Phoenix Rear View Mirror

PIR

"The desert track has always been a favorite since joining the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 1988, but in recent years PIR has become even more embraced by both drivers and fans." (Photo: Getty Images)

For a lot of different reasons things are looking up for Phoenix Int’l Raceway.

The desert track has always been a favorite since joining the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 1988, but in recent years PIR has become even more embraced by both drivers and fans.

The track’s huge facelift that saw a multi-million dollar renovation turn the one-mile track into basically a new speedway has been met with positive reviews. While the old PIR surface generated some pretty good racing, the new pavement and reconfiguration has made the competition better.

The result has been was a mix of entertaining and frustrating racing. As was the case last November when the new track made its competitive debut, this weekend featured There times when two and even three-wide racing was on display while other stretches saw drivers take a single file route around the track and play it safe.

The phenomenon of cutting down through the now paved apron off the backstretch dogleg as well as entering turn three caused more controversy, but there’s no arguing the practice spiced up the proceedings.

And in this day and age of NASCAR variety and spice are indeed welcomed.

Fans who bemoan the influx of "cookie cutter" mile and a half tracks on the calendar should rejoice in the fact that PIR is unlike any other venue in the sport today. That’s a great thing and hopefully more tracks will evolve in the coming years like what Kansas was able to achieve with its configuration.

Sunday's AdvoCare 500 was another grandstand sellout as was the track's first Sprint Cup race back in February. Granted seating capacity is on the small side at 55,000 or so, but still the track and the area fans should be commended for the turnout. Throw in the infield and the seating up and around the track on the gorgeous surrounding mountains and there was an estimated crowd of 70,000 in the house on Sunday.

The future at PIR is looking very bright. While some questioned whether the historic track could survive in today’s competitive motorsports world it turns out Phoenix is thriving.

  • For the second straight week the Sprint Cup Series main event wasn’t a barnburner for the first two thirds of the afternoon. But that changed big time in the final 100 laps in Phoenix when quite frankly all heck broke loose. Jimmie Johnson hitting the wall and send the championship story into a frenzy was just the tip of the iceberg. Before it was over Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer ignited a brawl between their pit crews and then Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag while a giant melee broke out behind him. There’s no way this year’s penultimate race of the Chase will be forgotten, if not for all the right reasons.
  • Gordon’s act to Bowyer might put him in the same boat Kyle Busch found himself in a year ago with a week off. The Hendrick Motorsports driver ignored NASCAR’s black flag to stay on track and then extract revenge on Bowyer, something that will not sit well with the sanctioning body. To be consistent with how Busch was treated after his truck series incident with Ron Hornaday last year NASCAR needs to park Gordon.
  • The championship battle isn’t as close as last year’s was at least heading into Homestead. But after the shocking way Jimmie Johnson lost the lead on Sunday to Brad Keselowski, anyone who thinks they know how this will turn out is out to lunch.
  • The two titles in the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series are still intriguing even though both took different turns over the weekend in Phoenix. The bottom line is Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead still has the makings of being a classic.

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