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Phoenix International Raceway:

The Desert Jewel

Phoeniz International Raceway track layout

Phoenix International Raceway Races:

#2 02/27/11 Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sun 3:00PM FOX
2011 Winner Jeff Gordon

#35 11/13/11 Kobalt Tools 500 Sun 3:00PM ESPN
2010 Winner Carl Edwards

Latest Phoenix, Arizona, weather conditions and forecast

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The History

The Phoenix International Raceway's nickname is 'The Desert Jewel'. It should be called 'The Desert Oddball'. The racetrack has many unusual or ODD characteristics that make it one of the most unique stops on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.

The raceway was built in 1964 below the foothills of the Estrella Mountains. It was originally built for open wheel racing but in 1988 NASCAR came to town.

By NASCAR's standards the track is flat which brings us to the first ODD characteristic, the turns, they are at different bankings which makes the race setups challenging to say the least.

The Track

Turns 1 and 2 are banked at 11 degrees while turns 3 and 4 are banked at just 9 degrees. Not much of a difference, but what works on one end of the raceway probably won't work at the other end of the raceway.

Jimmie Johnson leads Mark Martin to the green flag at Phoenix International Raceway
Then there is an ODD dogleg stuck in the middle of the backstretch. Combine these ODD characteristics of the raceway with the Phoenix heat and it makes for a slippery track.

But when drivers figure out this track ...LOOK OUT. Just ask Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick won both Phoenix races in 2006 and Johnson won three in a row including both races in 2008.

Recent Subway Fresh Fit 500 Winners

2011 Jeff Gordon
2010 Ryan Newman
2009 Mark Martin
2008 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Jeff Gordon

Recent Kobalt Tools 500 Winners

2010 Carl Edwards
2009 Jimmie Johnson
2008 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Jimmie Johnson
2006 Kevin Harvick

Another ODD thing about the Phoenix Raceway is rattlesnakes...lots of them! Before each race track officials send 'Snake Wranglers' to scour the speedway grounds and surrounding hills to gather up all the snakes.

They need to do this because fans can sit on the hills above turn four and watch all the action. That of course is another ODD thing about Phoenix International Raceway. It is probably the only track where some fans can come to a race on horseback.

The Racing

Another ODD thing about Phoenix is that it is a one mile oval and the spring race is called the Subway Fresh fit 500 and the fall race is called the Kobalt Tools 500. Both races are 312 laps. How can they be called 500 mile races?...they're not!

312 laps around a one mile speedway equals 312 miles but it also equals 500 kilometers. The races are measured in kilometers not miles...just one of many ODD things about the Phoenix International Raceway.

In 2010 NASCAR added 63 laps to the spring race to make it equal 600 kilometers.

Why'd they do that?

Because in 2010 NASCAR mandated standard race start times and since the Phoenix race was considered the first official night race it is scheduled to start at 7:30 on the east coast and 4:30 local time, the extra laps will guarantee that the race will finish at night under the lights.

But starting in 2011 NASCAR moved the first Phoenix race to the second race of the seaseon and it is no longer a night race.

The very first NASCAR race at the Phoenix International Raceway was memorable for an ODD celebration by the winning driver. Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR race which was his first career victory.

To celebrate his victory after the race he turned around and drove around the track clockwise, the opposite direction he drove all race long. He called it the 'Polish Victory Lap'. It was a way that he could have the driver's side of the car near the stands so he could salute the race fans.

Today the 'Polish Victory Lap' is not so odd. Some drivers do a 'Polish Victory Lap'. Some drivers do a burnout. But most drivers do a combination of both where they turn around and drive back to the start finish line and then do a burnout. I like to call this celebration the 'Polish Victory Burnout'.

Since the races are only 500 miles...umm I mean 500 kilometers long it is a relatively short race. Drivers are more aggressive all race long which makes for better racing. Drivers have to get up on the wheel and drive to the front since there isn't a lot of time in these races. They can't just drive around 'saving their stuff' until the end.

Despite all its oddities the Phoenix International Raceway is a great place to watch a race.

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