If your fall travel plans include going to see an exciting race, you're not alone. Every year, more of the country catches NASCAR fever, and due to its wide geographic swath, a great race is easy to catch. Fall may well be the most exciting time to travel to a NASCAR event.
Fall officially begins on September 22nd just in time for NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup, the playoff system developed and implemented in 2004 for the sanctioning body’s top division. In the Chase, the top ten in points at the end of twenty-six races, plus the two drivers with the most wins outside of the top ten, have their points reset and duke it out for the last ten races of the year.
Through the years, NASCAR’s Chase has produced some of the closest championship battles in NASCAR’s sixty-plus-year history. Last year, a tie breaker had to decide the champion, and this season is already shaping up to be a knockdown-dragout fight to the finish through all four corners of the US.
Kicking off NASCAR’s fall stint on September 23rd is New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, the second race of the Chase. Referred to as the ”magic mile,” New Hampshire is a flat one-mile oval that provides excellent side-by-side racing and nail-biting finishes. The long straights combined with the slow tight turns make the track difficult and hazardous to navigate around for the drivers.New Hampshire's front straight — Photo courtesy of aresauburn
Last year’s race was won by the eventual champion, Tony Stewart. History shows that since the Chase was created, half of all NASCAR champions have chalked up a win in Loudon before claiming the crown at the end of the year, making New Hampshire the best predictor of an eventual champion in the hectic playoffs.
On October 7th, NASCAR visits one of the most controversial and storied tracks on the schedule: Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega County, Alabama. Completed in 1969, drivers initially refused to race on the 2.66-mile behemoth due to safety concerns. Due to the track’s extreme sustained speeds of 200mph, cars form up in tight packs to help one another punch through the air with better efficiency. This results in very close quarters door-to-door racing where all it takes is one mistake to trigger what fans call “the big one,” a massive pile-up of cars that can take out up to half of the racing field.
NASCAR competitors at Talladega — Photo courtesy of Jimmy_Joe
The pack racing also causes some of the closest finishes in NASCAR. Of the top ten closest finishes of all time, Talladega has produced three. The infield of Talladega alone is worthy of its own entry. Some of the wildest parties in America take place from the opening qualifying sessions on Friday all the way up until four days after the races have finished.
The following week on October the 13th, NASCAR goes under the lights in Charlotte, NC for some Saturday night fireworks. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the “home game” for NASCAR drivers and teams, as almost all teams are headquartered within a thirty-minute drive of the track. With museums and landmarks abound, Charlotte is the closest thing to Mecca on the schedule, and the fans there are some of the most diehard in the country.
The front straight of Charlotte Motor Speedway — Photo courtesy of Casey24836
The crisp autumn temperatures present their own set of challenges for teams and drivers, but fans can relax comfortably in the stands with just a light coat. Charlotte measures a mile and a half in length and has one of the thinnest racing surfaces on the schedule, making the simple act of passing at 180mph a spectacle in and of itself.
On November 18th, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will come to a close at Homestead Miami Speedway in Homestead, FL. Since 2004, every single championship has been decided at the final race in Homestead. Last year, Tony Stewart won both the last race and the championship, a feat that has never been accomplished before at Homestead. The final 400 miles of the season play out on the wide high banks of the one-and-a-half-mile symmetrical oval, and goes from mid-afternoon into the night where the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion will be crowned.
Turn One of Homestead-Miami Speedway — Photo courtesy of Jared Smith
Like so many other sports, the playoffs are the time to shine for both teams and drivers. But unlike other sports, the teams in the Chase must remain perfect for ten grueling weeks as they crisscross the country from Chicago to Phoenix, from Alabama to New England, and beyond. This is the time that legends are born and history is written, and it takes place from one end of America to the other. Don't miss out.