How the Daytona 500 Works

How Daytona International Speedway Works

Daytona International Speedway is a fearsome track. At 2.5 miles, Daytona isn't NASCAR's biggest track (that asphalt honor goes to 2.6-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama). It's not even the fastest track (that hard-chargin' honor goes to Atlanta Motor Speedway). But with a backstretch that produces speeds of nearly 200 mph, Daytona is plenty fast enough.

The track is tri-oval in shape. The banking, or the slope of the track, ranges from 31 degrees in the turns to 18 degrees on the front stretch and three degrees on the nearly level backstretch. How steep is 31 degrees? It's like a ski slope. If the banking weren't this steep, the cars would fly off the track while trying to go through the corners at maximum speeds.

The steep banks at Daytona prevent the cars from flying off the track.
©Wieck Media
The steep banks at Daytona International Speedway
are what enable the cars to travel at such high speeds.

Drivers at Daytona and similar big tracks employ a strategy called "drafting." The front car punches a hole in the air, and the trailing cars ride in the wake -- the vacuum -- of the front car. (Imagine riding down the highway and sticking your hand out the window; it is met with a hard push of air. Drop your hand behind the side-view mirror, and the push subsides; the mirror breaks the wind. Basically, your hand is "drafting" behind the mirror.)

Two or more cars drafting together can pick up speed, while a car running by itself will fall behind. So how does the trailing car pass? The trick is to gather speed in the vacuum and use that momentum to burst out and around, or slingshot past, the lead car.

Download this PDF to see a diagram of
Daytona International Speedway. Then go to the next page to learn how drivers prepare themselves and their cars for the rigors of racing at Daytona.

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