Under the warm, dry desert sun and amidst the cacti in the Estrella Mountains sits a gem of a facility known as Phoenix Raceway, and this weekend it sets the stage for the NASCAR Cup Series competitors to do battle on its 1-mile track for the 50th-time in series history.
Phoenix Raceway held its first NASCAR Cup Series race, the Checker 500, on November 6, 1988. The event was a memorable 312 laps that produced 15 lead changes among six leaders. Geoff Bodine started on the pole, Ricky Rudd dominated the race leading 183 laps but finished 26th due to an engine failure and NASCAR Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki out of Greenfield, Wisconsin, won his first career NASCAR Cup Series race. During his celebration after the race, Kulwicki debuted his ‘Polish Victory Lap’ where he would drive in the opposite direction on the track (clockwise) and salute the crowd on his way to Victory Lane.
Since debuting back in 1988, Phoenix Raceway has hosted 49 NASCAR Cup Series races producing 25 different pole winners and 25 different race winners. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman lead the series in poles at Phoenix with four each. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins at Phoenix with nine victories.
Phoenix Raceway is no stranger to big NASCAR Cup Series events, since the inception of the series’ Playoffs Phoenix has participated in the postseason (2004-2021) and even served as the penultimate race from 2005-2019 and was named the Championship race in 2020. Last season, Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the spring race at Phoenix, and then Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott won the season finale and the 2020 series title.
This weekend’s race the Instacart 500 (March 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be 312 laps and broken up into three stages. The first stage is 75 laps, the second stage is 115 laps and ends on Lap 190 and the final stage is 122 laps. The starting lineup for this weekend’s race was determined by Metric Qualifying and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski will start from the pole and last week’s winner and Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson will join him on the front row.
Next Race: Instacart 500
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Sunday, March 14
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles (312 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 190), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 312)
Streaks Alive: Could we see a fifth different winner to start the season?
With four different winners to start the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, the question begs, ‘Will we see a fifth?’.
It has happened before. In the Modern Era (1972-2021) five different winners to start the season has happened 14 times (2017, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2005, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1984, 1979).
The Modern Era record of different winners to start a NASCAR Cup Series season is 10 set back in 2000. Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped the streak winning his second race of the 2000 season at Richmond (Race No. 11).
|2000||1||Dale Jarrett||Daytona||Sunday, February 20, 2000|
|2000||2||Bobby Labonte||Rockingham||Sunday, February 27, 2000|
|2000||3||Jeff Burton||Las Vegas||Sunday, March 5, 2000|
|2000||4||Dale Earnhardt||Atlanta||Sunday, March 12, 2000|
|2000||5||Ward Burton||Darlington||Sunday, March 19, 2000|
|2000||6||Rusty Wallace||Bristol||Sunday, March 26, 2000|
|2000||7||Dale Earnhardt Jr||Texas||Sunday, April 2, 2000|
|2000||8||Mark Martin||Martinsville||Sunday, April 9, 2000|
|2000||9||Jeff Gordon||Talladega||Sunday, April 16, 2000|
|2000||10||Jeremy Mayfield||Auto Club||Sunday, April 30, 2000|
In the Modern Era (1972-2021), the record for the most different NASCAR Cup Series winners in a single season in its entirety is 19 set back in 2001. The series has also seen a total of 18 different winners (second-most) in a single season twice – in 2002 and 2011.
There are seven former NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix winners entered this weekend looking for their first win of the 2021 season: Kevin Harvick (nine wins), Kyle Busch (three), Denny Hamlin (two), Joey Logano (two), Ryan Newman (two), Chase Elliott (one) and Kurt Busch (one).
Winless Denny Hamlin continues to hold the Cup driver standings lead
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin has been off to a fast start finishing inside the top-five in three of first four races of the season, but current NASCAR Cup Series driver point standings leader is still looking for his first win of the season and hopes to rectify that this weekend in Phoenix.
Hamlin is a stout 38 points ahead of Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski in second in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings following Las Vegas. Now the Chesterfield, Virginia native is looking to lock himself into the Playoffs with a win and this weekend’s venue, Phoenix Raceway, is a place he is quite familiar with. In 31 series starts at Phoenix, Hamlin has posted two poles, two wins (2012, 2019), 14 top fives and 18 top 10s. Plus his average finish at the 1-mile track is 11.032, third-best among active drivers.
Hamlin’s confidence this weekend should be high, the NASCAR pre-race Loop Data has him ranked in the top five of several key categories heading into Phoenix: Average Running Position of 11.220, fifth-best, Driver Rating of 98.4, fourth-best, 492 Fastest Laps Run, third-best and 7,071 Laps in the Top 15 (73.1%), fourth-most.
Last season, Hamlin finished 20th in the spring race and fourth in the season finale at Phoenix.
Arizona’s McDowell and Bowman are hyped to race at home
It will be an extra special welcoming home this time around for Arizona native and Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell, who kicked off the 2021 season with a big win in the Daytona 500 – his first series career victory. McDowell, from Glendale, will be joined this weekend at Phoenix Raceway by fellow Arizonan and Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman from Tucson as both drivers look forward to competing in front of their home town fans.
McDowell is having a career season, not only did he win the biggest race in NASCAR, the Daytona 500, but he also locked himself into the Playoffs for the first time in his career. What is even more impressive, is he hasn’t been a ‘flash in the pan’ either, in four starts this season he has consistently put up three top-10 finishes and his only finish outside the top-10 this season was last weekend’s 17th at Las Vegas. McDowell is ranked ninth in series driver standings and put up an average finish of 8.0 this season.
While McDowell has been riding a career-high of success, Alex Bowman has been on a roller coaster of up-and-downs through these first four races. The Tucson native started 2021 looking really fast, winning the pole for the Daytona 500, but not long after the chaos. Bowman would finish 35th in the season-opener due to a multi-car incident. Bowman and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team bounced back the next two weekends finishing 10th at the Daytona Road Course and ninth at Homestead-Miami. But the resurgence slowed last weekend at Las Vegas when he finished 27th. His average finish this season is 20.2. Bowman now finds himself 18th in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, four points behind Chris Buescher in the 16th and final Playoff transfer spot.
Now both McDowell and Bowman are looking to perform this weekend at Phoenix. McDowell has made 20 series starts at Phoenix posting a best finish of 16th in this event last season. Bowman has made 11 series starts at the 1-mile track in the Valley of the Sun collecting one pole and one top-10 finish (sixth, 2016).
Larson added his name to the Playoff list in short order
Well, it didn’t take long. Actually, he was the quickest to do it in Hendrick Motorsport’s history – win that is.
Kyle Larson in just his fourth start with Hendrick Motorsports drove his No. 5 Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and in short order locked himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs joining Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron. Plus, all four winners this season have qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway and compete for $1 Million on June 13.
Larson’s win catapulted him up the standings to third just 40 points back from Denny Hamlin in the series standings lead. In four starts this season, Larson has put up a win, two top fives and three top 10s.
Expect Larson’s ascension not to slow this weekend at Phoenix, in 13 series starts at the 1-mile track he has posted five top fives and seven top 10s; including a runner-up finish in 2017.
Spinning The Tires: Former series champions off to a slow start
Four races into the 2021 season and none of the former active NASCAR Cup Series champions have celebrated in Victory Lane yet. It’s the first time since 2008, that a former series champion hasn’t won in the first four races of a season. Fortunately for these champs, Phoenix Raceway is up next, and most have run well in the desert.
The 2020 season champ, Chase Elliott, scored his first victory at Phoenix Raceway last November and with it the spoils of the championship. Now the 25-year-old is looking to become the seventh driver in series history to win consecutive races at Phoenix; joining Davey Allison (1991, 1992), Jeff Burton (2000, 2001), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004), Kevin Harvick (2006 sweep, 2013-2015), Jimmie Johnson (2007, 2008 sweep) and Kyle Busch (2018, 2019). Elliott has made 10 series starts posting a win, three top fives and six top 10s.
The only active multiple Cup champion (2015, 2019) is Kyle Busch, and four races into the 2021 season he is 14th in points with two top 10s. A win this weekend would be the perfect jump-start to his 2021 campaign. Among active drivers Busch has the second-most wins at Phoenix with three victories. In 31 starts at the 1-mile track he has also put up 12 top fives and 22 top 10s.
The 2018 series champion, Joey Logano, is the defending winner of this race last season leading 60 laps en route to the victory. Phoenix has been good to Logano. In 24 series starts he has amassed two wins, six top fives and 13 top 10s. Expect Logano to challenge for the win this weekend, he won the spring race last season and finished third in the season finale.
The 2017 series champion, Martin Truex Jr. spun the tires in Daytona finishing 25th and ever since has been trying to rebound. Through four races this season, the former champion has one top five and two top 10s. A win is exactly what Truex needs, the New Jersey native is currently on a 29-race winless drought – the largest among the active former champions – dating back to Martinsville (6/10/2020) last season. Truex has made 30 series starts at Phoenix – most among active drivers without a win at the track – posting four top fives and 12 top 10s.
The 2014 series champion, Kevin Harvick, is and will continue to be the favorite whenever the series heads to Phoenix Raceway – a distinction he has earned. Harvick leads the series in wins at Phoenix with nine victories. This weekend, Harvick has the opportunity to become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track; joining Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Jimmie Johnson.
Drivers with 10 or More NASCAR Cup Series Wins at a Single Track
|Race Winners||No. of Tracks||Tracks With 10 or More Wins|
|Richard Petty||5||Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)|
|Darrell Waltrip||3||Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)|
|Jimmie Johnson||1||Dover (11)|
|David Pearson||1||Darlington (10)|
|Dale Earnhardt||1||Talladega (10)|
In total, Harvick has made 36 series starts at Phoenix posting two poles, nine wins, 18 top fives and 25 top 10s. He leads the series in average finish with an 8.917. He also leads the series in several key NASCAR pre-race Loop Data categories: Average Running Position of 8.310, series-best, Driver Rating of 110.6, series-best, 940 Fastest Laps Run, series-best and 8,408 Laps in the Top 15 (84.2%), series-most.
The 2012 series champion, Brad Keselowski, hasn’t won yet this season, but he has been close. To start the season, Keselowski was making a pass for the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before being caught in a multi-car incident that relegated him to a 13th-place finish. He then rallied back from a wild Daytona Road Course race to finish fifth, brought home a 16th from Homestead-Miami and then almost closed the deal last weekend at Las Vegas finishing runner-up to Kyle Larson. Keselowski now finds himself second in NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, 38 points behind Denny Hamlin in the standings lead. Phoenix is one of the eight tracks on the schedule Keselowski has yet to win at, but he has run well. In 23 series starts he has posted seven top fives and 11 top 10s.
The 2004 series champion, Kurt Busch is currently riding a streak of seven consecutive seasons with a victory and he definitely wants to add 2021 to the list. Busch’s results so far this season have been a mixed bag posting one top five and two top 10s. At Phoenix the las Vegas native has made 36 starts posting a win (2005), seven top fives and 20 top 10s. He finished sixth in this race last season.
NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.
Jason Biggs will serve as the Grand Marshal in Phoenix – FOX’s Cherries Wild host Jason Biggs will serve as the Grand Marshal for Sunday’s Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Biggs’ previous roles include the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” movie “American Pie” and most recently in the FOX comedy “Outmatched.”
Cherries Wild is a fast-paced, half-hour trivia game show by creator and executive producer Wes Kauble. The show features two rounds of pop culture trivia gameplay, during which a team of two contestants will try and “Solve the Slots” in hopes of getting one step closer to winning the life-changing $250,000 jackpot. At the end of each episode, when they spin the reels on the enormous, three-story slot machine, contestants will attempt to capture all five Wild Cherries to win the ultimate cash prize. You can watch Cherries Wild on FOX following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at 7 p.m. ET.
Limited Tickets In Atlanta Going Fast – Grandstand seats for the March 21 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway are sold out.
The Speedway sold the last of its available grandstand tickets for the NASCAR Cup Series event today, reaching the capacity currently permitted by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order. While the grandstands have reached their approved capacity for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, fan experiences like infield camping, trackside camping, climate-controlled fan suites, and Club One access for Sunday, March 21, are still available for purchase.
“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome race fans back to the track later this month, especially considering it’s been two years since we’ve had our grandstands open for a NASCAR race,” said AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison. “We’re thankful for our local and state leadership, colleagues at NASCAR, and of course all the fans that are joining us for making this event possible.”
AMS estimates 20,000 fans will be in attendance in its socially-distanced grandstands and suites for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
KING’S HAWAIIAN® to Brand Dining Areas at Daytona, Kansas, Phoenix and Richmond –NASCAR and King’s Hawaiian announced this week a multiyear track official partnership that secures the family-owned bakery naming rights to dining areas at four NASCAR-owned facilities – Daytona International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Richmond Raceway and Phoenix Raceway.
King’s Hawaiian will work with NASCAR’s hospitality partner Levy to offer branded and regionally themed menu items at each venue. King’s Hawaiian celebrates the start of its NASCAR partnership March 12-14 during the fifth race weekend of the season at Phoenix Raceway where it will debut both the “King’s Hawaiian Grill at Phoenix Raceway” and the “King’s Hawaiian Food Court at Phoenix Raceway.”
“As King’s Hawaiian makes its first foray into motorsports, we welcome them to the NASCAR family,” said Frank Kelleher, senior vice president and chief sales officer, NASCAR. “Just like our sport, King’s Hawaiian brings people together, and we look forward to collaborating to enhance the fan dining experience at our racetracks.”