Daytona and Talladega? Big crashes and high speeds. Bristol and Richmond? Crowded lanes and festering emotions. Darlington? Tradition. Watkins Glen and Sonoma? Turning right for a change.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup season is the longest of all big-time sports and takes drivers to several different track types, setting up a bevy of problems and a multitude of opportunities.
Lowe's Motor Speedway? Well, that's where stars are born. It is here, in what has become the home of NASCAR, that the head-in-the-clouds hopefuls turn fantasy into life. Jeff Gordon. Jamie McMurray. Matt Kenseth. Many times before have the potential talents made their official arrival onto the scene at this pantheon for racing. Even Ryan Newman crashed the big-boy's party, winning the first of his astounding 31 career poles at Lowe's the year before his rookie campaign.
Under the rural North Carolina sky, with the die-hards out in full force and the entire industry on hand to watch the speedsters navigate the 1.5-mile confines as day fades to night, it is here where dreams come true. It is here, and now, that Brian Vickers wants to add his name to the list of dreamers who came before.
The Carolina native has the background. And as teammates of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, he has the tutelage. In the Coca-Cola 600, one of the biggest, and decidedly the longest, races of the year, he has the stage.
"I don't think he's the kind of racer who gets nervous under the pressure," Gordon said. "He's worked hard and that whole team has been improving, so anything is possible."
After a week of strong practices and a solid run in last weekend's all-star race, Vickers is hoping anything is possible for this weekend.
"We're feeling really good about it," Vickers said. "The car is great. "Track position will be key. The tire Goodyear has elected to use has been very balanced and doesn't seem to fall off as drastically as we've seen at some other places this season. Admittedly, the all-star format doesn't provide long green-flag runs like the 600 can, but I think, in addition to keeping up with the changing race track, track position will play a bigger role."
Vickers will be trying to continue a run of good fortune in front of a hometown crowd, which he says drives him to race harder.
"That's more reason why you want to do well you're in your backyard," said Vickers, who has a lot of family and friends attending this week's festivities.
Vickers is carrying a rush of momentum forward from a frenzied run to a third-place finish in last weekend's all-star race. The all-star race is reserved for recent winners and former champions. Vickers is neither. But he got a taste of the big time by winning the only at-large spot through the Nextel Open, an event he won with a controversial move that sent leader Mike Bliss spinning out of control only to watch Vickers slide by to take the checkered.
If Vickers wants Sunday evening to be his coming-out party, the moment he wins his first race and automatically qualifies for next year's all-star event, well he may have some angry folks working on, and driving, the No. 0 car with whom to negotiate.
Vickers said he didn't intentionally spin Bliss to win the race, claiming instead that Bliss was blocking more than drivers do in normal points races. But Bliss was adamant that he was wronged and that the all-star bid was blatantly stolen from him.
"We got wrecked," Bliss said. " That's what we got. We got wrecked."
Whether retaliation lies ahead or not is but one potential obstacle standing in Vickers' way. Vickers has been inconsistent this year, oscillating from inside the top 20 in the standings to 30th. However, when the young driver has qualified well, he's raced well notching both of his top-10 finishes after qualifying in the top 10. For Sunday, he qualified a respectable 14th.
Now, Vickers finds himself the talk of the garage the dark horse pick after his showing last weekend. And that's led to a reemergence of confidence, of which only the Racing Gods know what will become.
"Everybody's feeling really good right now," Vickers said. "The car is great and I just can't wait to get out there on Sunday and see what happens."
What will happen? We'll find out Sunday. Until then, Vickers will just continue to dream.
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.