NASCAR is bringing its championship weekend back to Phoenix next season, the fourth straight year the Cup Series title will be decided in the desert, and driver reaction this week has been decidedly mixed.
There are those like Kurt Busch who think “keeping it different, keeping it fun is key,” and that could mean moving the November finale to different tracks. Kyle Larson, who won the championship in Phoenix last year, and others point to great facilities and strong fan support — not to mention the weather — to keep the race going in Arizona.
“It’s kind of like the All-Star race. There are so many variables from a business perspective, from a city perspective,” said Kevin Harvick. “The crowds showed up and they prepared well, and they are good at putting on these types of events. There is much more than that. It’s a much deeper mix of things that need to be decided.
The Finals took place at Homestead-Miami Speedway for nearly two decades before moving to Phoenix in 2020.
“Phoenix is an ideal region to host championship weekend,” Larson said. “There are only a handful of tracks that could really host a championship weekend. That’s why he stayed in Florida for a long time.
SPEAKING OF TRACKS…
As much as Larson loves Phoenix, the defending Cup Series champion was equally outspoken in his dislike of Texas, which has hosted the All-Star race for the past two years and produced a lackluster show a few weeks ago.
“I hate to be another one of those guys to hit it,” he said, “but it’s not a very good track at all. It just doesn’t produce good runs and it’s hard to having an exhibition style race there when the track isn’t very sporty at all.
Much like championship weekend, there’s a contingent of drivers who want to see the All-Star race visit different venues, much like Major League Baseball and other professional sports move their All-Star games. And that could mean out-of-the-box thinking, like using the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for an exhibition race earlier this year.
NASCAR held its All-Star race in Charlotte from 1987 until 2020, when it moved to Bristol for a year amid the pandemic,
“I don’t have a solution right off the bat,” Busch said. “There are different tracks and different atmospheres that you can throw at the All-Star race, whether it’s short track or a mile and a half, Daytona and a restriction plate style. It there are a lot of different options and maybe that’s something we can look into.
Richard Petty completed the ceremonial opening laps around World Wide Technology Speedway in his 1981 Daytona 500 winning car on Friday before the Cup Series opened its first weekend at the track with a practice session.
Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes, who will qualify No. 16 for AJ Allmendinger as he races the Xfinity race in Portland on Saturday, spun into the wall in practice. Damage to the Kaulig Racing car was relatively minor.
Later in the 50-minute session, Rick Ware Racing’s Parker Kligerman’s race caught fire and brought out a red flag.
Joey Logano jumped to the top of the speed chart in the final minute of practice, turning a lap at 136.753 mph to push Ryan Blaney off his perch. Austin Cindric made it a Team Penske sweep of the top three times.
CHUTE AND LADDERS
NASCAR heads to Sonoma Raceway in California next weekend, where the series will return to the shorter 1.99-mile layout with a chute connecting turns 4 and 7 rather than using the “carousel” that allowed a lap longer.
The extra turns in the carousel, which were part of the original layout, were brought back for the track’s 50th anniversary in 2019 and again last season. But it made fewer laps, slower races and removed a popular overtaking opportunity.
“This car is faster on the road circuits anyway because it has more grip. It’s a center-tap race car,” said Kyle Busch. “It should be more competitive. Just a question of who crushes whom. Do we look like a local kart track or do we look like professionals? This will determine the duration of the race.
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