Phoenix International Raceway announced today that it will be hosting two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races again next season, although the date of the first race will be dramatically different than in recent years.
Since acquiring a second Cup race in 2005, the Avondale, Arizona, venue has held a Saturday night race in April and a Sunday afternoon race in November. Typically, the spring race was the eighth of 36 on the Sprint Cup schedule, although this year it was the seventh.
Thanks to NASCAR's retooling of the Cup Series schedule for 2011, PIR's first race is moving to February 27 and will be a Sunday daytime race. The November race is not affected by the change.
The new February date at PIR is important for several reasons. Most notably, the race will be just the second event on the 2011 Cup schedule, making it the first race following the season-opening Daytona 500. It will also be the first non-restrictor-plate race of the year, when teams and drivers get a better feel for their racecars operating on unrestricted horsepower.
"Coming off the Daytona 500, the teams will really roll up their sleeves and get down to business in terms of the NASCAR regular season and that will begin here in Phoenix," Sperber told me in a phone interview this morning. "With the Daytona 500 in the rearview mirror, I think you'll see the drivers really getting after it and we're really looking forward to that."
In a news release today, PIR officials noted that the track is now the only facility in the West hosting two Sprint Cup races in 2011. The dates put PIR's races in the second and second-to-last positions on the schedule, making Phoenix Raceway the first and last stop NASCAR will make in the West.
Mr. Sperber views the schedule realignment as a vote of confidence from the league, not just for the hospitality of the community toward NASCAR fans and competitors, but also for the exciting racing that the short one-mile track affords.
For the past several years, the second date on the schedule has belonged to Fontana, California. That track's 2011 spring race is moving to March 27 and the venue is losing its second race date, presumably due to poor attendance. Sperber acknowledged that every track on the Sprint Cup circuit remains under scrutiny to fill seats and meet attendance goals next year.
"Any track president running a track not named 'Daytona' is worried every year," he joked. "But it is absolutely a concern for our entire staff every year. NASCAR contracts are on an annual basis, so next year is guaranteed to nobody."
Still, Sperber is confident that PIR's welcoming atmosphere to fans, competitors and sponsors, along with the support of the community and the quality of racing action, will continue to bode well for the venue. The February 2011 race will again be sponsored by Subway, while the November 2010 race has a new title sponsor in Kobalt Tools.
Though fans have voiced concerns about the possibility of less-temperate weather here in February than in April, Sperber believes the forecast is a positive one. "If you look back at some of the races we ran in April, we had quite a few of the events where we were up into early triple-digits temperatures and quite a few that were probably too hot. From a weather standpoint, in February and a day race, our chances of having mild day temperatures are greatly enhanced and the chance of triple digits is greatly reduced."
As race fans adjust to the idea of a February afternoon race at PIR, Sperber emphasizes that it is the combination of the two race dates in 2011 that he is most pleased about. "It's not just the prestige of the second event of the year, but we also retain the semi-final race, the Kobalt Tools 500 in November, which is the semi-final race in the Chase. When we step back and look at our schedule and the dates that NASCAR has afforded us, it's hard not to be excited about it."
He added, "I'm going to predict that it will be the highest-rated broadcast from Phoenix in PIR history."
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Race fans can secure 2011 Season Tickets from Phoenix International Raceway before they go on sale to the general public. Starting Tuesday, August 10, fans can make a $50 deposit to reserve 2011 seats by calling 877-PIR-XTRA (747-9872) and speaking directly with one of PIR’s Fan Experience Specialists. 2011 Season Tickets go on sale to the general public on Friday, October 29, with prices starting at just $99. 2011 SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500™ tickets go on sale Thursday, November 11 and start as low as $25.