2020 marks the very first year in NASCAR Championship history where the title race will be held at a track where the drivers had already raced earlier in the season. This year, Phoenix Raceway has been chosen to host the final showdown for the championship in November. And this past weekend, we got a little preview of what to expect from the track that has quickly become a fan favorite on the schedule.
Phoenix Raceway hosted three of the four NASCAR racing leagues this past weekend; The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and ARCA Menards Series West were all in town for the three-day blitz of racing action.
I’ve been covering NASCAR now at Phoenix Raceway for about six years, and I’ve personally been able to see the tracks transformation into an exciting, entertaining venue with a great mix of food, fun, entertainment, and phenomenal finishes.
I even found myself simply being a fan and enjoyed seeing all the different options for fans to have fun both inside and outside of the track. So if you’re looking for an exciting getaway from the cold, early winter weather in the North come November, this should be the #1 stop on your list.
The Infield experience is like no other on the schedule for fans who want to get close to their favorite drivers and also have fun while doing it. If an autograph or a photo with your favorite driver is what you seek, then you’ll have your options. All ages are welcome with an Infield pass.
Growing up, I remember meeting Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire. I must have only been about five or six years old, but I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life. I think of that moment, among others, when I see parents walking around the Infield with their young racing fans. Only they don’t have a Earnhardt Sr. t-shirt on. They are now wearing shirts supporting their favorite drivers currently on the roster.
Fans of all three levels could find their favorite drivers out and around the track. One very popular young driver in the ARCA Menards Series West could be found in the garage area signing autographs for her fans, both young and old. The line to get an autograph or a picture with Hailey Deegan actually stretched the entire length of the AMS garage area. If you don’t know much about Hailey, but know the name sounds familiar, you probably watched her father, Brian Deegan (AKA “Dangerboy”) at one point or another doing backflips on snowmobiles or entertaining fans racing a dirt bike or doing crazy tricks as part of the original “Metal Mulisha.” Brian is the most decorated freestyle rider in X Games history. And he’s by his daughters side, showing his support along the way. I will say that even though there were the other drivers in the AMS series also signing autographs, Brian Deegan probably gave out the second most at a race that he wasn’t even a part of.
Fans had plenty of opportunities for autographs and photos at Phoenix Raceway all weekend long. But I will say that your best chance is on the Infield. You can grab an autograph or photo of your favorite driver on the Red Carpet prior to driver meetings at the media center. You can also grab an autograph or photo in the MENCS garage area race day and any other time you can catch your favorite driver at his garage. Every MENCS garage has a pathway inside the garage where fans can stand and take photos.
Prior to the racing on any day, and even during the races, NASCAR Heat is set up on eight televisions so that you can challenge a friend, or even get your butt kicked by your son. This father is having a hard time keeping his favorite driver on the track while his son is about to come around and lap him after only one lap at Daytona.
You can play NASCAR Heat at any time while the garages are open. This setup is always available in the last garage next to the Media Center.
If you want food or beverage while enjoying the Infield Experience, you have a few different choices. You have the Chill Zone, located next to the Media Center and the Kids Fun Zone. On a hot day this is a great place because their are about a dozen huge fans that pump out cold air to cool you down while you enjoy a quick bite, or to watch the race on any of the many television screens.
Mike’s Hard Lemonade stand is new to the Infield this year and is just on the other side on Gatorade Victory Lane. There is also a stage against the opposite wall of Victory Lane where driver interviews are held on all three days.
The ever popular Miller Lite Beer Garden on the Infield at Phoenix Raceway is a great spot to catch some shade and a cold one during the race.
Also, fans with the right passes will have access to walk pit road during pre-race ceremonies! This gives you yet another opportunity to find your favorite car and get a close up picture of it before it goes into battle. The cars will be lined up in qualifying order prior to the race.
Don’t forget to sign the track before heading to your seats for the race! Fans can sign the start/finish line at Phoenix Raceway along with the wall. This gives fans the opportunity to shout out their favorite drivers, sports teams, or write that message to someone special!
But it’s not all just walking around and taking in the sites. Don’t forget about the pre-race entertainment! This year we had an awesome roster of entertainers on Sunday, beginning with the Harry Luge Band.
Then the drumline BOOM! took to the stage at Phoenix Raceway to pump up the crowd!
Then Country music star Blake Shelton and Pop music icon Pitbull performed together!
The fans were also treated to a World Record at Phoenix Raceway as former Arizona State University National Wrestling Champion Anthony Robles got into the Guinness Book of World Records after completing 23 pull-ups with an 80 pound backpack in under a minute.
Anthony Robles, despite his disability has used his platform to not only pursue other records, but to support our wounded warriors through programs with Disabled American Veterans and Victories 4 Vets.
So fans wishing to join the inside festivities had a lot to talk about. But those outside the track also got to partake in a lot of entertainment as well!
This past weekend marked the official opening of the brand new facility, “The Barn.” The Barn is partially owned by NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon. During peak hours, The Barn had entertainment from the likes of DJ Valentine and the Christopher Shane Band, among others.
During the day, The Barn, which is located next to Rudy’s Trackside bar and grill, hosted a number of interviews with different NASCAR drivers and personalities.
Next to the barn is the ever popular, Rudy’s Trackside bar and grill. Rudy’s is very popular here in the valley of the sun and is perfect for barbecue loving fans!
Chevrolet and Toyota both have big booths and tents in the Midway area. It’s very common to stroll through and hear or see an interview going on!
Food, food, and more food! This year I was very careful to leave my wallet in the media center. Last year I didn’t do so well with that and went a “little” overboard on the protein intake! LOL! But it was totally worth it!
With everything going on both inside and outside of the track, it’s very easy to forget that there were three races that took place this weekend! So let’s get into some race recaps and overall thoughts!
Logano Holds Off Harvick Late To Win Fanshield 500!
Joey Logano overcame a pit road violation (tire violation) on lap 137 to take the checkered flag on Sunday for the Fanshield 500 at Phoenix Raceway. After qualifying 13th to start the race, Logano would hold off Kevin Harvick late to take the win.
During the post race interview in the media room, Logano referred to the “awesome sauce” that NASCAR put on the track in the outside lane to help with grip in the turns.
Nowhere on the track was this more relevant than heading into turn one and out of turn two. While other drivers were busy dive bombing the dog-leg and making a rush to the inside line in turn one, Logano chose to maintain his line which was mostly a 50/50 split between the tires in the “awesome sauce” and the tires on the part of the track without it. This apparently helped Logano maintain higher speed exiting turn two and heading down the back stretch into turn three.
And he needed every ounce of speed that he could find given that Kevin Harvick was in his rear view mirror the majority of the final laps. Harvick showed good power all day after finishing first in segment one and second in segment two.
After finishing 1st at the end of stage two, and also overcoming an early wreck between his car, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney on lap 65, Brad Keselowski would be in contention for the majority of the day. Despite early damage to his left rear, there were parts of the race where the #2 looked uncatchable. However, due to late issues, he would finish a disappointing 14th.
Brandon Jones Takes LS Tractor 200
On a track where Kyle Busch usually dominates in the Xfinity Series, he would be passed up by Brandon Jones on lap 181. Jones would go on to take the win as JGR would finish 1-2-3 with Harrison Burton passing Busch late to take second.
The win also gave Toyota Racing its 500th win in NASCAR’s top three series.
Despite Kyle Busch’s third place finish, this loss does not count towards the $100,000 bounty put up by MENCS veteran Kevin Harvick and CEO of Camping World, Marcus Lemonis. The first opportunity to beat Busch and collect the bounty will be in Atlanta this weekend. Kyle Busch can not be wrecked in the race and has to finish for the bounty to be official. If anything, it will put more eyes on the early race in Atlanta. I know I’ll be watching.
Chandler Smith Takes General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway
Chandler Smith only led a total of 11 laps at Phoenix Raceway on Friday. But it was a last caution pit stop strategy that put him in the lead. The two-tire decision put him out front of fellow ARCA racers Michael Self and Ty Gibbs. He was able to stay out front in the final laps to take the victory at Phoenix Raceway.
Ty Gibbs, who won the pole for the race, was also the only other leader in the race, leading 122 laps, but finished third.
Fan favorite, Hailie Deegan finished 6th on Friday after qualifying 9th.
Yet another great weekend of NASCAR racing at Phoenix Raceway. With everything going on inside and outside of the walls at Phoenix Raceway, it’s very easy to see why NASCAR chose this venue to host the Championship race in November. I’m looking forward to it!