Phoenix provides a stellar championship environment

NASCAR driver Kyle Larson celebrates his first career Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway, Nov. 7.

 

As the engines roared at Phoenix Raceway, so did the fans in the grandstands. 

On Sunday, Nov. 7, a sold-out crowd greeted racers at the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race in Avondale, Arizona.

“You feel that energy when you walk into the gate,” 2021 NASCAR Xfinity series champion Daniel Hemric said. 

2021 is the second year in a row that Phoenix has hosted the three NASCAR championship races. 

However, in 2020, attendance was limited to 11,000 people due to COVID-19. 

“I think this year, we’re gonna get to understand what Phoenix as a host city means.” 2020 Xfinity series champion Austin Cindric said. 

News from the Pits reporter Cole Cusumano moved to the Phoenix area in 2006. In his 15 years as an Arizona resident, he has seen the sports scene really grow in Arizona.

He described how Arizona evolved into the sports haven it is today. 

“I came here in 2006, Arizona wasn’t a blooming sports state, but now it’s really blossoming into something like a mecca, like a [Los Angeles] or New York-type of city,” Cusumano said. “You can even tell that with this championship weekend and this beautiful conference hall [Phoenix Convention Center] and everything Phoenix Raceway is doing.”

Hosting championships was not common for the Phoenix area until State Farm Stadium opened in 2006. Sun Devil Stadium was the host of Super Bowl XXX and had championship games for the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks. Before State Farm Stadium opened, however, championship hosting opportunities for neutral site games were few and far between. 

Since 2006, Phoenix has hosted two Super Bowls, two National Championship games in college football and the 2017 Final Four as well as two NASCAR Championships. 

“You had a couple Super Bowls in Arizona, [that] helped the NFL,” Cusumano said. “Now that NASCAR has been here for two years, I think you’re going to see interest level peak for the sport. It’s all good things for Arizona sports and it’s been really incredible to see how far it’s come from 2006 to 2021. I think the fan experience alone is enough to merit Phoenix a championship race.”

One big reason for the vast amount of championship appeal for Arizona has been the fans generating excitement for these huge events. 

The NASCAR drivers have only been able to experience it for a couple of years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the spectacle Phoenix brings.

“Fun places and fans support is really what sticks out to me and that’s I think the reason why we brought the Final Four here,” NASCAR Cup series driver Martin Truex Jr. said. “Look at the number of campers and the excitement at Phoenix every year, and it’s sold out again. So, the excitement level of the fans is why we’re here and that’s one thing we can’t separate from racetracks.”

Before Phoenix, the championship weekend was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With a possibility of the championship weekend jumping around to different tracks — Phoenix is only guaranteed to host through the 2022 season — 2020 NASCAR Cup series champion Chase Elliott said he does enjoy Phoenix being a host city for Championship Weekend. 

“Phoenix has been a great host, I’d love to see it continue to jump around but I appreciate everyone out here,” Elliott said. “[The city has] been a great host and I hope it’s a good show for them.” 

Based on population, Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the United States.

Combined with the huge number of residents and the desert scenery, Phoenix has a lot to offer teams and athletes during the stresses of the competition. 

“I love Arizona, it’s beautiful,” 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson said. “I really enjoy it, everything is nice out here. Nice buildings, nice restaurants, nice people; so, I think this is the perfect place for it.”

The champions of each series expressed their enjoyment for the track and the city as a whole.

Ben Rhodes, the 2021 Camping World Truck series champion, made his name known after winning his first championship.

“I love the food scene,” Rhodes said. “I make it a point to visit my special purpose restaurants in the city. The hiking here is good, the outdoors is good, the scenery is awesome.” 

In Avondale, housing continues to expand, inching closer to Phoenix Raceway that sits near the Estrella Mountains. 

The drive leading into the race track shows the growth the area has seen and continues to do so.

“You see civilization inching closer and closer to the racetrack,” Rhodes said. “It’s a growing city and I love that.”

Maricopa County is the fastest-growing county in the U.S., so an expanding population, along with fan excitement allows championship environments to thrive in the desert. 

NASCAR announced the full schedule for next season, which will begin with the inaugural running of The Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022.

“I think this is a really fun city and a really fun market we go to,” Rhodes exclaimed. “I don’t say that about all the places we go to. Some places I’m just like, ‘Do we really have to go there?’”

With NASCAR Championship Weekend returning to Phoenix Raceway for the 2022 season, expect the fan excitement to be even louder than the cars on the track.

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