With over 170 Million Dollars in renovations to the previously named Phoenix International Raceway, ISM Raceway lived up to the hype that was building all summer long. Personally, it was almost like waiting for Christmas morning as a kid when I couldn’t wait to unwrap my presents.
And ISM Raceway had quite a few presents under the tree on Veterans Day weekend. As always, I wanted to start with the biggest present, which was the brand new, 24,000 square foot media center. Replacing the former 6,000 square foot media center was a beautiful, well designed new building. No more will I or my team be sitting in an overflow tent where the air conditioning worked only part-time. No more would we be served food outside, surrounded by flies and bees circling the garbage full of soda cans. No more will we be jockeying for space at our assigned spot to put our laptop and camera equipment, as well as trying to put our bags under the tiny tables.
When I initially walked into the media center, I mentioned to one of my team members stating that it smelled like the first day of school. New paint, everything is clean, and everyone was smiling. The facilities were inside, as opposed to being shared with the former RV campers on the infield. The media interview and work room was twice the size that it was prior where the post-race interviews were held. And the drivers meeting room was no longer in a large white tent, but inside with a large video board. And even though I had a large window seat to see the cars roar down the front stretch, there were no less than a dozen large TV’s with audio switching back and forth between the television broadcast, and the radio broadcast between breaks.
But, as much as I’d like to think that the designers of the track spent all that money for the media experience, the fans were treated even better. Let’s talk about the upgraded grandstands. There were actual seats for the fans to sit in instead of sitting on the hard, hot metal bleacher seats. These seats came equipped with both wi-fi and cup holders. There were even upgraded seats that had tables in between them. The suites were upgraded with more room, and more amenities. There were stairs, escalators, and elevators to help the fans get where they needed to go.
Now let’s talk about the brand new infield experience. For those that purchased a ticket, fans could take an easy shortcut under the grandstands, which went under the track, and came up into the new infield.
The new Chill Zone brought cooler temperatures, beverages, and food to fans with an infield pass. It was also great to be able to cool down after a couple laps around the track early Friday morning.
The Modern Margarita brought mixed drinks and good food as well as ample seating available for those who wish to partake. Also, the Miller Lite Beer Garden was added for the more traditional fans, again with plenty of seating available.
Prior to the rebuild, fans could only walk around the Monster Energy garage. Now, fans can actually walk into any one of six garages. Each garage had multiple entry opportunities for fans in the rear and back corners. This allowed fans to not only get up and close with their favorite teams, but also have the opportunity to get an autograph from their favorite drivers.
And then there was victory lane. Towered over by a large scoring board, along with three big screens, this new victory lane is probably the best in all of racing. It includes a large team and sponsor area, as well as two pits, one on each side, for fans to stand in and take part in the victory lane celebration.
But what about the racing?
Kyle Busch Wins Can Am 500
Man, I love this racing format with the playoffs cutting down the championship to just four drivers. It creates so much exciting driving and it also gives the fans a lot to cheer for throughout the entire race. And there was a ton of excitement on Sunday at ISM Raceway!
Kyle Busch would lead the most laps on the day with 117 on his way to locking in his spot in the final four championship race this coming weekend in Miami.
Kevin Harvick, after winning the pole for Sunday’s race, would finish sixth. He led a total of 73 laps.
Harvick would spend a lot of the race trying to stay ahead, or catch up to Kurt Busch, who momentarily was just a couple points ahead of Harvick in the playoff points. Kurt Busch would be taken out of the race after a mistake by Denny Hamlin who tried to clear Busch and misjudged his position. The wreck would pretty much end both Kurt’s championship hopes along with Chase Elliotts as Busch would collect him in the wreck and cause enough damage to slow his car down for the race.
So Kyle would win and advance with Joey Logano already having sealed his spot. The two will be joined in Miami by Martin Truex Jr, and Kevin Harvick.
During the post-race interview, Kyle Busch would say that this is “probably the best final-four ever assembled for a championship race.” And I agree completely with him. Three of the four are former champions with Logano going for his first title. Logano actually has the best average finish of all four in the playoffs (9.7).
Bell Takes Whelen Trusted To Perform 200
Christopher Bell is having a great Rookie season in the Nascar Xfinity Series. And it’s not ever yet with his victory on Saturday, Bell moves on to the championship four in Miami, joining Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, and Daniel Hemric.
Bell would lead 94 of the 200 laps, which was the most in the field. ISM Raceway was also his third win of the playoffs.
Justin Allgaier did everything that he could to try and join the championship four for Miami, having won both stage one and two. But he would suffer through some mishaps in the pits (slid through pits), and eventually would take heavy damage after losing his breaks. He would finish in 24th, and outside of qualifying for the final four.
Brett Moffitt Wins Lucas Oil 150
Clear skies and about sixty degrees added to a beautiful night for a race at ISM Raceway. What a great way to open up a weekend then a night race to decide the championship four for Miami next weekend. This race was up for grabs throughout as there was some great, tough racing.
Pole sitter Noah Gragson would lead a total of 43 laps but would eventually come up short, finishing second to Moffitt who would lead a total of 19 laps.
Third place went to Harrison Burton who led a race high 46 laps, and also won the second stage.
Championship four contender Johnny Sauter, who started 14th would have a solid finish in 7th position.
The final championship four contender, Justin Haley will hope to have better luck in Miami after bowing out late with an oil leak. He already had two wins in the playoffs to secure his spot in Miami.
Overall, this was probably the best race weekend at ISM Raceway that I have been a part of since becoming a member of the media five years ago. I can’t wait for March until the next race in the valley of the sun!
And finally, I want to give a shout out to the crew that worked ISM Raceway with me, along with a couple honorable mentions. I want to thank my team of Tony Espinoza and Rhonda Costa for your hard work all weekend long. I want to give a shout out to Keenan Wright from Phoenix Area Sports, covering the first race under a PAS credential. I know that’s a big step for that organization. I also want to thank the guidance, mentorship, and friendship of Hassan Kareem. You and your team are awesome, and you are always a pleasure to work with. I want to thank Adam Bird for creating the platform that allowed me to pursue the many sports partnerships that we have. And finally, let me thank ISM Raceway for our partnership, along with Greg Capuano, who promised to have the Monster Energy Girls by my bedside should I ever find myself on my death bed. What a way to leave this Earth, that would be……but not yet!