Phoenix is one of America’s great cities, in part because of its professional sports landscape.
The area has four terrific sports facilities in Chase Field, Jobing.com Arena, the US Airways Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals of the NFL, the Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball, the Suns of the NBA and the Coyotes of the NHL have some of the best stages in the country.
Then there is Phoenix International Raceway.
One of the NASCAR tracks most in need of refurbishing/renovating/redecorating, PIR is a sad sister when compared to the rest of the sports stadia in and around Phoenix. Its grandstands are lacking, its infield and garage are wildly out of date, its media facilities are the worst on the Sprint Cup circuit and its creature comforts are few and far between.
Still, there are many reasons to love PIR, which will host the Subway Fresh Fit 600 Saturday night. Seven follow:
1.The track itself – PIR is its own animal, with no other Sprint Cup track in the same family of shapes. It’s one mile in length and basically flat, with a strange little crook on the backstretch between the second and third turns.
2.The racing is good, typically, largely because the track is relatively flat and the surface, like almost everything else at PIR is relatively old. Teams need a happy medium between horsepower and handling at PIR, and cars that can hug the corners at speed usually are the contenders. “I enjoy the flat tracks, and it creates a unique challenge because the asphalt’s worn out and it’s got a lot of cracks and crevices,” said Kevin Harvick. “It’s one of those places where you have to get your car to handle a little bit differently on each end, and you have to drive a little different on each end. You have to get your car to handle and have good forward bite up off the corner.”
3.It’s not Auto Club Speedway.
4. PIR will forever carry the stamp of the late Alan Kulwicki, of the NASCAR’s great drivers. Kulwicki won the inaugural Cup race at PIR in November 1988. It also was his first Cup victory, and he celebrated with an idea that became something of an institution. He called it a “Polish victory lap” as he circled the track in the wrong direction.
5. PIR has its own mountain. It overlooks turns three and four, and folks pick out prime viewing spots there on race days for one of the most unusual vistas in racing.
6.One of the best Claim Jumper restaurants in the world is only eight miles away.
7. More for your money. This spring, the track has added 63 laps, stretching the race to 375 miles. It will end under the desert night sky.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.