NASCAR: Track and driver guide

Updated: June 21, 2007, 10:58 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | Special to ESPN.com

It should go without saying: all racetracks are not built alike. Some are short, some are long. Some are shallow-banked, some are steep. Some are asphalt, some are concrete. Some actually have right-hand turns. Nextel Cup teams necessarily treat each racing venue as a separate entity, but like Lenny Kravitz deciding which Beatles song to rip off next, drivers take things they've learned at one track, and apply it to similar venues.

Driver history at individual venues is perhaps the single most important tool when you evaluate which fantasy drivers you want representing your team each week. But what happens when the Smokeless Set heads to a one-event place like Chicagoland or Kansas? Can you really count on what Jeff Gordon did five years ago? That's why equivalents are so important. Look at the configurations of a racetrack and find ones that are similar, and look at results at those other venues as well.

The chart below gives summary information for all the venues currently on the Nextel Cup schedule. When you make picks in a given week, we recommend you consider the current and previous years' performances at similar tracks. Use this chart, and soon you'll be thinking ahead like a fantasy racing god. Of course, soon enough we're going to also have to start tracking how Car of Tomorrow results differ from "traditional car" results; but for now, this is the data we've got:

Track Length (mi) Banking (degrees)
Atlanta 1.5 24
Charlotte 1.5 24
Texas 1.5 24
Kansas 1.5 15
Fontana 2 14
Michigan 2 18
Chicagoland 1.5 18
New Hampshire 1 12
Martinsville .5 12
Phoenix 1 11 and 9
Richmond .75 14
Bristol .5 36
Homestead 1.5 20
Las Vegas 1.5 20
Dover 1 24
Darlington 1.33 25 and 23
Indianapolis 2.5 9
Pocono 2.5 14, 8 and 6
Daytona 2.5 31
Talladega 2.66 33
Watkins Glen 2.5 road
Sears Point 2 road

Track Grouping Explanations

Atlanta-Charlotte-Texas: Other than perhaps the road courses and superspeedways, this is the tightest grouping, because these cousin cookie-cutters are damn well near identical. If a guy dominates one, it's often safe to assume he's going to perform quite well at the others. The only caveat here is that Charlotte made a complete mess of its racing surface in 2005; it smoothed it so fine and gave the track so much grip that the softer Goodyears couldn't stand the speeds, which led to a comical number of blown tires. As a result, the track's owners had to repave the track surface with a "next-generation" asphalt (one, presumably, voiced-over by Jean-Luc Picard), and the two '06 Charlotte events did feature fewer accidents.

Kansas-Fontana-Michigan-Chicagoland: This isn't a straight-up foursome. The tracks which bear the most similarity are the two 2-milers, Fontana and Michigan. They're both Penske creations, and while the Fontana venue doesn't get the winters that the Michigan track does up in the Irish Hills, they still ride relatively similarly. (As we'll see, the Roush cars tend to dominate races at these places.) Kansas and Chicagoland both have single events each year, and are basically stand-alone tracks. However, Kansas bears a semi-strong resemblance to Chicagoland, and a somewhat fainter resemblance to Fontana, while Chicagoland bears a semi-strong resemblance to Kansas, and a somewhat fainter resemblance to Michigan. Yes, Kansas and Chicagoland are both 1.5-milers, but they really don't resemble the Atlanta-Charlotte-Texas triumvirate.

New Hampshire-Martinsville-Phoenix-Richmond: Ah, the flatties. These flat tracks certainly have variations among them, not least of which is length. One-mile Phoenix and New Hampshire tend to feature rather similar results (though their layouts are quite different), because they require similar car setups. Martinsville and Richmond are both short tracks, but have very different layouts (Martinsville is a paper clip, while Richmond has some pretty good banking). Not everyone who's good at one of these tracks is good at all of them. But as a season progresses, take a look at which drivers have performed well at a couple of these venues, and that will be a guy you can ride hard later in the season, as the cars return to these places.

Bristol-Homestead-Las Vegas-Dover-Darlington: These are steep tracks that don't adhere to the cookie-cutter formula, and they're certainly the loosest group on this list. Bristol is often referred to as a "mini-Dover" (or, rather, Dover is referred to as a "Big Bristol"); at 36 degrees, Bristol is the steepest-banked joint on the circuit, and is basically a big concrete bowl. Dover is also concrete, and the high torque and aggressive driving styles that work on one usually work on the other. Same for the new configuration of Homestead, which used to be a flat track, but acquired some steep corners a few years ago. That grouping of three has worked pretty well for us in the past. The wild cards here are Darlington and Las Vegas. Darlington, also known as "The Lady in Black," is definitely steep-banked enough to qualify for this group, but its sandpaper racing surface and difficult, narrow exits out of the turns make it its own animal. Darlington also encourages sliding out of the corners, which gives it something in common with Texas, among others. Meanwhile, like Homestead, Las Vegas Motor Speedway used to be a flat track, until its owners rebuilt the track's turns in the fall of '06. Now its configuration is something like the new Homestead, though we haven't seen a Nextel Cup race here yet.

Indianapolis-Pocono: These two tracks are shallow-banked, but they're much larger than the Phoenix group we mentioned above, so they warrant their own category. The Brickyard in Indy obviously requires a lot of horsepower, but it's a shallow-banked place, so it's not at all an equivalent of your superspeedways. Pocono is a tri-cornered place set up to run partly like a speedway and partly like a road course; teams tend to set their cars up to work best off of Turn 3, the 6-degree turn, which is why we find that racers who do well at shallow Indy tend to do well at Pocono.

Daytona-Talladega: This grouping should go without saying. These are the only two restrictor-plate tracks on the Cup circuit. Metal plates are placed over the carburetors, limiting the amount of air intake into the cars, which inhibits their speeds. Basically, before restrictor plates, cars were going too fast, both for proper safety and for competitive races. What results is a pack of cars going around and around about 6 inches from one another. He who can draft best in these packs, and avoid "The Big One," will win races.

Watkins Glen-Sears Point: Our last grouping is equally obvious: it's the only pair of tracks where drivers make right-hand turns. These are road courses, and you'll find any number of savvy Nextel Cup veteran reduced to blubbering by these twisty venues. Only a few drivers are worth starting at these places: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and perhaps Kevin Harvick are chief among them. In addition, you'll notice that a series of "Road Course Ringers" will descend upon the circuit in those two weeks; guys like Boris Said, Scott Pruett and Ron Fellows are names you need to know for just such an occasion.

Track Aces

Of course, while track similarities are a good starting place, it would be oversimplifying things to say that the groupings above are the be-all and end-all of race analysis. Some venues simply suit certain drivers because of their history, their crew, their geography, the proximity of their headquarters, etc. So let's take an anecdotal look at each track, and which drivers come to mind for each.

Elsewhere in this kit, you'll find a far more statistical representation of how every driver fares at every Cup track. But here are some nice rules of thumb, discussing which drivers have tended to be consistent threats at which tracks. We'll look venue-by-venue, and give you our favorite notes about the drivers to consider when the Cup cars come calling. (Note: we're not saying these are necessarily the best guys every single race at a given track; we're just saying they're consistent, and worth mentioning.)

Track Drivers Notes
Daytona Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior's a restrictor-plate king; though he's "only" won here twice, he's a perennial favorite.
Jimmie Johnson He finally broke his plate-track curse at the '06 Daytona 500, but he's got seven top-10 finishes here in his last nine tries.
Tony Stewart Six consecutive top-10s, including two wins in his last three Daytona outings.
Daytona Sleeper Kurt Busch He'll wreck in the occasional plate race, but when he stays clean, he's proven he understands the draft well.
Fontana Carl Edwards Roush does very well at this track, and no one more so than King Carl, who's got a third, two fourths, a fifth and a sixth in his five starts here.
Kasey Kahne Kahne wrecked the field at cookie-cutters in '06, and Fontana was no exception; he won one and finished fourth in the other.
Matt Kenseth Another Roushketeer who's money on the big 2-milers.
Jimmie Johnson Johnson has finished in second place in three consecutive spring Fontana events.
Fontana Sleeper Clint Bowyer A third and a 14th as a rookie is pretty good; he's got the requisite smoothness to do well on the wide tracks.
Las Vegas Matt Kenseth Kenseth won two straight Vegas events, then finished second last year. Of course, the track is completely changed now, so it's hard to think these results will directly translate.
Greg Biffle If Homestead is suddenly a better equivalent for this newly 20-degree-banked track, Biffle's your man. He's won Homestead three years running.
Las Vegas Sleeper Martin Truex Jr. Well, he finished second in his first Homestead run.
Atlanta Kasey Kahne Just put his name down for all the 1.5-mile cookie cutters; he won four out of six races on that track style.
Tony Stewart Two-time winner at this track, to go with 10 top-10s in his last 11 Atlanta events.
Carl Edwards Swept Atlanta in '05.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Back-to-back third places in '06 marks a return to downforce-track competence for the No. 8.
Atlanta Sleeper Jeff Burton Had a couple heartbreakers in Atlanta in '06, and clearly made a lot of progress on this track type.
Bristol Kurt Busch Busch the Elder has five wins and eight top-10s in his last 10 races in the Bristol bullring.
Matt Kenseth Two wins, seven top-5s and nine top-10s over the last five years at this track.
Kevin Harvick Just one win here, but eight top-10s in his last 11 Bristol tries.
Bristol Sleeper Denny Hamlin His first two Bristol visits came sixth and 14th; it's mighty hard for anyone to stay that smooth here, let alone a rookie.
Martinsville Jeff Gordon We're going to go ahead and say that seven career wins at this track makes Gordon pretty good here.
Tony Stewart He wasn't great here until recently, but the last four times out, he's had close to the best Martinsville car.
Jimmie Johnson Two wins and nothing lower than ninth place in his last nine visits to the paper clip.
Martinsville Sleeper Jamie McMurray His only career Cup win came here, and he's got five other top-10 finishes at this track, too.
Texas Jimmie Johnson He boasts a tremendous finishing average here (6.29) without ever having won a race.
Tony Stewart Four top-5s and a win in his last five events here.
Denny Hamlin Rookie of the Year is no surprise any longer; he finished fourth and 10th on this track in '06.
Texas Sleeper Casey Mears He's a new Hendrick driver, and he's shown he loves the faster tracks.
Phoenix Kevin Harvick He swept Phoenix in '06, and truthfully was the best flat-track driver out there. That kind of came out of nowhere; we'll have to see if it translates to '07.
Jeff Gordon He has a tremendous finishing average here (sixth), but it's one of just three tracks where he's never won.
Carl Edwards Supplants his former teammate Kurt Busch, who was money here when racing for Roush. Edwards has four straight top-10s at the Phoenix egg.
Phoenix Sleeper Brian Vickers This is a bit out of left field, but if Vickers is going to be competitive anywhere with a brand-new team, it's likely to be a non-downforce track. He was good on the flatties with Hendrick in '06.
Talladega Dale Earnhardt Jr. See Daytona notes above, except in the case of Talladega, Junior has five wins (though none have come since '04).
Tony Stewart Famously traded barbs (via a T-shirt) with Alabama fans, and hasn't won here, but he's got four second-place finishes.
Kurt Busch Better here than Daytona; he's got five straight top-8 finishes.
Talladega Sleeper Dale Jarrett It's hard to know what to expect from DJ and Michael Waltrip racing, but you have to love the fact that Jarrett will just hang around the back of a race, waiting for the final 30 laps.
Darlington Greg Biffle He's got two straight wins at the Lady In Black. Any track where Biffle can slide coming out of the turns on his old tires, and he's happy.
Jimmie Johnson Five straight top-10s and two wins in that span.
Ryan Newman Darlington was just about the only venue that didn't make Newman run backwards in '06.
Darlington Sleeper Robby Gordon He led some laps here last year, and has been very solid at Darlington three years running.
Richmond Kyle Busch He's got four starts here. His results? Second, fourth, fourth, fifth.
Kevin Harvick As part of his flat-track domination in '06, he came first and third at this joint.
Kasey Kahne Took his first Cup win here, and has challenged for the win in three of the last four Richmond events.
Richmond Sleeper Denny Hamlin This track is in his backyard, and he grew up racing it. He had the pole and the lead for a while in the fall Richmond race.
Charlotte Jimmie Johnson The name on his car hood is the same as the name on the stadium. He's won five times here, and has placed first, second or third in eight straight Lowe's events.
Kasey Kahne His stranglehold on the 1.5-mile, high-banked unrestricted speedways extended to two wins in Charlotte last year.
Carl Edwards He likes Atlanta a little more, but its sister track is kind to Edwards, too.
Charlotte Sleeper Joe Nemechek Can Ginn Racing get it together? If so, Front Row Joe has been known to be strong at this venue.
Dover Matt Kenseth He could very well have swept Dover in '06, but he ran out of gas at the end of the second race.
Jeff Burton Never historically the strongest guy here, but came first and fourth in '06.
Ryan Newman Dover's his favorite track on the Cup circuit, but he couldn't make the Dodge Charger work anywhere last year. If the Charger's new nose is better in '07, watch out.
Dover Sleeper Kyle Busch 40th-place finish in second '06 Dover race belies success he had previously.
Pocono Denny Hamlin Hamlin swept both Pocono races from the pole last season for his first two Nextel Cup wins.
Kurt Busch He won here in the fall of '05, then finished second behind Hamlin in both races last season.
Carl Edwards The numbers aren't there, but don't be fooled: Edwards has had some unbelievably bad luck on his last two visits to this track.
Pocono Sleeper Brian Vickers What the heck, we'll mention Team Red Bull again. Vickers had twin fourth-place finishes at this track in '06, but of course, he won't have Hendrick horsepower under him in '07.
Michigan Matt Kenseth Roush kicks this track's behind like no other, perhaps because its headquarters are nearby. Kenseth has never finished below 17th here, has won twice, and has 10 top-10s in 15 outings.
Carl Edwards Another Roushketeer, Edwards has four top-10s (and three top-5s) in five career Michigan starts.
Greg Biffle A trifecta for Roush. Biffle has two wins and five straight top-10s here.
Michigan Sleeper Reed Sorenson The Ganassi rookie submitted an eighth and a fifth in his first two big-boy stops here.
Sears Point Tony Stewart We know the numbers don't call him the best finisher at this track, but he's an otherworldly road-course driver.
Jeff Gordon And if it's not Smoke Stewart, it's Jeffy-Jeff. Gordon has five wins at this track, and four at Watkins Glen.
Robby Gordon He's maybe the most technically talented road-course driver, though he's often too reckless to stay competitive at these places.
Sears Point Sleepers Road-Course Ringers Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett will almost assuredly run this race, and they do the right-hand turns as well as anyone. Watch out for Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick, too.
Chicagoland Jimmie Johnson Johnson's never won here, but he's also never finished outside sixth place.
Jeff Gordon Last year's winner also has a second and two fourths here.
Tony Stewart His crash here last year started his points trouble, but before that he'd posted a first, second, third and fifth.
Chicagoland Sleeper Kevin Harvick Has fallen on harder times here lately, but remember he won the first two Cup events ever run here.
New Hampshire Tony Stewart If he doesn't wreck here, he's amazing: a win and two seconds in Loudon over the last two seasons.
Matt Kenseth Smooth as silk, Kenseth brakes softer than just about anyone on the circuit, and will get you a top-10 here.
Kevin Harvick Once again, Loudon was part of his flat-track domination of '06.
New Hampshire Sleeper Denny Hamlin A fourth and a sixth in his two rookie-year starts up here, the second of which came as the first race of a Chase where Hamlin finished a surprising third.
Indianapolis Matt Kenseth He hasn't won the Brickyard yet, but he's come awfully close: two seconds, a third and a fifth.
Tony Stewart This race may mean more to him than anyone else; half the Indy stands are filled with his friends and family.
Indianapolis Sleeper Clint Bowyer What the heck: he finished fourth here last year.
Watkins Glen Tony Stewart A 3.2 finishing average here over the last five seasons is simply ridiculous.
Robby Gordon He's actually been the better Gordon at this joint lately; he has a win and four top-5s in his last five tries.
Kevin Harvick A very solid road-racer who simply ran way from the field at this event in '06.
Watkins Glen Sleepers Road-Course Ringers It's the same story here as at Sears Point; because many Cup drivers aren't well-versed in road-racing, guys like Boris Said, Scott Pruett and Ron Fellows will take over someone's ride, and run really well.
Kansas Tony Stewart What a surprise! Tony Stewart likes a cookie-cutter track?
Mark Martin The main thing about Kansas' short history is its lack of consistency. Martin may be in a new, part-time ride in '07, but if he drives Kansas, he's got a shot.
Kansas Sleeper Jeremy Mayfield It remains to be seen if Bill Davis Racing can stay competitive this year. But if they can, Mayfield has a nice little history at this track.
Homestead Greg Biffle Three straight wins at a venue will tend to make you the favorite there.
Kevin Harvick Harvick has four straight top-10 finishes in the four events since Homestead was reconfigured.
Carl Edwards He's been consistently top-10 material at this track.
Homestead Sleeper Denny Hamlin If the kid can finish third here with the championship on the line, who knows what he's capable of?

Driver Mentions:

11: Tony Stewart

7: Jimmie Johnson
Matt Kenseth
Carl Edwards
Kevin Harvick

6: Denny Hamlin

4: Greg Biffle
Jeff Gordon
Kasey Kahne
Kurt Busch

3: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Robby Gordon

2: Brian Vickers
Clint Bowyer
Jeff Burton
Kyle Busch
Ryan Newman

1: Casey Mears
Dale Jarrett
Jamie McMurray
Jeremy Mayfield
Joe Nemechek
Mark Martin
Martin Truex Jr.
Reed Sorenson

If you have a question on Fantasy NASCAR, you can email Chris here.

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