Who will rise out of the desert sand?

Photo by Gregg Ellman/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

Backs are against the wall this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway with six drivers fighting for two spots in NASCAR’s final race before the championship next week and fans are filing into the track to ensure they see the action.

For more than a week, Phoenix campers have braved the elements, slept at the track and patiently waited for The Chase to play out. The campground is massive at Phoenix and there always a party happening somewhere. Plus, Desert Diamond West Valley Casino is giving free shuttle rides to and from the track to their property for fans that want to partake of a little gambling action.

“We are very excited to be partnering with Phoenix Raceway to make the casino shuttle available for Can-Am 500 weekend,” said Andy Asselin, CEO of Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment. “It’s a great way to bring together two unique entertainment opportunities in the West Valley for one fantastic weekend of fun and excitement.”

It’s the last battle in the Round of Eight and both Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are locked into the finals. That leaves Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch with only one thing on their minds – win. That’s easier said than done as the rest of the field of 40 would love to rain on the parade and steal the show in the Arizona desert.

Harvick and Busch are in a must-win scenario – something Harvick is used to. He seems to be able to pull off upset after upset at Phoenix and has amassed eight wins, so far, in his career. It’s the most of any driver in the history of the sport.

“I feel like that can be gone at any point,” Harvick said. “That’s the hardest thing about having success. You have to have an open mind to try new things to keep moving forward. If you don’t have an open mind or are not willing to try a fresh approach, then it will get stagnant. You’re going to become stale and get left behind. As we go to Phoenix, we have to look at the things that we’ve done well. Obviously, we’ve done a lot of good things. We look at the race tape and pay attention to the lines and braking, steering, throttle and all the things that you have access to and you try to mimic that immediately when you get on the racetrack. The hard part about our sport is the conditions are never the same. You never know if it’s going to be 100 degrees or if it’s going to be 50 degrees. That makes a big difference on the balance of the car, how much downforce it makes and how much tape you can run on the front. There are all kinds of things to navigate through once you get there. There are a lot of good racecar drivers and lots of circumstances that could play out to have things go wrong. You go there with a fresh start like you’ve never won there before and try to get the car dialed in.”

While Harvick has to win to advance, Jimmie Johnson is already locked-in to the final round and he just wants to go win at PIR so he can leave with bragging rights.

 “Phoenix is going to be like every other race weekend for this Lowe’s team,” Johnson said. “We are heading there to win. There is no such thing as a ‘throw away’ race in my mind.”

It’s a triple-header weekend so drivers in the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series are also trying to make it to Homestead-Miami Speedway and drive away as champions. Tucked away in the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix International Raceway is always full of action. The one-mile, low-banked track forces drivers to be on their game and with everything on the line this weekend the intensity and action is sure to be ratcheted up. So, other than great racing what makes PIR attractive for race fans this weekend?

For one, it is the final time that Tony Stewart will circle the track in a Sprint Cup car. The veteran driver is retiring at the end of the season and unlike others that have walked away from the sport at the end of their career and then come back, Stewart wants nothing of it. So, for Stewart fans this is your last shot. Stewart has a strong history at PIR and the track is rewarding fans with trading cards depicting different signature moments of his career there. You can also sign the start/finish line and wish Stewart a fond farewell.

As crazy as it may sound, there are also the nachos. Yes, nachos. El Sol Monsoon Nachos to be exact. El Sol Salsa is the official salsa of PIR and they came up with the idea to pile tortilla chips as high as they could, pack them with mojo-marinated pork, queso fresco, El Sol mild salsa and cilantro and then serve them to race fans. Yum.

There are also concerts featuring Christopher Shayne, Harry Luge and Georgia Chrome. Plus, MTV VJ Riki Rachtman will make an appearance at the Tweet-up, on Sunday, and then Hinder will perform on-stage in the fan midway area. The Offspring will also play an on-track concert prior to driver introductions.

This is a race weekend NASCAR fans won’t want to miss and to get tickets, call 1-866-408-7223 go online to www.nascar.com/tickets or at www.ticketgalaxy.com

“We are excited to welcome Ticket Galaxy as an official partner of Phoenix Raceway and title sponsor of the NASCAR XFINITY Series night race in November,” Sperber said.  “This event is now more important than ever, as it will  determine the final four drivers left to contend for a championship in the series’ first-ever Chase season.” 

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