NASCAR Goes West - Races headed to Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana - South Dade News Leader: Columnists

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NASCAR Goes West - Races headed to Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana

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Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017 3:46 pm | Updated: 3:59 pm, Thu Mar 9, 2017.

The first two weekends of the NASCAR season are in the books, and they have been very eventful. We’ve witnessed drivers perform under the new stage format in all three of NASCAR’s national series and have had time to see Monster Energy’s incorporation as the new entitlement sponsor in the premier series.

Now, NASCAR will embark on a journey out west for the next three races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series calendars for more great racing. And when the haulers arrive in the Nevada desert this weekend for the Monster Energy Series Kobalt 400 (March 12) and the NXS Boyd Gaming 300 (March 11) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it will officially signal the beginning of the annual “NASCAR Goes West” campaign, which commenced in 2015.

The races at Las Vegas are the first of three straight that will give fans in the western portion of the United States a chance to watch a NASCAR race in person that is close to home. The other two tracks that are scheduled to have races during the “NASCAR Goes West” swing are Phoenix Raceway on March 18 and 19 and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on March 25 and 26.

Since its inception, “NASCAR Goes West” has been a challenging part of the schedule for drivers and their teams, as a vast majority of them live across the country and call Charlotte, North Carolina their home. Since a race weekend can start as early as Friday morning and not end until Sunday night, some drivers choose to travel from track to track without going home during the three week stretch.

For those drivers and teams, this means that there is a lot of mental and physical preparation that needs to be done before they head to that part of the country.

Drivers need to be mentally prepared for the grind of three straight weeks of racing without experiencing the comforts of home. As for the teams, they need to have all the necessary equipment and details ready for the cars, as they make stops to three very different race tracks (Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile track, Phoenix Raceway is a one-mile track and Auto Club Speedway is a two-mile track).  

Though the “NASCAR Goes West” trail can present challenges for some of those working in the industry, for NASCAR it gives it a chance to engage a new group of sports fans that live in the western market. The initiative, which was introduced during the 2015 season, has been well received from fans and has drawn interest of a new diverse audience. And in a sport where some of its biggest names – Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield, California), Jimmie Johnson (El Cajon, California) and Kurt and Kyle Busch (Las Vegas Nevada) – are from that part of the country, it is important to keep the interest level high in that area. 

In addition to the initiative of bringing in a different audience, “NASCAR Goes West” has also featured some of the sport’s best races in the last two seasons, which have included the aforementioned drivers. Last year in the Monster Energy Series Good Sam 500 at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards battled side-by-side in the race’s final lap. After trading paint on their way to the finish line, Harvick was able to pull ahead of Edwards’ No. 19 car for the win. The 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion beat Edwards by a 0.010 second margin of victory, which is approximately four inches.

Like the ending in Phoenix, the 2016 Monster Energy Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana also saw an epic finish. California natives Johnson and Harvick had been swapping the lead for much of the 205-lap race. After a late-race caution, the race had to be settled in overtime, and with two laps to go Johnson’s No. 48 car was able to pass Harvick to secure the victory.

Similar to the Monster Energy Series races in Phoenix and Fontana, two of the XFINITY Series races saw a local from the west win, too. Kyle Busch, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, earned a victory at his hometown track Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and was then able to come away with a win a week later in the XFINITY Series race at Phoenix.

Of the drivers to watch out for heading into this year “NASCAR Goes West” races, you can look at the same western locals to have the best chance of winning the competitions. At Vegas, Johnson has earned four trips to Victory Lane, while Harvick and Kyle Busch each have claimed one win at the track. In Phoenix, Harvick has accumulated eight total victories, with Jimmie Johnson celebrating four and both Busch brother having one. And at Auto Club Speedway, Johnson has six career victories to Kyle Busch’s three, while Harvick and Kurt Busch have one a piece.

Over the next three weekends we will once again have a chance to see some of the most competitive racing of the year, and it will be intriguing to see “How the West Was Won.”

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, March 12 at 3:30 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, March 11

at 4:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

*The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off this week and will return April 1*

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

Mar. 11 Blacklight Slide

Mar. 11-12

Chin Motorsports Car Club

Mar. 18 Performance Driving Group

Mar. 19

Miami Exotic Auto Racing

Mar. 25-26

Porsche and BMW Owners Club

Apr. 1-2

Formula & Automobile Racing Association

Apr. 7-9

Trans Am

Apr. 21

Fast Lane Friday

2017 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 18

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 19

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

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