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Phoenix Getting Major Facelift

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Monday, January 30 2017

Big changes in the desert as Phoenix International Raceway. (File photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Phoenix International Raceway, a quirky 1-mile oval known for its tricky backstretch dog leg, soon will undergo a $178-million makeover, a costly facelift that includes demolishing the frontstretch grandstands and repositioning the start/finish line in Turn 2.

“This is a great day for ISC and Phoenix Raceway, but more importantly, for racing fans in the state of Arizona and around the world,” Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, said in a statement. “A project of this magnitude is monumental for our company as we get to work enhancing the experience of the great fans who love to watch our races in Phoenix and enjoy this beautiful area.

“Having Phoenix Raceway within our prestigious stable of venues always has been a tremendous asset and source of pride for us. We are thrilled to create a best-in-class facility in Phoenix, and we’re confident it will grow the fan base here and further serve as a destination track for motorsports fans everywhere.”

Among the many highlights of the modernization project is a completely redesigned infield featuring a first-of-its-kind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage Fan Zone, placing fans face-to-face with the stars of the sport. Other highlights include a new pedestrian tunnel connecting the infield to the upgraded seating areas featuring in-seat Wi-Fi connectivity.

But the change that likely will stir the most buzz is moving the start/finish line to Turn 2 just before the start of the dog leg.  Although drivers face a short straightaway toward the finish line off Turn 4 in the track’s current design, they now will be finishing races in a turn and in perhaps the most challenging section of the track.

The new finish line begins with a sharp dive into Turn 1, which becomes Turn 3 when the reconfiguration is completed in time for the November 2018 race, and ends in what is to become Turn 4. Needless to say, restarts and potential side-by-side and bumper-to-bumper finishes could lead to hairy and controversial endings.

NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports addressed the radical change during an Open Test Tuesday that included his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS. “I had some conversations with the track a while ago about these changes, and they did talk to some of the drivers about what they were doing and did take some ideas and other things that drivers thought would help or be good,” Earnhardt said. “So I’m glad there was some collaboration between the track and the drivers, because it makes you feel like you had something to do with it or had some input.

“I think it’ll be really interesting to have the restarts begin in the turn. So imagine you’re in 20th or the middle of the pack trying to get a good restart while you’re in a corner. That’s going to be interesting. You’re going to have to throttle-up out of the turn. It’s going to be guys all over the place going through the dog leg, because with restarts you have guys that accelerate better than others; guys in the right lane, the wrong lane; it’s going to be chaos coming through the dog leg. Guys trying to shortcut and get into the new Turn 1. There’ll be some action.

“As a driver, I’m getting a lot more comfortable with change and not quite as cynical about all of that. As a fan, you’ve got to love it. They’re going to make this a better experience for the fans, comfort-wise. You’re going to have a better view of where the action is. They’ve always done a great job here. Fans always seem to love coming here _ they fill this place up. It’s really not going to interrupt our season or the track’s progress. I think it’s great.”

Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, said he began hearing rumors of the start/finish line change last year.  “It could be exciting over there,” said Harvick, who is adjusting to the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion after Stewart-Haas Racing’s manufacturer switch from Chevrolet. “I really like the effect of having all the grandstands down on that particular area. I think the raceway deserves it. The crowd and the people in Phoenix deserve to have a showpiece, because they’ve come out and supported (NASCAR) for years.

“The part I’m most excited for is the garages. I think those were the same garages that were here in the late ‘80s. I wouldn’t even call them garages _ I’d just call it a covered area. So I’m excited for the guys to have a nice place to work. To see the investment that ISC is making in their sport is amazing for everybody. You’ve got Daytona, and now Phoenix, and I don’t think it stops there. So seeing them re-investing and creating more stadium-type feels of the racetrack is something that’s great for the fans, great for us, and great for our sport.”

Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, also lauded the ambitious project. “It’s great to see Phoenix Raceway make such a big investment to improve the experience for the fans,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “I’m from the West Coast and Phoenix is one of those places that always feels like home to me. Moving the start/finish line is a big change for all the racers that have been used to racing at Phoenix in the past; I’m looking forward to seeing how those changes might affect the racing and how the end of the races play-out.”

The modernization project also includes the installation of new/upgraded seating and hospitality areas near the current Turn 2 location. A new grandstand will be built alongside upgraded seats in the existing Bobby Allison Grandstand (both featuring individual chair back stadium seats with armrests), complete with modern amenities such as several new escalators and elevators, additional restrooms and concessions and a redesigned Midway conveniently located near the seating areas.

DC Solar, entitlement partner of Phoenix Raceway’s spring NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the DC Solar 200, will serve as title sponsor for the modernization project (Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar) as well as a multi-year sponsor of the redesigned Midway.  DC Solar is a clean energy company that specializes in mobile solar products.

“When our project is completed, we will have a venue that delivers amazing fan experiences to go along with our reputation for great racing action,” PIR President Bryan Sperber said. “By shifting the start/finish line to Phoenix Raceway’s famed dog leg, fans will be perfectly positioned to watch one of the most exciting turns in motorsports. We are confident The Phoenix Raceway Project powered by DC Solar will put racing in Arizona in a whole new and exciting light.”

The Camping World 500 at PIR is scheduled for March 19.

 

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Monday, January 30 2017
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