less than 13degrees of banking. Despite its lack of banking, cars run at high speeds at Indianapolis. Downforce is a must in order to pick up the throttle early in the turns. Cars can start to push on the long green runs, which are common at the Brickyard. Passing is extremely difficult and lapped cars are rare, so track position is tantamount. The surface is not hard on tires, so two-tire stops are a common strategy.
Location: Kansas City, Kan.
Analysis: Like its sister track, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway hosted its first race in 2001. As a result of the track having almost no banking in the back and front stretches, the car set up is similar to the set ups used on flat tracks like Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis. Downforce is a key factor. Engine attrition can be a concern, as the cars run high RPMs and long green flag runs are common. Incidents are most likely to occur upon entering the turns. Drivers carry a lot of speed out of the straightaways into the turns, and a loss of control can mean a hard hit into the wall.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Location: Las Vegas
Analysis: Las Vegas Motor Speedway added banking prior to the 2007 season in the hopes of creating a second groove and facilitating side by side racing. Still, the track is one of the flatter ones on the circuit, making downforce a key concern. As the race wears on, drivers can experience late-exit push forcing them to throttle down coming out of the turns and lose speed. As with most flat tracks, passing is difficult and track position is very important. Two-tire calls are common, but can exacerbate the push condition. Chassis adjustments can be used to offset this somewhat. Cars that can hold the bottom are able to pass going into the turns. Otherwise, most passing takes place upon corner exit. When cars lose their handling, incidents are common in Turn 2 and Turn 4. However, races here tend to turn into a snooze fest with the lack of action on the track.
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Location: Concord, N.C.
Analysis: Lowe's Motor Speedway hosts more miles of racing, 1100 miles in two races, than any other in the Sprint Cup. As a result, engine wear is a chief concern. Aggressive set ups often don't play well on this track and a more neutral set up is more favorable. If a car is too tight, it can result in too much push, forcing drivers out of the throttle and causing the car to lose momentum in the straightaways. Since the turns are long, downforce is important to allow drivers to use the gas to keep their speed up. Passing occurs all over the track. Drivers have the option of out driving their opponent into the corner or getting a run coming out of the corner and passing them in the straightaway. Turn 4 sees the most incidents as the track gets very narrow at that point.
Michigan International Speedway
Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
Analysis: Michigan International Speedway is similar to California Speedway. The track is tough on engines and attrition is usually a factor. Drivers like the track because there is a lot of room to pass. Three-wide, and even four-wide, racing is commonplace and drivers can pass just about anywhere. Long green runs are the norm, so fuel strategy often comes into play. Wrecks are most common coming out of the corners as it is easy for drivers to carry too much speed out of the turns and slide toward the wall. The race surface is NASCAR's first to use polymer-enhanced asphalt, which protects the track from Michigan's cold winters.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Analysis: New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been described as "Martinsville on Steroids." Both tracks share a paper clip shape and shallow banking. With the limited banking, teams will often play with the springs to get the car to turn properly. Like Martinsville, passing is difficult, and the way to pass is to get inside someone on the straightaway and out brake them at the turn. Lapped cars become a factor late in the race, as well, so track position is extremely important. Using tire strategy to gain track position is an option, as New Hampshire was recently resurfaced and the track isn't too rough on tires.
Phoenix International Raceway
Analysis: Phoenix International Raceway poses a unique challenge, as its set of long, sweeping turns is very different from one another. If a car is good in one turn it is likely to be loose or tight in the other. Teams spend the race making adjustments to find the right balance of speed and handling in each turn. Adjustments are also necessary to keep up with the track, which will get hotter as the race wears on. Passing on corner entry is the safer bet. Drivers are able to pass coming out of the turns, but most accidents occur when cars run out of space and pinch each other coming out of the corner exits.
Location: Long Pond, Penn.
Analysis: Pocono Raceway is as big as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but it is not as fast because of the flat banking and the existence of three, instead of the usual two, sets of turns. Additionally, each turn is very different from another, so teams are forced to compromise on their set up. Like the other flat tracks, downforce is very important. Engine problems are relatively common at Pocono because of the extreme shift in RPMs, with cars gearing way down in the sharp corners and then approaching 200 MPH in the front stretch. The best way to pass is to beat another driver to the gas coming out of the turns.
Texas Motor Speedway
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Analysis: Texas Motor Speedway is an extremely fast track. Cars run soft springs to maximize speed and grip, which can be hard on tires. If a car does blow a tire, a hard hit into the wall is usually the result. This is most common in Turn 4. Like a lot of high speed tracks, engine performance is a big factor with engine attrition and fuel strategy coming into play. Passing on the track is very difficult, so despite the tire concerns, teams will often employ two-tire stops and or have their drivers stay out late in the race.
Superspeedways (2.5-Plus Miles)
Daytona International Speedway
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Analysis: Daytona International Speedway is one of two tracks where speed is limited by the use of restrictor plates that place a ceiling on the engines' horsepower. However, the cars still run at very high speeds and drafting off other cars is the key to success. Drafting is the technique of using the air coming off another car to break wind resistance and create downforce for your own car. If a car loses the draft, it will run one or two seconds slower per lap. Handling is a big factor at Daytona, as well. With cars running at the same speeds and drafting off one another, the cars race around the track in tight packs, three- and four-wide. Any mistake by one car can lead to a multiple-car accident known to fans as "the Big One."
Location: Talladega, Ala.
Analysis: Talladega Superspeedway is the other restrictor plate track on the Sprint Cup schedule. How effectively the drivers use the draft off other cars, to create downforce for their own cars, is the key to winning. Handling is not as important at Talladega as at Daytona, and tire strategy can come into play. Cars race in large packs creating lanes of cars three- and four-wide. It is important for cars to be able to run several different lines, as it is hard to tell which lane is going to move the fastest. The best way to pass is to get in the fastest lane and use the draft to get a run. Turn 2 is the most likely place for the "Big One" as it is very sharp.
Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Analysis: Infineon Raceway is one of two race tracks on the circuit where the racing is so different that teams will regularly bring in specialist drivers to compete. These drivers are known as "road course ringers," due to their skill and experience on these flat tracks with right hand turns. Another unique feature at Infineon is the track's changes in elevation. As far as the set up, drivers want a balanced car that can turn in both directions. The course requires a lot of shifting, so the car's transmission is a major concern. Passing is difficult, so qualifying and track position is important. Pit strategy is usually planned in advance, and pit stops are not necessarily dictated by cautions.
Watkins Glen International
Location: Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Analysis: Like Infineon, Watkins Glen International brings out the road course specialists to handle a track with no banking and right turns. Qualifying is important and track position is important. Pit strategy at the course is very different from other tracks. Teams do not depend on cautions to dictate when they pit. Cars do not go a lap down when pitting under green, so a caution coming out while a team is in the pits can be an advantage. Pit boxes are on the right, further differentiating the track for pit crews. Passes usually result from outbraking another car into the corner. Most passes take place in Turn 1, the inner loop or Turn 6. Unlike other Sprint Cup races, cars are set up to qualify and race in the rain, if necessary.
About Jeffrey Price
Price has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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