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.

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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
News

Report: ISM Buys Naming Rights to Phoenix Raceway

According to a report on Azcentral.com, Ingenuity Sun Media has bought the naming rights to Phoenix Raceway in a 10-year deal that could see an investment of nearly $100 million over that period.

“ISM’s Connect network will provide digital display screens, interactive fan experiences, a mobile app and social-media integrations throughout the facility, including in the new pedestrian tunnel connecting the infield and grandstands,” Azcentral.com reported. The full story is here.

Based in Randolph, N.J., ISM “has created the world’s first and most energy efficient, solar-power-assisted, digital, outdoor marketing and advertising network for malls, shopping centers, entertainment venues, stadiums and other consumer gathering public places,” according to the company’s LinkedIn profile.

ISM already has deals in place with International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., the two largest track operators in NASCAR, to provide digital display video boards at its tracks.

In addition, ISM Connect was also the title sponsor of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which was won by Kyle Busch.

Of greater significance, perhaps, is that Phoenix will become just the second of 23 tracks the Cup Series races at to have a title sponsor, the other being Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The timing is good, too, as Phoenix is undergoing a $178 million renovation, scheduled to be completed by November 2018.

A formal announcement of the deal is expected Tuesday.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Jones Content with New Team, Earns First Career Top 10 at PIR

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Starting a new team from the ground up can be difficult in any racing series — even for the highest-budget organizations.

But Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Erik Jones is finding consistency with the seven-month-old Furniture Row Racing No. 77 team and earned his first career top 10 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.

Jones, who won his first NASCAR national series race at PIR in November 2013 in a truck, finished eighth in the Camping World 500. Remove the 39th-place result he had in the Daytona 500, and he’s averaging a finish of 12th to start his first year in the sport’s top level.

He earned four Stage points by running seventh at the conclusion of Stage 2 at the desert oval and sits 18th in the points standings — the highest among five Cup rookies.

“This week was better than I thought it would be,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “I know we have ups and downs, but it was my goal and the team’s goal to steadily improve each week, and I think we’ve done that.”

The 20-year-old Michigan native has veteran Martin Truex Jr., who visited Victory Lane last weekend at Las Vegas, as a teammate at FRR, but he hasn’t had to ask for much advice from the No. 78 driver.

“You look at your own data, and it takes a lot of the questions out,” Jones said. “Fortunately, we’ll see he’s doing this or doing this … OK, we’ll figure that out. It helps a lot. I study pretty hard.”

Jones said the team has meshed well together with first-year Cup crew chief Chris Gayle holding the reigns, and a “new camaraderie” has formed among the No. 77 team.

“We’ve been getting everyone to execute well over the last few weeks,” Jones said. “We’re definitely competitive and bringing fast cars to the track. We’re executing well on pit road, and we’re executing on restarts.”

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Stenhouse Stays Out Late to Earn First Top Five at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Not pitting for tires in the closing laps at a hot, slick Phoenix Raceway on a sunny afternoon might not seem like the best strategy for victory, but somehow it paid off for race winner Ryan Newman and Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Newman led the field on the final restart of the Camping World 500 with Stenhouse on the inside of his No. 31 while the leaders pitted. Stenhouse finished fourth — marking the first top five of 2017 for RFR.

“[Brian] Pattie (crew chief) wanted to stay out and I kind of questioned it. Then when it came down to it, ‘Hey, everyone is coming!’ but I already committed to staying out,” Stenhouse said. “I think his gut instinct was right to stay out and that’s what I went with.”

The fifth-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver knew the cars behind him had fresh tires for the last restart, including new points leader Kyle Larson, who finished second for a third consecutive week.

“I thought the 42 (Larson) would run around the top. I was hoping I could get back to the 31,” Stenhouse said. “It didn’t fire off as well as we wanted and I was really loose. I was glad it got all the way to the checkered because if it were to have caution after caution, it’d have been trouble.”

Stenhouse has had a tough start to the season. He had finishes of 31st, 13th and 33rd in the first three races and found himself sitting 29th in the standings after Las Vegas. But he hasn’t lost confidence in his No. 17 team and believes he’ll contend for wins this year.

“It’s kind of hard to see [hard work] pay off. We’ve had some mechanical failures, bad restarts at the end, and getting fenders torn up,” he added. “We thought we could have finished top-five in Atlanta. In Vegas, we had a 15th-place car, and we had a mechanical failure.

“I think the speed is there — we’re just fine tuning to make sure we don’t make mistakes.”

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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
XFINITY

Ganassi Duo Solid in Phoenix XFINITY Race

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Chip Ganassi Racing had a solid Saturday in the DC Solar 200 at Phoenix Raceway.

Tyler Reddick completed every lap for the first time in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race while Brennan Poole posted an eighth-place result.

Reddick, who ran the No. 42 at Daytona in February, was involved in an early accident at the superspeedway and salvaged a 20th-place result two laps down. But he stayed out of trouble at the desert oval and ran in the top five midway through the event. However, late restarts gave the 21-year-old racer trouble near the end.

“All day yesterday in practice, we had a really hard time getting the take-off speed we needed,” Reddick told POPULAR SPEED. “Honestly, for most of the race, we had pretty good take-off speed on the restarts — better than we were expecting.

“We freed it up too much at the end of the race hoping for a long green flag run. We probably could have finished inside the top 10, but mistakes there at the end cost us a good finish.”

Reddick finished 14th in his second career XFINITY race and was pleased with his performance nonetheless. He said racing on paved short tracks has been difficult in his NASCAR career.

“These short tracks are going to be tough for me,” he said. “[Asphalt racing] isn’t something I knew a lot about growing up. I did a lot of dirt track racing, and being on the top for restarts wasn’t the place for us all day long. Being loose at the end cost us a lot.”

Poole, who sits seventh in the standings, called the final 40 laps of the race “wild.” But he said his confidence is up after Saturday’s performance and thinks a win will come soon.

“The restarts were crazy. Everyone is trying to get what they can get,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “We battled all day. Our car was not really where we wanted in practice, and we didn’t get a great qualifying result. But at the end of the day, we worked through every stop to make the car better and wound up getting an eighth-place finish.

Both CGR drivers had sweat dripping down their face when they climbed out of the car after the race. That’s what a 200-mile event in the Valley of the Sun will do to a person. But both men still had quite a bit more energy afterward.

They both said they could go “another 200 laps.”

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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

BK Racing Rookies Embrace Opportunity as Cup Drivers

AVONDALE, Ariz. — With two rookies running the No.’s 23 and 83 for BK Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the team knew 2017 would be a learning season for drivers Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie.

Entering this year, both racers only had two previous Cup starts and never competed full time in any of NASCAR’s three national series. But team owner Ron Devine gave them the opportunity run in stock car racing’s premier level and let them experience the career of a full-time NASCAR driver.

“Ron is a good supporter, and he knows we have a lot to learn,” Gaulding told POPULAR SPEED. “I know I’m here to work as hard as I can and show Ron I deserve to be in this car. I want to go out every week and give him the best finish possible.”

Gaulding said running at 1.5-mile tracks for the first time was “the most fun I’ve ever had behind the wheel,” particularly in Atlanta, which has an aged surface and tire fall-off is always a factor.

“That race was so fun because the tires get old and everyone is sideways,” he added. “In Vegas, we had a decent run. I felt like we could have finished in the 20s, which is a good run for our team, but I got two speeding penalties on pit road, which killed us under green. … It just comes with time and experience.”

LaJoie had a rocky start to the season. His No. 83 Toyota is unchartered, unlike Gaulding’s No. 23, so he had to race his way into the Daytona 500 in the Duel race.

He qualified for the “Great American Race,” and rolled off 31st, but made contact with the tri-oval’s outside wall on Lap 31 as he tried to slow down to pit road speed.

There was damage to the right front of LaJoie’s car, but he salvaged a 24th-place result in his first 500. Nevertheless, he was happy to make the show as 42 cars attempted Daytona with 40 spots available.

“It was a pretty big moment regardless, whether you were locked in or not, “LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED. “The Daytona 500 was pretty intense. I didn’t go there for a week to not make that thing.

“Obviously, the first three races weren’t quite how we envisioned them to go, but Daytona was cool because we made it.”

Looking ahead, LaJoie will run select events in the JGL Racing No. 24 Toyota in the XFINITY Series, including at Auto Club Speedway next week. He’s scheduled for 14 Cup races this year, and it there could be more if sponsorship is found.

Gaulding’s goal for his rookie season is to finish top 30 in the points standings. After competing in two of the first three Cup events this year, he sits 38th in the standings, two spots behind LaJoie.

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

Blaney Ready for First Double-Duty Weekend of 2017

AVONDALE, Ariz. — For the first time in 2017, Ryan Blaney will run double-duty between the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway.

Blaney, 23, will drive the Team Penske No. 22 in the 200-mile XFINITY race on Saturday and continue into Sunday’s Camping World 500 with his full-time role in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford.

He currently sits sixth in the Cup points standings after opening the season with finishes of second at Daytona, 18th in Atlanta and seventh at Las Vegas.

Having practiced in both the XFINITY and Cup car on Friday, Blaney said the track is “slick” in the 90-degree desert weather and that “it’s only going to get worse” as the weekend progresses.

“This race track has aged very well, and the heat is definitely speeding up that process, which is nice,” he said. “It’s been a difficult task to try and get your car to where you need it. And tomorrow for race practice in the Cup car, it is going to be pretty tough to get your car dialed in for where you need it for Sunday.”

He enjoys competing in both series, though. His last double-duty stint was the championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2016.

“It’s been nice to kind of bounce back-and-forth between garages,” Blaney said. “That’s something I haven’t done for a long time — since last year. That’s nice to try and get repetition on race tracks. We learned things on the Cup car that we tried over [in the XFINITY car] that they’re working on.

“It’s just nice to have them try it and try different lines on the race track.”

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
IndyCar Open Wheel

Kanaan Could Be Favorite for IndyCar’s First Oval Race of 2017

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Two of the first three victories Tony Kanaan had in his career came at Phoenix Raceway, and when the desert oval regained its place on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2016, he had another strong performance with a fourth-place result.

But it’s been awhile since the Brazilian has visited the winner’s circle. His last win came at Auto Club Speedway in 2014.

The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran could break the drought at the mile oval, though. Statistically, Phoenix is one of his best tracks, and it’s the first oval race of the season.

“Historically, I’m pretty decent at ovals — it’s something I worked really hard at back in the Indy Lights days,” Kanaan told POPULAR SPEED in a press conference. “If you looks at my results in ‘98 and ‘99, I started dead last at every single oval, and I was told it’s probably not supposed to be my thing.

“I guess that got under my skin and I worked really hard to improve that. Whatever it is, it suits my driving style.”

Kanaan has established himself as one of the best oval racers in the field. Fourteen of his 17 career wins have come on ovals and has won half his starts at Phoenix.

“It’s always good to come back to a place that you know you do well,” he said. “We’ve won a couple of races here, so it’s a really good fitting. It’s up my alley … I love the mile ovals.”

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

EDWARDS on Homestead: We’re Just Gonna Do It

AVONDALE, Ariz. — It was a so-so weekend for Carl Edwards, who finished 19th at Phoenix International Raceway, but he’s not too concerned about his performance in Sunday’s race.

The 37-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the rain-shortened AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway last week, which clinched the Round of 8 contender’s berth for the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He, JGR teammate Kyle Busch, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, and Phoenix winner Joey Logano are the final four who will fight for the title next weekend.

It marks the second time in Edwards’ career that he’ll fight for the Sprint Cup trophy. The first time was in 2011 against Tony Stewart, and he suffered a heartbreaking defeat as the two ended with a tie in points, but the championship went to Stewart because he had more wins during the season.

This time around, the scenario is different and harder for the No. 19 racer, who is competing against a trio of talented wheelmen.

“It’s going to interesting trying to beat three guys,” Edwards told POPULAR SPEED. “Against one guy, it was a pretty singular focus. We’ll go to Homestead next week and try to win the race like we did at Texas. We have a great mile-and-a-half program, and we’ve been able to perform when it matters. We’re just gonna do it.”

Edwards has finished runner-up in the Chase twice before (2008 and 2011). In his 13 years of Cup racing, he’s won 28 events including three in 2016.

He won at Homestead in 2010 when he was driving the No. 99 for Roush Fenway Racing. After each race he wins, he’s known to do a backflip off his car in celebration. If he ends up doing one at Homestead this year, he better stick the landing; it’d be the greatest flip of his career.

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.