We have seen only a few of these breakdowns of touch NASCAR race tracks online and have decided to give our attempt a little more for the statistics minded among us. How tough a track is can depend on a few factors, driver preference, weather, length and speed, and perhaps most importantly cornering. We take a look at the five toughest tracks in NASCAR below.
NASCAR has many difficult racetracks. Oval and Road can present tough challenges due to multiple factors: cornering is difficult at Pocono with its tri-oval design, the egg-shaped layout of Darlington Raceway and the banks and short track at Bristol and Martinsville also provide difficulties for NASCAR drivers.
The first thing we wanted to address is that as popular as top ten lists are there are only 30 or so NASCAR tracks in the Series. So talking a little about how touch a third of them are seems like an overkill. Instead we talk alot about how tough the top five NASCAR tracks are instead!!
5. Pocono Raceway
The Pocono Raceway hosts two current NASCAR Cup Series races: The Pocono Organics CBD 325 and The Explore the Pocono Mountains 350. The track is a superspeedway, which means that it is an oval with a length of over two miles. Pocono Raceway has a length of 2.5 miles, with only three turns as it has a triangular shape.
Due to this rare shape, it is nicknamed ‘The Tricky Triangle’. It is located in the Pocono Mountain region which is located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The tracks three turns each have a different level of banking, and they are each modelled on a turn at a different circuit.
- Turn one has 14° of banking and it is modelled after Trenton Speedway,
- Turn two has 8° of banking and it is modelled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Turn three has 6° of banking and it is modelled after the Milwaukee Mile.
Why is Pocono a Tough NASCAR Track?
The track is very long, and the sharp turns and low banking make the average speed fairly slow. Therefore, Pocono is sometimes called a ‘roval’, the cross between a road course and an oval, this makes tough driver conditions for drivers where a loss in positional awareness can have them flying into corners too fast.
The design is so unique that it is very important for the teams and drivers to set up their car in the best way possible to nail the tricky triangle track.
4. Martinsville Speedway
The Martinsville Speedway also hosts two current NASCAR Cup Series races: The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400, as well as the Xfinity 500. The track is unique, being one of the shortest tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, at 0.562 miles, as well as being the only track to be on the NASCAR schedule every year since the beginning in 1948.
It is also the only oval track in NASCAR to have asphalt straights and concrete turns. The straights are long, and the turns are flat and narrow, giving the track the nickname ‘The Paperclip’. The track has four turns, each with a banking angle of 12°.
Why is Martinsville a Tough NASCAR Track?
The straights have no banking. The race lap record is just under 19 seconds, which is very short, and so the races tend to have many laps. The track is difficult as it requires the drivers to brake hard at the correct points when going into turns, as well as accelerate out of the turns very smoothly.
It is a very hard track, and drivers have described it as a mental challenge that requires discipline and concentration. This challenging aspect shows, as nearly every big record at the track is held by a NASCAR Cup Series champion.
3. Watkins Glen International
The NASCAR Cup Series races on seven road courses, with Watkins Glen being one of them. The series have raced at the road course, which is located in New York, in every season since 1986. The current annual race at the circuit is known as ‘Go Bowling at The Glen’.
The track, which is made of asphalt, is 2.454 miles long. It has eight turns, but no banking as road courses do not tend to have banked turns. The circuit is very popular amongst American drivers and fans, and it is considered to be one of the best road courses in the country.
Why is Watkins Glen a Tough NASCAR Track?
Road courses present a challenge for NASCAR drivers, as they are very different from the ovals. They have right turns, and each turn is different. Watkins Glen International, which is known as ‘The Glen’ has rises and dips in elevation.
‘Divebombing’ is also possible into the narrow turn one, which comes after a long front stretch. The back stretch is also long, and it leads to a turn known as ‘the bus stop’, where the drivers have to slow down dramatically to go through a tight inner loop.
The track poses such different racing conditions that some teams will opt to run drivers who have road course experience in the place of the normal ‘oval specialists’ who may find it tough to race competitively, these are half affectionately know as road ringers.
2. Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway is a short oval track that is located in Bristol, Tennessee. The track is just 0.533 miles long, which has earned it the nickname ‘The World’s Fastest Half-Mile’. The track is the fourth largest sports venue in America.
The speeds are far lower than other NASCAR ovals, but faster than other short tracks. This is due to the high banking, which ranges between 26° and 30° around the four turns. The straights have banking of 6° to 10°.
Why is Bristol a Tough NASCAR Track?
The banking is very steep, which makes the track thrilling and difficult to drive. The track currently hosts two NASCAR cup series races: The Food City Dirt Race and The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
The track also features two pit roads due to the limited space which stops garages from being built. The extreme banking also means that there is a lot of car contact.
The initial starting grid for NASCAR races can also take up half the track, meaning that slow cars in qualifying will start the race almost half a lap behind the leaders. The track is also very narrow, which makes it nearly impossible to go three-wide.
1. Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is located in Darlington, South Carolina. It has been given the nickname ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame’ by many NASCAR fans and drivers. It currently hosts both the annual Goodyear 400 and the Southern 500.
It is an asphalt oval with a strange egg-shape, the is caused by the fact that the tracks two ends have very different configurations. This is said to be due to the fact that one of the ends is located near a pond which the owner refused to abandon.
Why is Darlington a Tough NASCAR Track?
This makes it very hard for the teams and drivers to set up their car so that it will be effective at both ends. The track is 1.366 miles long. The first two turns have a banking angle of 25°, whilst the third and the fourth have a banking angle of 23°.
The straights are also slightly banked, with the front straight at 3° and the back straight at 2°. The track is also difficult as it was built for speeds up to 95 miles per hour, but today speeds reach around 200 miles per hour.
Some say that you have to race the track and not the drivers, as the circuit is so difficult to get right. This makes the racing very challenging.
Although we have numbered these from 5 to 1 it is hard to say hand on heart that these are the toughest NASCAR tracks, that distinction probably depends on the track that is being raced on an given day. Motor racing is not one car lapping on its own, if it was difficulty and toughness of track would be easier to evidence and quantify. It is 40 race drivers dealing with an evolving situation at 200 miles an hour over 500 miles!
However, dealing with that on certain tracks can certainly present more difficulties and tough situations that others and the corners of Pocono’s tricky triangle often make these tough lists, as do the banking and short courses of Martinsville and Bristol.
So the list of toughest race tracks still remains relevant, even if the events on race day can make even the gentlest of tracks bite back. and the toughest smooth as silk.