Could Phoenix race jump Daytona 500 on future schedule?

Michael Knight, Special for the Arizona Republic
Published 4:06 p.m. ET March 11, 2019 | Updated 4:08 p.m. ET March 11, 2019

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Yet more change is coming to NASCAR and ISM Raceway could be part of it, especially after a disappointing crowd for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500.

The NASCAR industry is in deep discussion about major revisions to the Cup Series’ marathon 36-race, February-to-November schedule once the sanctioning body’s existing five-year contracts with its host racetracks expires after 2020. One idea is to start before the Daytona 500, which would make the Avondale oval one of perhaps only three climatically-suitable venues.

A date change also seems in order considering the track’s 42,000 new grandstand seats appeared about 10,000 short of fully occupied.

“I wish I could tell you (why),” said Julie Giese, who succeeded Bryan Sperber as track president last November. “I think we’ll learn a lot after this event based on who’s coming. Are they new or old customers? I’m a data-driven person and my marketing background will help.

“One of the things I’d like to do with this event is create events within the event. November (NASCAR’s playoff semifinals) is very focused on the competition and we’ve seen a positive fan response for (ticket) renewals.”

Sunday was just the track’s second race weekend following a $178 million modernization. That investment by parent company International Speedway Corp. makes it virtually unthinkable that Phoenix would lose one of its dates if NASCAR reduces its number of events.

“Would I say it makes sense to come to a jewel like this twice a year?” said NASCAR President Steve Phelps. “I would say it does. If a decision was made to run before the Daytona 500, obviously weather plays a huge factor in that. Our options would be limited.”


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NFL impact on NASCAR

“I think there will be some meaningful changes our fans will like,” Phelps said during an exclusive interview with The Republic, adding April 1 is NASCAR’s target date to reveal its 2020 schedule.

“What it looks like in 2021 and beyond, everything’s on the table. Do I think we potentially could end our season earlier? I do. Is it to avoid the NFL? The NFL is a big player and they drive (TV) ratings and our ratings are typically a little lower during that time. There are a lot of crossover fans between NASCAR and the NFL. Could we look at a pull-up? It’s something that we would entertain.”

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said, “Personally, I think it’s foolish for us to go up against the NFL. In my own heart, I also believe there is such a thing as oversaturation for any sport. I think the shorter season is helpful and would be welcomed by teams.”

NASCAR, Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are working to introduce a “Generation 7” body in 2021. “We are hyper-focused on what the fans want and having a more relevant-looking car is what they are asking for,” said Phelps.

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Cost reduction for teams is another key objective.

PHOENIX RECAP: Kyle Busch blazes to sweep, earns 199th career win

Apron aches

Giese said no drivers have spoken with her about the rough pavement on the apron below the yellow line in the dogleg. Aggressive dive-bomb passing moves onto the apron have increased since the start/finish line was moved to the dogleg last year.

Ryan Newman raised the issue in an interview with The Republic, saying it gives him “a headache (that lasts) 24 hours.”

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it and certainly want to learn more,” said Giese.

“It is so violent that you know, when you go down there, you’re bending things,” said Johnson. “I try to make sure I have a really good reason to go down there if I’m going to bend the side skirts and smash the suspension down into the blacktop. It needs to be for a worthy cause.”


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