Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Phoenix Raceway Reverts Back to Roots

This year is shaping up to be massive for the raceway that resides in the Valley of the Sun. In addition to being the new host of NASCAR’s Championship Weekend, president Julie Giese announced the track formerly known as ISM Raceway will be returning to it’s roots and be re-named Phoenix Raceway.

This news should come as a surprise, because when the Arizona-based track underwent it’s $178 million renovations, a multi-year deal was made with ISM Connect for the naming rights beginning in 2018. While specifics on the change back have not been revealed, Giese assured race fans this would in no way effect the vast amenities that are offered throughout the infield and around the track.

Overall, this is a great decision by Giese to re-brand the iconic West Coast track. ISM Raceway was the one of two tracks (the other being Auto Club Speedway) on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit that had a title sponsor for the track instead of it’s geographical location.

While this isn’t a huge deal to not have a title sponsor for the track, it will certainly help viewers at home (specifically, the ones watching the season finale at home with little or no NASCAR knowledge) realize that the action taking place on television is in Arizona. There’s no mistaking the unique LED cactus flag stand and the gorgeous desert backdrop surrounding the track, but in sports branding, identity is everything. This is a great marketing strategy that should expose Arizona-natives and those out of state to Phoenix Raceway.

Since the 1-mile speedway hosted it’s first NASCAR event in 1978 as Phoenix International Raceway, the track has undergone three different track titles (Jeff Gordon Raceway, ISM Raceway) – let’s hope Phoenix Raceway is here to stay.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings

NASCAR Power Rankings — Phoenix

Power_Rankings_logo1

1. Kyle Larson (+4)

Larson has been on fire this month. He finished second for a third consecutive week and leads the series standings, becoming the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to do so since Sterling Marlin in 2002.

2. Brad Keselowski (-1)

Although he fell out of the points lead after Phoenix, Keselowski is the only driver with three top-fives and a win through the first four races.

3. Chase Elliott (+3)

No sophomore slump for this ‘Young Gun.’ Elliott led 106 laps at Phoenix but is still searching for his first victory. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is third in the standings with two top-five results.

4. Joey Logano (–)

If it weren’t for a pit road speeding penalty, Logano might have been the man to beat on Sunday. He won the pole for the Camping World 500 but finished 31st after suffering a blown right front tire with six laps to go.

5. Martin Truex Jr. (-3)

After a dominating win at Las Vegas, Truex had a quiet day at the desert oval. The No. 78 team elected to stay out for track position during the final caution and restarted third but was shuffled back to 11th in the final two laps on older tires.

6. Kevin Harvick (-3)

Phoenix International Raceway has been Harvick’s playground the last four years, having won five of the last eight events there. However, he’s failed to lead a lap at the track the last two races and struggled throughout the first half of Sunday’s race. While he rallied to finish sixth, he has yet to post a top-five this season.

7. Kyle Busch (+1)

After a rocky start to 2017, ‘Rowdy’ finally earned a finish reflective of his performance with a third-place result on Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (-1)

Blaney was fast this weekend but also got nabbed for speeding, which led to his 23rd-place finish after qualifying second at the mile-long track.

9. Ryan Newman (Not ranked last week)

The choice to not pit during the final caution paid off for Newman, and Richard Childress Racing visited Victory Lane for the first time since Harvick won at Phoenix in November 2013. Performance-wise, RCR is still searching for more speed, but Sunday’s win was certainly a weight lifted off Newman, who ended a personal 127-race winless streak, and organization’s shoulders.

10. Jimmie Johnson (+3)

Johnson finished ninth on Sunday, marking the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet’s first top-10 of the year.

11. Jamie McMurray (+1)

McMurray was quick at the Arizona short track. He qualified his No. 1 Chevrolet fifth and ran in the top five early in the race, but settled for 15th place as pit strategy didn’t play into his favor at the end.

12. Kasey Kahne (-2)

The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet took a step backward by finishing 20th after three top 15s to start the season but remains ninth in the standings. He has an average finish of 10.8 after four races.

13. Kurt Busch (-4)

For a second straight week, Busch’s No. 41 Ford suffered voltage issues, and he finished 25th on Sunday. He’s tied with Kahne for ninth in points.

14. Denny Hamlin (+2)

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver got his second top-10 of the season with a 10th-place result but has yet to lead a lap in 2017.

15. Erik Jones (Not ranked last week)

Jones earned his first career top-10 with an eighth-place finish at the site of his first NASCAR national touring series victory. The No. 77 has been consistent the last three weeks, with three consecutive top-15 results.

16. Matt Kenseth (-5)

It was hard to choose who would claim the final position in the rankings. Clint Bowyer was almost put in the 16th spot, but Kenseth is given the benefit of the doubt despite wrecking on Sunday since he has one top-five and a top-10 while Bowyer has only one top-10.

Dropping out of the top-16 rankings this week: Trevor Bayne (was 14th) and Clint Bowyer (was 15th).

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Suarez Broke Through For First Top-10

AVONDALE, Ariz. – As he continues to transition into his first full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Daniel Suarez admits the beginning has proven to be difficult.

However, he says that his top-10 finish in Phoenix is just what his No. 19 team needed to get into the rhythm of his rookie year.

“In the last few races, we haven’t struggled, we just didn’t have the speed, and the communication wasn’t great,” Suarez admitted. “We’ve been working very hard trying to keep up communication, and we’ve for sure been getting better.”

In the first three races of the season, the Mexican-born driver struggled to finish in the top 15 with a best finish of 20th in Las Vegas. As he made his return to what he considers to be his hometrack, Suarez says he felt confident in his No. 19 Arris Toyota.

“I felt very good about the car, I felt like we were going to have a shot to have some fun in the race, and I wasn’t wrong,” he added.

Starting 27th, Suarez ran within the mid-20s throughout most of the Camping World 500 before maneuvering his way through the pack to finish in seventh on Sunday.

“Position was really important. Once I started getting that track position I think we were in better shape,” Suarez said. “We got some track position there in the end, and we were able to overcome to get a good result.”

Suarez hopes to carry the momentum into Auto Club Speedway this weekend, where he finished in the top five in the XFINITY Series TreatMyClot.com 300 last year.

“We just need to keep focused, keep working and keep trying,” he said about the upcoming races. “What we’re doing with hard work is slowly paying back.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Wallace Gets Third Straight Top-10 Finish

AVONDALE, Ariz. – After an unfortunate start to the season with an accident in the Powershares QQQ 300 that left him in 33rd place, Darrell Wallace Jr. has made an impressive comeback finishing sixth in each of his last three races.

The driver of the No. 6 Ford said that after being eliminated in last season’s playoffs when another crash ended his run in the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix, his focus going into this season was “not living on the past.”

“We’ve made some good changes with personnel, equipment, everything coming into this season. I think that’s what has helped out a lot, just letting last year be last year,” he said.

After seeing how competitive the field will be this season at Daytona, Wallace said he and his team have been working to keep the car balanced and to maintain consistency on the track. Although it’s still early in the season, he’s already thinking about what will bring his Roush Fenway Racing team the most success, especially with the new points system being implemented in the races this year.

“As long as we keep top six-ing them to death, it’s what we need to just stay right there in the hunt,” Wallace explained. “We still got a little bit of speed to be gained to be a frontrunner, but we’re getting there.”

Next stop for Wallace in the West Coast swing is Auto Club Speedway, where he finished third last year in the TreatMyClot.com 300.

“The biggest thing is trying to get some front grip, get your car working really well, get a good balance, have some decent speed and continue on,” he said about competing in the 300-mile event next weekend.

Last year, Wallace and fellow driver Ryan Blaney made headlines with their hilarious antics on their drive to California from the race in Phoenix. When asked if fans would get to see something like that this week, Wallace mentioned that NASCAR asked the pair if they could top last year’s success.

“Good luck topping that. We’ll see, we’re always coming up with something good.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Ends Busch-Logano Feud, and “Everything’s Great”

AVONDALE, Ariz. — On Friday, NASCAR held a 15-minute meeting with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, who were involved in a post-race fracas at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week.

The conference’s purpose was to eliminate any further conflict between the drivers and explain what is expected from them going forward.

“I tried to explain that I made a mistake underneath [Busch]. He asked for some data, and I was able to show him that,” Logano said. “I guess time will tell. We’ll see, I hope he’s able to see that and know that I was sincere about it but time will tell.”

Logano was open with the media and emphasized that the on-track incident with Busch last week was not intentional. He believes he got through to Busch.

When Busch spoke, he was more tight-lipped about the session with NASCAR officials. He told the media, “Everything’s great!” four times when asked about his thoughts on the meeting.

Watch the video from both driver’s interviews via Fox Sports here:

http://www.foxsports.com/nascar/video/900562499871

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Sponsorship Still Undetermined for Dixon, Ganassi as 2017 Season Nears

AVONDALE, Ariz. — When Scott Dixon’s car hit the track at Phoenix Raceway’s Verizon IndyCar Series “Prix-View” test session on Friday, it didn’t have a red paint scheme with Target logos on it.

In fact, there wasn’t anything on it. It was just a plain white car with a No. 9 on the sides.

And when he walked into the media center, he was wearing an all-white fire suit. The only notable addition was a Honda emblem replacing Chevrolet’s.

When asked by a reporter how temporary the white suit is, Dixon jokingly retorted, “What, you don’t like it?”

He also said the sponsorship situation is above his control at the moment.

The New Zealand native was partnered with Target from 2002 through 2016. The company ended its 27-year sponsorship of Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar program when last season ended.

Target hasn’t entirely left the organization yet, though — it still will serve as a primary sponsor for Kyle Larson in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 26 to 31 races, according to Jayski.com.

After 2017, it will have left Ganassi entirely.

Dixon is the defending winner of the Phoenix Grand Prix. Last season, he led 155 of 250 laps in the event’s return to the one-mile oval, marking his first of two victories in 2016.

Going into the 2017 campaign, Dixon said Ganassi’s manufacturer switch from Chevy to Honda has been smooth, but “stagnant,” regarding making changes to the car’s setup.

“I think it’s definitely a polar difference in how manufacturers run their program,” he said. “But it’s nice to be back working with all these people.

“It’s very hard for Honda to change its parameters. I expect larger changes for next year when we go to a single aero kit configuration.”

One thing that’s remained the same in the offseason for Dixon and Ganassi is the driver lineup. Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, and Charlie Kimball all return as the foursome embarks on the 2017 IndyCar season.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

PIR Announces Groundbreaking Changes to the Track

PHOENIX, Ariz. – After over fifty years of providing the Valley of The Sun with exceptional racing, Phoenix International Raceway announced Monday that significant changes would be coming to the track in 2018. In a project officially Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar, the changes are expected to enhance the experiences of both the drivers and fans alike.

“The track has been here for a while, and I think it’s evolved overtime, but it’s time to really take a huge leap,” said Lesa France Kennedy, Executive Officer of the International Speedway Corporation.

Having opened it’s doors back in 1964 with the primary intention of hosting IndyCar races, the track began as a two and a half-mile road course nestled in the hills of Avondale. Years later in 1991, it was transformed into the mile and a half tri-oval it is today, a venue perfect for NASCAR races. Since then, the only adjustments made to the track have been additions to the grandstands, a repavement of the track, and the installment of solar-powered lights provided by DC Solar, the company that is sponsoring the track’s newest project.

“Parts of the track aged and were below where it needs to be,” said Bryan Sperber, President of PIR. “This was something we started looking at about five years ago.”

The $178 million project will include a variety of amenities to not only create a more fan-friendly atmosphere but also make the track more accessible. Elevators will be added, and tunnels that were previously out of use will be reopened to make it easier for all fans to enter the grandstands and enjoy the races. A first-of-its-kind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage Fan Zone will also be added to the infield to give fans a special face-to-face experience with their favorite drivers.

The most talked about change, though, is the new location for the start/finish line. Races will now start and end in a section of the track that has become somewhat of a trademark for PIR: the dogleg.

With this new location, PIR will also be moving the grandstands to surround the dogleg and provide audiences optimal views of the most interesting section of the track.

“I talked to about 30 NASCAR drivers about a year and a half ago about this idea just to see what the feedback would be. Universally, it was very positive. ‘Cool’ and ‘awesome’ were used the most and that gave us the confidence that we might be onto something,” Sperber said on the decision to move the start/finish line in such a unique spot.

One such driver to provide support for this particular change was the driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Joey Logano, who was in attendance when the project was announced.

“I think the racing gets better where the start/finish line is,” Logano said. “If I could put it anywhere I wanted that’s where I’d put it to make the most exciting, craziest thing happen as we go into turn one on a restart.”

Though the new location of the start/finish line in the dogleg will provide more room for stock cars to make passes for the finish line, the same can’t be said for IndyCars, the other machines that take over PIR each year.

Reigning Indy 500 Champion Alexander Rossi said that though he isn’t yet sure of how the change will affect competing at the track in the IndyCar Series, he agrees with Logano that the beginning and end of the race will be more exciting.

“It’s unlike anything else, so I don’t think any of us really know exactly what it will be because [PIR] is the first track to be doing this and it’s very inventive and I’m excited to get started,” Rossi added.

Fans can learn more about the Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar and obtain news, updates, and alerts by visiting www.phoenixraceway.com.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth, Bowman Lose Crucial Phoenix Race With Two to go

AVONDALE, Ariz. — For the first 318 laps of the Can-Am 500, which was extended 12 laps beyond its advertised 312-lap distance, it looked like either Alex Bowman or Matt Kenseth would be the driver to beat.

Bowman, a Tucson, Ariz. native won the pole at his home track, Phoenix International Raceway, and dominated in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 by leading a career-high 194 laps.

Kenseth, who entered Sunday’s race as of one the eight Chase contenders, led 55 laps but a caution with two laps remaining took away what would have been a Homestead-clinching victory at the desert oval.

By Lap 311, Kenseth had built nearly a three-second lead over second-place Bowman. But the caution flag flew when the right rear tire of Michael McDowell’s No. 95 went flat and sent the car sideways into the Turn 3 wall.

Kenseth’s enormous lead was eliminated, and this meant a double-file restart would ensue.

For the green-white-checkered restart, Kenseth picked the outside lane and Bowman was on the bottom. Bowman spun the tires and blocked Kyle Busch entering Turn 1. Busch tapped the No. 88’s bumper, which sent him into the corner with extra momentum.

Bowman got into Kenseth, who had a strong restart and tried to clear the No. 88 going into the turn. Kenseth’s No. 20 spun into the retaining wall as a result of contact, and both racers lost a chance at the win.

“I almost feel like the No. 20 thought he was clear,” Bowman said of the incident. “I wasn’t at the best angle, but I was also against the inside wall when we made contact. I guess he heard something on the radio that he thought he was clear.”

The 23-year-old Arizonan finished sixth — a career high in NASCAR’s premier series, but he wasn’t satisfied with the result.

“I hate taking someone out of the Chase like that, it ruined our day, too,” Bowman said. “There’s no way we should have finished sixth or whatever. That’s the worst we were all day. It’s just frustrating.”

As for Kenseth, he lost his aspirations of a third win in 2016 and second Cup title in the blink of an eye.

“We had a great day going until we got crashed with two to go,” Kenseth told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s really a disappointing result, but the effort was there. We had them right where we wanted them, but you also have to finish the deal.”

Kenseth said his spotter, Chris Osborne, cleared him entering Turn 1 on the restart.

“The No. 88 was laying way, way back for that restart, more than a car would, so I got going early on purpose, and I looked at him at the start-finish line and I thought we were doing OK,” Kenseth told the Motor Racing Network. “It looked like he had a little run on me, maybe not, and shortly thereafter Chris cleared me so with the glare I started looking to the corner, and I got turned out of the way.”

He ended up 21st, and the best he can finish in the Chase standings is fifth. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Busch, finished second and took what could have been Kenseth’s spot in the Chase finale next week.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Jones Survives “Wild Chase” to Compete for XFINITY Title at Homestead

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Throughout the XFINITY Series Chase, there were moments when it looked like Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones would not have a chance to be one of the final four championship drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After winning the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title as a rookie, he was instantly a favorite for the 2016 XFINITY championship and with four victories on the year, rightfully so.

However, mishaps have plagued Jones at inopportune times.

In the opening of the Round of 12, he led half of the 200-lap race at Kentucky Speedway but got caught up in a late wreck with Ty Dillon and finished an undeserving 28th.

The following week at Dover International Speedway, the 20-year-old ended up two laps down after reporting a vibration in his team, which forced him to make an off-cycle pit stop before halfway. This came back to haunt Jones when he had to pit for fuel with less than 10 laps left and he finished 16th.

He scored a top five at Charlotte Motor Speedway to survive the three opening Chase races and compete in the Round of 8.

The second round went smoother, but he was never able to lock into Homestead with a victory. None of the other series regulars won in the Round of 8 either, so he didn’t endure as much pressure as in the first round. Despite multiple issues on pit road through the event, he finished 10th in Phoenix, which sufficed for a berth in the title-deciding race in southern Florida.

In this playoff format, the fastest cars aren’t always the ones still standing for the championship finale. Look at Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie William Byron, who won six Truck Series races but was eliminated from the Chase when he suffered an engine failure after leading 112 laps at Phoenix.

Byron’s title hopes ended at the conclusion of the Round of 6 and won’t do what seemed likely, which was also winning the Truck Series championship as a rookie, like Jones.

“It was definitely shocking to see William get knocked out,” Jones said. “I don’t think anybody expected that. It just shows how wild the Chase is.

“I was watching it, and I was in disbelief. Sure, it crosses your mind when you’re in that position, and you have a mistake. We can still get it and do what we need to do. It’s a wild Chase format, but I’m proud to say we’ve made it to Homestead.”

For two consecutive seasons, Jones will have the opportunity to win a NASCAR championship as a rookie.

“It would be really sweet to go back-to-back with the Truck and XFINITY deal,” Jones said. “This is going to be one of my only shots in the near future to win an XFINITY championship. I’d definitely like to get it done and hopefully go try to win a [Sprint Cup Series] championship someday. It’s a goal of mine, and I’d love to do it, so it’s pretty special to be at Homestead again with a shot to win a championship.”

If Jones were to hoist the XFINITY trophy next week, he’d be the first in NASCAR history to win the Truck and XFINITY titles in consecutive seasons.

In 2017, he’ll race in the premier series in a second car for Furniture Row Racing driving the No. 77 Toyota.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Kennedy Eliminated in Round of 6 After Two-Team Effort in 2016

AVONDALE, Ariz. — It was a tale of two teams for Ben Kennedy in 2016, who was eliminated from the Chase Round of 6 on Friday night.

Kennedy, son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy, finished ninth in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, which ended the GMS Racing driver’s title aspirations along with Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie William Byron, who suffered a blown engine after leading 112 laps.

The 24-year-old started the year with Red Horse Racing and drove the No. 11 for the first three races of the season collecting finishes of 23rd, 15th and 11th while driving for Red Horse. Owner Tom DeLoach decided to emphasize focus on Timothy Peters having an opportunity to win the 2016 championship, so his team parted ways with Kennedy.

He joined GMS in April and made his debut with the team at Kansas Speedway in May, where he earned his first top 10 of 2016.

In the summer night showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, Kennedy won his first career Camping World Truck Series race and clinched a berth in the series’ inaugural Chase.

He collected two top fives in the Chase and survived the opening Round of 8. But finishes of 18th, 13th and ninth weren’t enough to advance to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of the final four.

“It was a good transition coming over to GMS, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from this group,” Kennedy told POPULAR SPEED. “I have awesome teammates and really smart people. We’ve had fast trucks. We won at Bristol, and we ran down Kyle [Busch] at Chicago. Some races we have been able to capitalize and some we’ve missed it a little bit, but we’ll go on to Homestead.”

GMS had the best year of its history in NASCAR this season. The organization, which only had one victory since its inception, has won six races in 2016 with the Homestead finale next.

Naturally, the team will look to build on its success from this year and translate it to 2017.

“We’ll just keep building on it, we have a really good platform,” Kennedy said. “This year was all about learning. There were some tracks that kind of surprised us. We thought we had some good mile-and-a-half packages as well as this one [Phoenix, a one-mile oval] and missed it quite a bit. But will have a good notebook going forward.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.