When you think of a NASCAR race track, what comes to mind? If it’s an oval shape with cars going round and round, then you’re not entirely wrong, but you’re unfortunately missing the bigger picture.
NASCAR race on 39 Race tracks overall and usually around 26 used in a given season. These can be both road and Oval racetracks. The longest oval track in the NASCAR series is Talladega at 2.66 miles long, and the longest road track is the Road America course at 4.048 miles long.
Across the US and Canada there are 39 different NASCAR tracks of different lengths, shapes and types. The current NASCAR Cup Series races on 26 of those tracks, with a few special ones thrown in like the Charlotte Roval, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and two different ones added on each year to make a total of 30 tracks used annually. Like for the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the The Los Angeles Coliseum.
The variety of tracks brings a lot of special vocabulary into the mix, the most important of which we will try to cover in today’s blog. Let’s see if we can’t get to the bottom of just how long a NASCAR track really is.
Broadly speaking, NASCAR tracks can be broken down into 3 types when discussing their length. Those tracks that are less than a mile are known as “Short Tracks.” If the track is more than 2 miles in length, then it’s called a “Superspeedway.” Those in between 1 and 2 miles are normally referred to as “Intermediate Tracks.”
Another way that NASCAR tracks are classified is by their banking. This refers to the angle at which the track banks downward from outside to in. The 2 tracks with the steepest banking are Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, and Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
Here’s a quick rundown of the Talladega Superspeedway Banking:
- Turns 1 & 2: 33°
- Turn 3: 32.4°
- Turn 4: 32.5°
- Tri-oval: 16.5°
- Back straight: 3°
The banking had become such a concern at one point in 1987 after a crash in Talladega that NASCAR vehicles should use restrictor plates. As time went on, however, drivers complained that the restrictor plates made things worse because they caused drivers to bunch up together in order to draft off one another.
The cars being bunched up was hardly safe since a single car up front crashing could create a mega pile-up! (The Big One) Such a thing happened in 2012 at Talladega involving 25 cars. NASCAR began removing restrictor plates from the 2019 Daytona 500, and then with the Next gen car they are looking at downforce to keep the cars on the track.
As we mentioned in the introduction, the most common NASCAR track shape is an oval, but others include the tri-oval at the Michigan International Speedway, the quad-oval at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina, and the unique track at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina which is an oval with ends of different lengths.
Most unique among the oval tracks is arguably the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, which is a triangular oval shape. (the Tricky Triangle)
Besides the ovals, the NASCAR track list includes a number of road courses. The Cup Series currently visits a number of these including: Circuit of the Americas (Texas), Road America (Wisconsin), Watkins Glen (New York), and Sonoma (California).
In addition, there are the Charlotte Roval (North Carolina) and the Indianapolis Road Course (Indiana) which combine both oval and road course elements.
Since ovals are so common, let’s first look at the biggest of them. The largest NASCAR oval track is the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, which has a total length of 2.66 miles. Among all NASCAR tracks, however, it’s above-mentioned Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin that is the longest at 4.048 miles.
- Longest Oval: Talladega Superspeedway (Alabama) – 2.66 miles
- Longest Track Overall: Road America (Wisconsin) – 4.048 miles
When it comes to the shortest tracks, the shortest overall track is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in California, with a track length of just 0.250 miles. It’s not just the shortest overall, but the shortest among the “short track” category. Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia is the shortest track on the Cup Series circuit at just 0.526 miles. The shortest road course is the Portland International Raceway in Oregon, measuring at 1.9 miles.
- Shortest Overall: LA Memorial Coliseum (California) – 0.250 miles
- Shortest in Cup Series: Martinsville Speedway (Virginia) – 0.526 miles
- Shortest Road Course: Portland International Raceway (Oregon) – 1.9 miles
However all of these tracks fall well short of the world record longest track. Which you can probably work out. The Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany at 12.9 miles long is the longest permanent race track in the world.
With most NASCAR tracks being oval in shape, one wonders how you can look at the tracks as particularly “challenging” when compared, for instance, to the intricate nightmares that are presented to Formula 1 drivers, or those who take on the Nurburgring. In fact, NASCAR tracks are arguably challenging because they are seemingly so straightforward.
Above we’ve already made mention of Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway and its infamous banking that made it challenging and dangerous enough to change the face of the entire sport when they introduced restrictor plates in the late 1980s.
Another track known for its trickiness is the Bristol Motor Speedway, a short track in Tennessee. It’s only half a mile in length, but features banking of up to 30° on the turns, and up to 10° on the straights.
An oval track infamous for its difficult shape is the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. This 1.366-mile track features just 4 turns like many other tracks, but the track is more egg-shaped than an even oval.
That means at one end the turn is much wider and more open, but at the other is conversely much tighter. Switching between the two different styles at high speeds is obviously no mean feat. That’s why they call Darlington “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
Now, when you get to the road courses, things get very tricky. The most infamous are the Circuit of the Americas (Austin, TX), Sonoma Raceway (Sonoma, CA), and Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI). Circuit of the Americas has by far the most turns, numbering 19 in total, 5 more turns than the next most at Road America. Other road courses typically feature 12-13 turns.
However, just to prove that it’s the deceptively simple shape that brings the most problems, the deadliest track in NASCAR is the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, having witnessed the death of 14 NASCAR drivers.
Here are a few notable laps completed at NASCAR’s most famous tracks: We have included these as the fastest but some times races take a little longer than expected. We have a whole article on the longest races, and the shortest right here. and below.
|Talladega Superspeedway (2.66 miles)||44.998||Bill Elliott (1987)|
|Darlington Raceway (1.366 miles)||26.705||Aric Almirola (2014)|
|Bristol Motor Speedway (0.533 miles)||13.326||Sam Hafertepe Jr. (2021)|
|Circuit of the Americas (2.3 miles)||93.5951||Jamie Whincup (2013)|
|Daytona Int’l Speedway Tri-Oval (2.5 miles)||40.364||Colin Braun (2013)|
|Daytona Int’l Speedway Road (3.57 miles)||115.677||Chase Elliott (2021)|
|Road America (4.048 miles)||101.874||Alex Zanardi (1998)|
|Martinsville Speedway (0.526 miles)||18.746||Greg Sacks (1986)|
Although Road courses are the longest of NASCAR tracks, it is the ovals that hold the appeal. Having 40 cars speed round the 2.66 miles banks of Talladega Superspeedway is an experience that no other motor sport can offer.
Formula one and Indy focus on road courses and NASCAR has 3 or 4 of these a season, these courses are longer but offer a very different experience. The longest NASCAR Road course as we highlighted is Road America at 4.038 miles long, and due to its nature can’t achieve the speeds of the big Ovals.
Short course racing again like at Martinsville, or the ultra short Los Angeles Coliseum at 0.25 miles (or 10 times shorter than Talladega) , offer something different again.
So whether you like your NASCAR on long or short courses, at least you have the option of both, something many other motorsports don’t offer you.