NASCAR likes to be able to classify all of the tracks that make up the Sprint Cup schedule into one of four categories depending upon the length of the track. Each class of tracks has its own distinctive set of similarities, but each track within a class also has enough subtle differences that it produces its own unique style of racing.
The smallest category of tracks is known as the short tracks that consist of only the tracks of Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond. Short tracks are less than a mile in length and foster a very physical style of racing that produces plenty of bent and twisted sheet metal. Short tracks are also famous for causing a driver’s temper to rise to the point that after race confrontations are not an uncommon sight.
The intermediate tracks make up the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule and this category begins with tracks at least a mile in length. The distances vary greatly in the class as there are mile tracks like Dover and New Hampshire, but the bulk of the intermediate category is composed of the mileand half tracks of Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte, Kansas, Chicago, Miami and Kentucky. Even though these tracks are sometimes referred to as “cookie-cutter” tracks because of their similar layouts, each track still can boast of producing its own style of racing that cannot be found at any other track on the schedule.
California, Indianapolis, Michigan and Pocono are all two miles or greater in length and even though some like to pigeonhole them as an intermediate track, they are usually put into a special category. These tracks generally do not have the banking of the intermediate tracks and the racing that is produced on these tracks usually has less wrecks and can easily turn into fuel mileage races where pit strategy becomes as important as what is taking place out on the track.
The tracks of Watkins Glen and Sonoma are unique because their layouts include both right- and left-hand turns as well as elevation changes in the track. These are the only two tracks that make up the road course category and both tracks only host one race a season.
That leaves only one category of track and that is the superspeedways of Talladega and Daytona. The racing at these two tracks is similar, not because the two tracks are so alike, but because NASCAR mandates the use of restrictor plates at the superspeedways. Restrictor plates put a limit on the horsepower that a car produces that makes the field more even than at any other track on the schedule. Cars stay in large packs that, as we found out on Sunday, produce the perfect environment for high-speed drafting which in turn can lead to multi-car crashes that can take out a huge portion of the field at any time.
Sunday’s Geico 500 from Talladega Superspeedway was the perfect example of what is the norm anytime the green flag waves at either of the superspeedways. The so-called “big one”, which refers to the multi-car crashes during restrictor plate racing, took place with two separate crashes involving 17 and 21 cars. When the green flag finally waved, there were less than 10 cars that escaped the day without being involved in an accident. Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag, but was never in control of the final outcome until the final restart with four laps to go when he got a great push to propel him into the lead. From that point on he practiced the superspeedway art form of blocking any run that another driver may have had until one of the big crashes happened on the final lap that froze the field as the yellow flag was waved.
While Keselowski took the checkered flag, the run that thirdplace driver Austin Dillon put in really summed up superspeedway racing. He was involved in two major crashes that left the front end of his Chevrolet being held together with tape. He ended up pitting 16 times during the race with many of the stops just to repair his damaged car, but found himself 17th with three laps remaining. It was then that he got some drafting help that pushed him to his third topfive finish of the year. That kind of finish would have been impossible at any other kind of track, but that is superspeedway racing where being in the right place at the right time is more important than the condition of your car.
Race Preview Event: GoBowling.com 400 Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5- mile D-Shaped Oval with 15o of banking in the turns). Date: May 7, 7:30 p.m. TV: FOX Sports 1. Radio: MRN. Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson.