Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: What Phoenix Keeping Title Race Means for the Future

Championship weekend will continue to bake in the Arizona desert.

NASCAR’s championship weekend will stay in the arid desert of Phoenix Raceway for the sixth consecutive season in the year 2025 after NASCAR’s official announcement on May 16. Despite criticism of the short track package, the racing product at Phoenix and the improvement of racing on intermediate tracks, the one-mile dogleg oval will retain the championship-deciding race to end the season.

With NASCAR’s decision final for next year’s championship race, what are the biggest plusses and minuses that surround the decision to stay in Phoenix to end the year?

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NASCAR TV Schedule This Weekend: May 17 – 19

The most significant benefit of keeping the finale in Phoenix is that the track is already built to host the championship event. Although the racing product has not met the expectations of the fantastic races that have taken place so far in 2024, NASCAR and the city of Phoenix have invested a hefty sum of resources since 2020 to create and improve the championship experience at the track — a move the former championship-hosting track, Homestead-Miami Speedway, wasn’t willing to do to retain the title weekend in 2019.

Another positive trend that the track has going for it is that NASCAR fans in the Phoenix area continue to pack the house at both the spring date and the championship race. Phoenix is currently on a six-race sellout streak of its 42,000-seat capacity grandstands, and with the championship staying at the track through 2025, it wouldn’t surprise me to see that streak continue.

The quick access to downtown is also an attractive draw. The track is just over 30 minutes from downtown Phoenix, barring traffic. This beats Miami’s commute, which takes 44 minutes with a $3.41 toll included. Without tolls, it takes about an hour to get to downtown Miami from the speedway.

Although the racing product could at many points be underwhelming at Phoenix, some fans value seeing the strongest driver take the win. The 2024 spring race was a prime example, as Christopher Bell, who easily had the strongest car that day, was able to fight through the field to take the victory in dominant fashion.

NASCAR can also continue to try to improve the racing product at Phoenix by either changing aspects of the car or finding a tire that wears better at the track. Improving the car with both tactics can help rejuvenate the racing at Phoenix to help put on compelling championship races in the future.

However, the future of NASCAR’s Championship Weekend could also lie elsewhere.

One of the more popular theories is a return to Miami because of the improved racing product on intermediate tracks. Racing on the intermediate tracks has continued to impress week-by-week with outstanding finishes such as Kyle Larson’s .001-second win over Chris Buescher, Sam Mayer’s .002-second victory over Ryan Sieg in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Texas Motor Speedway, and the battle between Buescher and Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Darlington Raceway. And those are just examples from this season.

The product provided by intermediate tracks has only improved as the Next Gen era progresses, and the recent numbers from both Miami and Phoenix support this argument.

In 2023, Miami’s race totaled 25 lead changes (tied for second-highest all time at the track), with nine different leaders with Bell winning by 1.651 seconds. The last two races at Phoenix had far fewer lead changes. The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship race had 18 lead changes with eight different leaders, and the 2024 spring race had only 10 lead changes from six different leaders, with a margin of victory of 5.465 seconds by Bell. Miami’s lowest sits at 11 lead changes in 2022, with Larson defeating Ross Chastain by only 1.261 seconds.

Additionally, who could forget Larson’s run-in with the barrels?

Racing has shown to be more exciting at Miami over Phoenix, but what about Miami’s seating capacity?

Miami can fit 4,000 more people in its facility, and the race had sold out six years in a row from 2014-2019 before it lost its championship date to Phoenix in 2020. Despite the distance to downtown Miami, the NASCAR audience showed out to watch exciting battles for the championship for 18 straight years.

Kansas and Darlington have stepped up to be mentioned in the championship conversation, but with the climate in November for Kansas and the importance of the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, I doubt NASCAR would move the championship finale to these venues anytime soon.

With the product of the Next Gen car at intermediate tracks, Miami could be primed once again to play host to the championship race soon enough. But for now, Phoenix will continue to host NASCAR’s title showdowns at least two more times.

About the author

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Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretchas a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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Christopher Lowe

Honestly, NASCAR needs to treat the championship race the way the NFL treats the Super Bowl. Move it around year to year. There is no reason that Homestead, AMS, Daytona, Dega, Charlotte, Nashville, Gateway, Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Las Vegas, Texas, Darlington, Richmond and Kansas should not get a shot at hosting the title deciding race.

In addition, I also believe it would be more beneficial for the sport if Trucks and Xfinity ended their season at a different track then Cup. The Cup race should be the main focus of the weekend. In addition, I have always believed that have the Xfinity and Truck finale the same weekend of cup takes away from their title deciding race.

Echo

Well this year it’s going to give Hamlin his best chance ever for a championship. I sure hope he chokes and is out of it before Phoenix. Nascar would love to see him win it.

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