As NASCAR races primarily on ovals, banked tracks are very common, and the degree to which certain tracks and corners are banked varies from location to location. This can leave both new and long-time NASCAR fans wondering why tracks are banked at all.
NASCAR tracks are banked for 2 reasons: safety and speed. Since cars drive so fast down straightaways on the front and backstretches, increased banking allows these cars to maintain higher-than-normal speeds into the turns without the risk of sending themselves into the wall.
Below, we will dive deeper into why NASCAR oval tracks have banking. We will also explore the many oval tracks in NASCAR and discuss their banking degrees. We will also reveal which track in NASCAR is the organization’s fastest.
NASCAR oval tracks have banking as the goal is to allow the cars to go as fast as possible through the turns, without making the sport unsafe for the drivers or fans. Banking allows the drivers to maintain very high speeds whilst staying away from the barrier at the outside of the track.
Safety In NASCAR
From a safety perspective, NASCAR has long received a bad rap. And while NASCAR prides itself on safety more than ever before, the truth is they have been making safety improvements since its formative period.
If you watch any older race, you will constantly see examples of safety improvements in the sport. For example, when Richard Petty suffered a head injury after he barrel-rolled at Darlington, NASCAR mandated netting on the driver’s side of the car.
When Bobby Allison crashed into the catch fence at Talladega, an incident that injured several fans, NASCAR mandated the restrictor plate (now the tapered spacer) at superspeedways. NASCAR also mandated proper seat mountings following Grant Adcox’s fatal crash in 1989.
Even during the 1949 Strictly Stock season, NASCAR mandated drivers to bolt their doors shut to keep them from flying open. They also encouraged the use of weighted axles to help prevent cars from rolling. Another prominent safety feature of NASCAR is track banking on oval tracks.
The banked turns help keep the car tilted toward the apron. Banking further helps keep the cars, when traveling at full speed into the turns, from going wayward and into the SAFER Barrier when racing at such high speeds.
Without the banked turning, drivers would need to significantly slow their car to prevent it from flinging off the track and into the barrier. With the cars tilted inwards, they can dive into a turn and back onto the straightaway faster, without worrying about losing control of the car.
While safety was always a key feature in NASCAR dating back to its earliest days, most of the earliest tracks held little banking. For example, Martinsville and Occonechee Speedways held just 12-degree banking,something Martinsville still possesses to this day.
However, by 1959, Bill France Sr.’s project, the Daytona International Speedway, became a reality and the inaugural running of the Daytona 500 was ready to go. The track also popularized banked turns, which at the track were set at 31 degrees.
During qualifying for the inaugural Daytona race, Bob Welborn won the pole traveling at a maximum speed of 140.121 miles per hour (mph). Given Daytona’s steeper banking, NASCAR was quick to realize how much more exciting it would be for the sport. It wasn’t long before they built similar tracks.
Races are won in the corners, and not on the straightaways. Cars passing one another on the straightaway and those running at a faster rate can do so because of the momentum they gain when coming out of the corners.
Drivers who understand a track’s banking the best, whether steep or shallow, end up winning or recording a respectable finish. They know how to use a track’s banking to their advantage, knowing the prime moment to drive into a turn, and when to apply force to the accelerator coming out of a turn.
All oval tracks on the NASCAR circuit have banking to some degree. However, the banking varies from track to track. Some tracks, like Martinsville, provide very little banking. However, other tracks, like Talladega, carry significantly more. Road courses usually don’t have any banking.
You may have heard NASCAR commentators describe some tracks as “fast.” These fast tracks have more banking than their counterparts. This is why they call Bristol Motor Speedway the “World’s Fastest Half Mile.” Bristol and Martinsville may be roughly the same length, but Bristol is faster.
Below, you will find a list of NASCAR tracks and their banking. It is important to remember that the road courses often have the lowest amount of banking, with most of the tracks not having any banking in the traditional sense, although they may have varying camber.
For this reason, you will not see Sonoma, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Road America, or Watkins Glen listed. You will see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway listed since their road course encroaches the main track.
One of the newest tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, World Wide Technology Raceway’s bankingin Turns One and Two are 11 degrees. Turns Three and Four contain 9-degree banking.
All four turns at the Texas track comprise 24-degree banking, and 5-degree banking on the backstretch and dogleg, making its banking degrees similar to those seen at Charlotte and the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The 2.66-mile superspeedway contains 33-degree banking in the turns and 2-degree banking on the backstretch. The front stretch’s banking is much steeper than the backstretch’s, at 16.5 degrees.
One of NASCAR’s shortest tracks, Richmond International Raceway has 14-degree banking in the turns. You will find 2-degree banking on the front stretch and 8-degree banking on the backstretch.
The Tricky Triangle contains 0-degree banking on the front and short stretch. Each turn comprises different banking, with Turn One being the steepest at 14-degrees. Turns Two and Three have 8 and 6-degree banking, respectively.
This dogleg track has 11-degree banking in Turns One and Two and just 9-degree banking in Turns Three, Four, and on the backstretch. The front stretch banking clocks in at 3 degrees.
The Nashville Superspeedway debuted in NASCAR in 2021, and the tri-oval comprises 14-degree banking at each turn, making it one of the shallower intermediate-sized tracks in NASCAR.
One of NASCAR’s “slower tracks,” the New Hampshire Motor Speedway consists of 2 to 7-degree banking on each of the four turns and just 1-degree banking on the front stretch.
One of the faster tracks on the NASCAR circuit, Michigan International Speedway has 18-degree banking in the turns, 5-degree banking on the backstretch, and 12-degree banking on the front stretch.
One of the oldest tracks on the NASCAR schedule and also the shortest, you will find 12-degree banking in the turns and 0-degree banking on the front stretch. Another unique thing about Martinsville is the concrete located in the turns.
A faster track, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway has 20-degree banking throughout the turns and 9-degree banking on both the back and front stretch. The speedway’s banking and overall shape gives it a similar build to the Kansas Speedway.
Kansas contains varying banking in the turns, listed between 17 and 20 degrees. The track also has 10-degree banking on the front stretch and just 5 degrees on the backstretch.
The oldest track on the NASCAR schedule, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has just 9-degree banking in the turns and no banking on the front or backstretch. Since 2021, NASCAR has raced on the track’s road course.
Homestead is another one of those tracks with varying banking in the turns, listed between 18 and 20-degrees. The track’s backstretch and front stretch both contain 4-degree banking.
The Monster Mile is one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks, featuring 24-degree banking in the turns and 9-degree banking on both the front and backstretch. Its banking makes it a smaller version of Atlanta, Charlotte, and Texas, all of which contain similar banking degrees.
The most prominent track on the NASCAR circuit contains steep, 31-degree banking in the turns, 18-degree banking on the tri-oval, and 3-degree banking on the backstretch. The steep banking throughout makes it one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks.
Darlington is known as the “Track Too Tough to Tame” for many reasons. Its steep yet varying 23-25-degree banking in the turns is one of those reasons, making it one of NASCAR’s fastest and most challenging venues. Its back and front stretch has 6-degree banking.
NASCAR’s “home track,” this fast, 1.5-mile oval contains 24-degree banking in all four turns with 5-degree banking on the back and front stretch, similar to that of Dover, Atlanta, and Texas.
This ultra-fast half-mile possesses an adrenaline-pumping 24-28-degree banking in the turns. With varying 5-9-degree banking in the front and backstretch, it is no wonder why they call this stadium-oval track “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”
This big track is a little slower than Michigan International Speedway, which possesses a similar structure. Auto Club’s banking is just 14 degrees in the turns and 11 on the front stretch. The backstretch contains just 3-degree banking.
Yet another fast track, the backstretch and tri-oval contain 5-degree banking while you will find steeper, 24-degree banking in the four turns. Texas and Charlotte possess similar aesthetics to Atlanta.
Banked tracks are faster because the banking allows NASCAR cars to generate more friction and grip. The steeper the banking, the faster a driver can go around the turns. This is why they barely need to touch the brake at faster tracks with steeper banking, unless that track has narrow turns.
When drivers turn into a corner, friction increases at the tires. This increased friction helps turn the car left. However, since NASCAR races occur at high speeds, this isn’t enough since it would take an immense amount of force to turn a car at 180 miles per hour. The banking lessens the force needed to turn the car through the corners at high speeds.
If you noticed anything from the list above, it is that we labeled the tracks with steeper banking as “faster.” This is a true statement. Tracks with steeper banking are usually faster than those with shallower banking.
Many NASCAR fans may believe that the larger tracks, those 1.5 miles or larger, are universally faster. But they are only as fast as their banking allows. Dover and Bristol are fast tracks because of their steep banking, even if they are only one mile and a half-mile long, respectively.
Talladega is the NASCAR track with the steepest banking at 33 degrees in the turns. This is why, before the era of restrictor plates, drivers could reach speeds beyond 210 mph at Talladega.
In 1987, Bill Elliott set a NASCAR record at Talladega when he recorded a 44.998-second lap.That same season, Bobby Allison’s crash forced NASCAR into using restrictor plates both at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, whose banking is nearly as steep at 31 degrees in the turns.
Despite Elliott taking credit for the fastest lap ever, it was not the fastest lap at Talladega. Instead, Rusty Wallace “broke” Elliott’s record in June 2004, zipping around the track at a maximum speed of 216.309 mph. He circled the track in just 44.270 seconds.
However, Wallace’s lap did not occur at a NASCAR-sanctioned event, leaving Elliott’s record in NASCAR’s history books. The first recorded speed of 200 miles occurred in 1970, when Buddy Baker hit the milestone during a testing session on March 24th of that year.
NASCAR tracks are banked because it keeps the cars tilted toward the apron when turning, reducing the risk of drivers losing control and careening into the SAFER Barrier. However, it is also because it allows drivers to take turns faster. The steeper the banking, the faster the track.