NASCAR is one of the most dangerous sports out there, and some tracks carry far more risks than others. There are plenty of fast tracks with high banking, and there can be some incredibly close racing. Knowing this, you may therefore wonder what the most dangerous NASCAR tracks are.
The 10 most dangerous NASCAR tracks are:
- Daytona International Speedway
- Talladega Superspeedway
- Pocono Raceway
- Michigan International Speedway
- Bristol Motor Speedway
- Darlington Raceway
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- Texas Motor Speedway
- Martinsville Speedway
Below, we will outline exactly what makes a NASCAR track so dangerous. We will also reveal in detail why we chose these NASCAR tracks as the most dangerous, before we then talk about tracks with the highest number of crashes and driver deaths.
What Makes A NASCAR Track Dangerous?
The first aspect of what makes a NASCAR track so dangerous are the speeds that such tracks can allow for. When you drive your road car around bends, you often need to brake or dramatically decelerate to turn without losing control of the car. Most NASCAR tracks are the opposite, as they feature various degrees of banking. The steeper the banking, the faster the cars can race around turns.
Other tracks may not have steep banking, but they might have long straights that allow the cars to reach about 200 mph (320 kph). Tracks like Pocono and Auto Club have these long straight sections, but lack of banking means the cars must brake or decelerate a lot more for the corners. However, the cars still race very close together.
Now take into consideration the fact that these cars are racing on a closed circuit. Sure, some tracks are wide enough for 5 cars to race side by side, but the racing is so close with cars maintaining such high speeds that the slightest bump or even mishandling of the car can lead to major accidents, commonly referred to as The Big One.
Even short tracks can pose a hazard. Take Martinsville, one of the shortest tracks on the NASCAR schedule, and also one of the slowest. Because of its short length and lower top speeds, some may think tracks like this aren’t dangerous. However, its width is so narrow that the cars are often racing side by side and bumper to bumper for 400 laps in the spring and 500 laps in the fall.
And finally, we have road courses. One major reason road courses are so dangerous comes from the fact that they have so many turns of different angles and difficulty levels. Drivers also visit each road course just once a year, meaning many just are not as experienced on these tracks as they are on ovals.
NASCAR rarely races in the rain, but on road courses, you may see them slapping rain tires onto the cars (plus a windshield wiper), allowing the event to continue even when the sky opens up. This can create hazardous visibility problems, and it may lead to more crashes than we would otherwise see if they were racing under dry conditions. This occurred at Circuit of the Americas in 2021.
The 10 Most Dangerous NASCAR Tracks
1. Daytona International Speedway
Almost since its inception, Daytona has established itself as a dangerous NASCAR track. During a 1961 qualifying race, Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp went through the guardrail in what was one of the most horrifying crashes in NASCAR history at the time. Daytona has also seen 8 driver deaths in the Cup Series alone, further showing us how dangerous this track is.
Before the Next Gen era, it wasn’t uncommon to see cars reach 200 mph (320 kph) thanks to long straights and 31-degree banking in the turns, making it one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks. It’s also wide enough for cars to race each other in a five-wide formation, and with the ultra-close racing, huge crashes can occur at any time.
2. Talladega Superspeedway
Like Daytona, Talladega is a big, fast track. It is actually longer than its counterpart in Florida, and it features even steeper banking and has just as wide a racing surface. While Talladega doesn’t have the same number of driver deaths associated with it as Daytona, it’s not too far behind NASCAR’s most popular track in terms of danger.
One only needs to look at Bobby Allison’s 1987 crash, when his airborne car tore apart the catch fence and injured spectators. While Allison walked away from the carnage, NASCAR was so concerned about the high speeds drivers reached at Talladega and Daytona that they decided to slow the cars via restrictor plates.
3. Pocono Raceway
Many NASCAR drivers and fans call this the Tricky Triangle. And while Pocono has grown notorious for producing boring racing, it doesn’t mean the track is any less dangerous. One thing to know about Pocono is that the 2.5 mile (4 km) superspeedway has just three turns, meaning its straights are the longest in NASCAR.
While Pocono does not feature high banking, it is a fast track thanks to its long straights. This means cars must slow substantially in the turns, lest they fly into the SAFER barrier at nearly 200 mph (320 kph). Elliott Sadler’s crash here in 2010 proved to everyone just how dangerous this track is, when he hit an infield wall head on and nearly flipped his car.
4. Michigan International Speedway
Though it is not considered one, Michigan is the size of a superspeedway, but it is one fast track that NASCAR never required restrictor plates for. At 73 feet (22 meters) in width, Michigan is one of NASCAR’s widest tracks. Couple this with 18 degrees of banking in the turns, and it makes the track a danger zone for even the most experienced NASCAR drivers.
And Michigan has not been immune to tragedy. In 1992, Clifford Allison was killed during a practice session for an Xfinity race. Two years later in 1994, Ernie Irvan crashed and suffered a basilar skull fracture, which nearly ended his life. The track also produces ultra-close racing, which adds another level of danger when NASCAR teams come here.
5. Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol is one of NASCAR’s shortest tracks, but its 26-30 degrees of banking, and the fact drivers spend roughly 55% of the time in the turns, is what makes this track so dangerous. Bristol is also a wide short track, allowing the circuit to produce tight packs during any stage of the race. And while there have been no fatalities in the Cup Series here, no track has a higher rate of crashes.
Teams know that their car bodies will sport a few blemishes after each race at. Now that the track hosts an annual dirt race as well, the frequency of crashes has only increased thanks to the difficulty driving in dirt brings.
6. Darlington Raceway
Some NASCAR drivers call Darlington the toughest track on the NASCAR circuit, which is probably why it earned the nickname “The Track Too Tough To Tame”. An egg-shaped oval, Darlington has narrow turns on one end of the track and wide turns on the other. The narrow portion of the track has higher banking than the wider portion, providing even more of a challenge.
Darlington has had two fatalities since its inception, and none since 1965. However, this track is one reason that NASCAR mandated window netting, thanks to Richard Petty’s bad crash here in 1970.
7. Charlotte Motor Speedway
One of NASCAR’s fastest tracks, Charlotte Motor Speedway has 24-degree banking in each turn, allowing cars to build and maintain their speeds along this 1.5 mile (3.2 km) oval. While this track hasn’t seen a fatality in the Cup Series since 1965, it has seen tragedy in the lower divisions, most notably Blaise Alexander’s fatal crash in 2001.
8. New Hampshire Motor Speedway
One only needs to look to the 2000 NASCAR season to know why New Hampshire made the cut on this list. That year, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr were both killed in practice session crashes at this track. New Hampshire was also the track at which NASCAR did away with the “race back to the caution” rule, given the precarious position Dale Jarrett found himself in following a crash.
On its surface, New Hampshire never looked like a dangerous track, given its smaller size at 1.06 miles (1.7 km), plus its 2-7 degrees of banking. So, this may be the most deceptive track on our list.
9. Texas Motor Speedway
One of the newer tracks on the NASCAR circuit, Texas Motor Speedway has always seen its fair share of dangerous on-track incidents. Perhaps the most notable was Michael McDowell’s major crash during qualifying in 2008. This was also the track where Ricky Craven crashed hard and ended up with a severe concussion.
Like its sister tracks Atlanta and Charlotte, Texas is a fast track with 20-24 degrees of banking. When close racing occurs here, there is always a chance of a huge, multi-car wreck. Such incidents occurred during the track’s first two races in the late 1990s, during the opening laps of each race.
10. Martinsville Speedway
Tracks with wide racing surfaces are often the most dangerous, but narrow tracks aren’t necessarily safe either. At Martinsville, a three-wide often means that if the car in the middle or closest to the SAFER Barrier makes one bad move, they can cause quite a pileup. It’s therefore no surprise that, next to Bristol, accidents happen at Martinsville more than they do at any other track.
Like Bristol, Martinsville has seen no fatalities in the Cup Series. However, regardless of how experienced a driver is, they can expect at least a little bit of damage to the bodies of their cars after racing between 400 and 500 laps at one of NASCAR’s oldest circuits.
Which NASCAR Track Has Had The Most Crashes
Bristol Motor Speedway has had more crashes than any other NASCAR track. One reason cars tend to crash more at Bristol is that it is such a fast track despite its small size of just 0.533 miles (0.86 km). The track regularly sees 7+ accidents per race, and the dirt race is also crash-heavy.
Short tracks are dangerous in general, which is why it’s also common to see crashes at Martinsville, which between 2014 and 2019, held the honor for having the highest number of crashes three times while Bristol also saw the highest number of crashes three times in that same span. However, one reason the incidence is higher at Bristol, which was the case in 2019 and 2021, comes from its steeper banking.
Despite the track’s small size, it has some of the steepest banking in NASCAR. So, when you combine Bristol’s narrow surface with generally higher speeds for short tracks, you are getting a borderline demolition derby at some events, even as teams strive to keep their cars clean from on-track incidents.
Enter The Bristol Dirt Race
When you add dirt to a short track known for producing a high number of crashes, chances are high that you are going to get more crashes! And this was the case when NASCAR added a dirt race to the schedule for the first time in five decades. For the inaugural event in 2021, the Bristol Dirt Race saw nearly 4.5 crashes per 100 miles (161 km).
This equaled one crash for every 22 miles (35.5 km), and over the entire 133 mile (214 km) event, you would see a total of six crashes. That is a lot of carnage for NASCAR’s shortest race.
Which NASCAR Track Has Had The Most Driver Deaths?
Daytona International Speedway is the track that has had the most driver deaths in the NASCAR Cup Series. This track, along with Talladega, is among NASCAR’s most dangerous tracks thanks to its long straights and high banked corners. There have been 8 driver deaths at Daytona over the years.
The first driver death at Daytona did not occur during a race, but instead during a tire test. This occurred in 1964, when Billy Wade was killed when he hit the wall at 170 mph (274 kph) after a blown tire caused him to lose control of his car.
Talmadge Prince was the first NASCAR Cup Series driver killed at Daytona during a race. This occurred during the 125 mile (201 km) qualifying race for the 1970 Daytona 500. Raymond “Friday” Hassler would die in that same qualifying race two years later. The qualifying race also claimed the lives of Ricky Knotts in 1980 and Bruce Jacobi in 1983.
In 1994, Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr were killed while practicing for the 1994 Daytona 500. Bonnett was planning to build on his comeback to NASCAR, which began in 1993 when he appeared in two events. Meanwhile, Orr was gearing up to make his first NASCAR start. Suspension failure from faulty shocks and springs were to blame for both wrecks.
Death Of Dale Earnhardt
The most famous death at Daytona and the only one to occur in the Daytona 500 itself occurred in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt hit the wall at a bad angle in Turn 4 during the race’s final lap. Earnhardt, known throughout the years for his aggressive tactics, changed to a more defensive style for this race in hopes of seeing his team win the event.
Therefore, Earnhardt hung back in third position while Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr paced the field. Coming off of Turn 4, Earnhardt sought to hold off Ken Schrader, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Kenny Wallace, and Bill Elliott. As he went low to throw a block, Marlin tapped Earnhardt’s quarter panel.
Unable to correct the mishap, Earnhardt took a hard right and collected Schrader, hitting the wall between 155 mph (250 kph) and 160 mph (258 kph), with the corner of the right passenger side making initial contact.
It was later revealed that the NASCAR legend sustained life-ending injuries at the scene and died on impact, the most notable being a basilar skull fracture. This was the same head injury that killed Adam Petty (Xfinity) and Kenny Irwin Jr (Cup) during the 2000 season at New Hampshire.
KEY FACT: Besides Daytona, a total of 20 other fatalities have occurred in the Cup Series across 11 NASCAR tracks
NASCAR Tracks With The Most Driver Deaths
|Track||Deaths In Cup Series||Drivers||First Fatality||Last Fatality|
|Daytona||8||Dale EarnhardtRodney OrrNeil BonnettBruce JacobiRicky KnotsTalmadge PrinceFriday HasslerBilly Wade||1965||2001|
|Langhorne||3||John McVittyLarry MannFrank Arford||1952||1956|
|Charlotte||3||Harold KiteJimmy PardueFireball Roberts||1964||1965|
|Memphis-Arkansas||2||Clint McHughCotton Priddy||1956||1956|
|Darlington||2||Buren SkeenBobby Myers||1957||1965|
|Riverside||2||Billy FosterJoe Weatherly||1964||1967|
|Talladega||2||Tiny LundLarry Smith||1973||1975|
|Atlanta||2||Grant AdcoxTony Schoonover||1984||1989|
|North Wilkesboro||1||Lou Figaro||1954||1954|
|Watkins Glen||1||J.D. McDuffie||1991||1991|
|New Hampshire||1||Kenn Irwin Jr.||2000||2000|
How Do NASCAR Tracks Compare To Those In Other Motorsports?
NASCAR isn’t the only motorsports series that possesses dangerous tracks. The Nürburgring’s Nordschleife track in Germany has gained a reputation for being a very dangerous place. One reason behind it being so dangerous is the fact it is ultra-long, at 12.94 miles (20.83 km). You will find a plethora of elevation changes and angles around its 154 corners, which further adds to the danger factor.
There is a wide range between the lowest and highest elevation here, with a 985 foot (300 meter) difference between the two. These elevation changes are sudden, which can cause vehicles to regularly go airborne. The five-cornered Fox Hole portion of the track ends with an abrupt descent before you’re suddenly elevated once more.
You will also find plenty of blind corners at the Nordschleife. For drivers who aren’t familiar with this track, these blind corners make for some incredibly dangerous driving situations. There have also been plenty of big crashes here, with perhaps the most famous (although not necessarily the worst by all metrics) being F1 driver Niki Lauda’s crash in 1976.
KEY FACT: It’s hard to find exact figures for the number of deaths on the Nordschleife, but there have been dozens of fatalities reported over the years
Isle Of Man TT
Many motorsport fans call the Isle of Man TT event the deadliest race on Earth. This track saw five fatalities in 2022, which nearly tied the record of six deaths that occurred here in 1970. It is understandable why many want the event held at this track to be banned, and it is the track that has seen the most MotoGP rider deaths.
The track has not held world championship status since 1976, thanks to the 20 fatalities that occurred there in between 1970 and 1975. However, competitors are fond of this course, and it provides tremendous economic gains for the small nation, estimated at $46 million in 2019 for a country of just 86,000 residents.
Overall, races have been held here since 1907, and in that span, we have seen 265 competitors die. But what makes this track so dangerous? For one, many tracks are purpose-built for a specific motorsport. The Isle of Man Mountain Circuit was never meant for motorcycle racing. Further, like the Nürburgring, the TT circuit has a lot of blind corners.
Couple these with stone walls and limited to zero safety barriers, and those competing in the race must be aware of their surroundings at all times. The slightest mishap could easily result in a fatality.
With 8 driver deaths and a high rate of crashes, Daytona International Speedway is NASCAR’s most dangerous track. Talladega is a close second, and both of these tracks, with their steep banking, long straights, and high speeds, show you why NASCAR’s two longest oval tracks are its most dangerous.
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