While sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins interact predominantly in the DNA major groove, DNA polymerases bind DNA through interactions in the minor groove that are sequence nonspecific. Through functional analyses of alanine-substituted mutant enzymes that were guided by molecular dynamics modeling of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1-reverse transcriptase and DNA complex, we previously identified a structural element in reverse transcriptase, the minor groove binding track (MGBT). The MGBT is comprised of five residues (Ile94, Gln258, Gly262, Trp266, and Gln269) which interact 2-6 base pairs upstream from the polymerase active site in the DNA minor groove and are important in DNA binding, processivity, and frameshift fidelity. These residues do not contribute equally; functional analysis of alanine mutants suggests that Trp266 contributes the most to binding. To define the molecular interactions between Trp266 and the DNA minor groove, we have analyzed the properties of eight mutants, each with an alternate side chain at this position. A refined molecular dynamics model was used to calculate relative binding free energies based on apolar surface area buried upon complex formation. In general, there was a strong correlation between the relative calculated binding free energies for the alternate residue 266 side chains and the magnitude of the change in the properties which reflect template-primer interactions (template-primer dissociation rate constant, Ki,AZTTP, processivity, and frameshift fidelity). This correlation suggests that hydrophobic interactions make a major contribution to the stability of the polymerase-DNA complex. Additionally, tyrosine and arginine substitutions resulted in mutant enzymes with DNA binding properties better than predicted by buried surface area alone, suggesting that hydrogen bonding could also play a role in DNA binding at this position.