Phoenix is a city known for big events: Super Bowls, BCS National Championship games, All-Star games, championship golf tournaments, NBA playoffs and the like are big happenings that residents of – and visitors to – the Valley of the Sun have come to expect. Phoenix International Raceway’s semi-final weekend in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is no exception.
With four NASCAR races in three days from Nov. 12-13, more than 150,000 attendees are expected to flock to PIR this fall. This year’s Sprint Cup Series event carries even more intrigue than usual, as Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools has signed on as the new title sponsor for NASCAR’s signature event in the Southwest – promising a host of new fan-friendly wrinkles for the inaugural Kobalt Tools 500 in Phoenix.
Of course four-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson drives the Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson and his team have owned PIR the past several seasons, winning the fall Cup event in Phoenix three straight years – all but clinching season championships in the Valley of the Sun in the process. Johnson’s taken the Checkered flag in four of the last six Cup races overall at Phoenix and will look to muscle his way to an unprecedented fifth straight title when he appears in the desert once again on Nov. 14.
Johnson, a native of El Cajon, Calif., likes coming back to the West Coast for races at PIR and even attended races at the track as a fan before his career took off.
“This track is a lot of fun to drive, with the two different ends of the track,” Johnson said. “ We’ve been very strong (at Phoenix) in the fall race.”
Just one man than Johnson has won a fall Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway in the past four years. That driver? Another Californian, Bakersfield-native Kevin Harvick. Harvick – perhaps not coincidentally – has been one of Johnson’s biggest challengers during the 2010 NASCAR season, leading the “regular season” points standings for most of the year.
Like Johnson, Harvick has a special place in his heart for racing in the West and a deep history at PIR.
“Phoenix is one of those places that I grew up racing on,” Harvick said. “I raced a lot in the Southwest Tour, Winston West and Truck Series races at Phoenix. I have learned the characteristics of the race track and the little things that you can do when your car is not handling perfect. I like the flat race tracks. Racing on Phoenix my entire career has also translated into flat track success on the entire circuit.”
Who else might challenge Johnson’s late-season dominance in the desert? Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are also recent Phoenix Sprint Cup race winners. Kyle Busch, meanwhile, has five total wins at PIR in NASCAR’s top three series since 2006.
Of course championships are also being chased – and sometimes clinched – at Phoenix in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series as well. While his team owner Kevin Harvick won last year’s Lucas Oil 150 at PIR, Ron Hornaday clinched the 2009 trucks season championship in the Valley of the Sun with a fourth-place finish.
Said Harvick after the race: "To see Hornaday lock up the championship tonight and for me to win the race … I don't think you could script it much better."
The Nationwide Series season championship will also be coming down to the wire at Phoenix this fall and – just as in Cup – a new title sponsor promises new fan-friendly elements during event weekend. The inaugural WYPALL* 200 has already been a hit with racing enthusiasts in and around Phoenix, as the new title sponsor offered fans the chance to win a VIP weekend to PIR on its Facebook page: Facebook.com/WYPALLWipers.
On the track in the Nationwide Series, Busch – the defending series champion – has been a dominant force at Phoenix. The younger Busch brother has won three of the past seven Nationwide Series races at PIR. Carl Edwards, the Nationwide champion in 2007, has two career wins in the desert.
With so many contenders vying for championships in all three major NASCAR series at Phoenix International Raceway this November 12-14, fans won’t want to miss a second of the action. Single day tickets to the Kobalt Tools 500 – NASCAR’s semi-final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – start at just $25. Fans may also add to their weekend excitement with PIR’s Extreme NASCAR Value Packages, including two-day (Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series) tickets priced at only $40 and three-day (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series) ticket packages for just $47.
Get your seats today by calling 866-408-RACE (7223) or visit PhoenixRaceway.com/Tickets!