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2021 NASCAR Championship Weekend marks formal beginning of an era for Phoenix Raceway

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

AVONDALE, ARIZ. – A year after Phoenix Raceway hosted a sellout crowd of 8,400 fans, the 1-mile track is hosting a true sellout crowd of 42,000-plus fans for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race.

“It’s just so nice to feel the excitement and the buzz leading into the race weekend,” Julie Giese, track president of Phoenix Raceway, said. “We definitely had that last year but it was a different feel.”

For Giese, it has been a long time coming. She and her team last hosted a full-capacity crowd for the March 2020 FanShield 500 – the last race before the pandemic sidelined the sport for two months.

Photo by Don White/TRE

Now, nearly 20 months after the fateful race, fans have signaled a return to normal for the track. The championship race is Phoenix’s fourth-consecutive playoff race with a full-capacity crowd to sell out.

“The fans are one of the big reasons why we have Championship Weekend because we’ve consistently sold this place out,” Giese said. “It is fun that we have had the success we have had because it is so many years in the making and we finally get to watch the champions lift their trophies this weekend.”

Giese’s career spans over 20 years, including a tenure at Daytona International Speedway that included events such as the 50th Daytona 500 and the 50th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Beginning with the November 2018 playoff race weekend, Giese took over as track president of Phoenix Raceway.

“It was right after we finished the renovation project, so it was a new facility,” Giese recalled. “We were sold out so, just to be part of that team, to welcome the fans and to see their smiles as they came through the gates really engaging and truly loving what we did with the facility, that was pretty special – it’s great validation.”

As the 11th-ranked U.S. media market, Phoenix has hosted three Super Bowls in the last 25 years – with a fourth coming in 2023 – the 2016 CFB Playoffs National Championship and the 2017 NCAA Final Four.

Each of these events has created a community for Giese and her team at Phoenix Raceway to succeed in with NASCAR Championship Weekend.

“The city of Avondale really has brought all the West Valley cities together and the entire valley together is in support of this event and we’re reaping the benefits of that honestly,” Giese said. “We have so many people in this community that want to be part of the event and want to support it.”

The fortunate fans attending this weekend will be the first full-capacity crowd for a championship race at Phoenix.

In response, the track has expanded its efforts and has been blessed with pre-pandemic fan favorites, such as practice and qualifying, midway activities and a Thursday hauler parade.

“Whether it’s some new photo opportunities, some new kids areas and some things around eSports, even if you’ve been to Phoenix Raceway before, our goal is to always bring something new each and every time,” Giese said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of new for our fans to see.”

The buzz for this weekend, described by Giese, is translating to additional buzz for March 2022, when Phoenix will be the fifth track to host a race with the NextGen car.

The race will be akin to stepping “back to the future”. The second NextGen test took place at Phoenix in 2019, when the car was scheduled to run in 2021 before the pandemic delayed its development.

Photo: Michael Reeves/Getty Images

“It’s been a lot of hard work by the competition team and the race teams to get us to this point so we’re looking forward to seeing that car on the track and seeing it live up to all that potential,” Giese said. “I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun to see and see what it does to the racing action. We have so much great racing action already at Phoenix Raceway and I’m excited to see what level it takes it to.”

For Phoenix Raceway, the “NextGen” draws closer not only as a new NASCAR Cup Series car that will soon hit the pavement but also as the track’s new, championship race era for Giese and her team to take pride in.

“There are a lot of different places that this can go to and we want to make sure that we do right by it for our friends at Homestead-Miami Speedway who set a very high standard – an example – for us, Giese remarked. “We just want to continue to take it to a new level and celebrate our industry, our fans, our drivers and the teams – everyone – when they get here.”

The next generation begins this weekend as four champions will be crowned in glory shared only by the track making the generation-transcendent memories happen.

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship race is 3 p.m. ET, Nov. 7 (TV: NBC; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race is 8:30 p.m. ET, Nov. 6 (TV: NBCSN; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship race is at 8 p.m. ET, Nov. 5 (TV: FS1; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The ARCA Menards Series West finale will also be Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. ET (TV: NBC TrackPass; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with seven drivers in the hunt for the championship:

Jesse Love, Paul Pedroncelli Jr (-1), Jake Drew (-3), Joey Iest (-5), Cole Moore (-6), Trevor Huddleston (-15) and Todd Souza (-26).

Full breakdown of the top three NASCAR national series’ Championship 4 lineups can be found here.


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