Avondale feels like a city still under the influence of a championship haze. Nestled between the Estrella Mountains, an energy exudes from Phoenix Raceway and intoxicates the town of nearly 85,000 months after Kyle Larson and the NASCAR Cup Series left their mark.
The thunderous roar of stock car engines booming from the diamond in the desert aren’t echoes from the past, but rather the wind of change.
Close to 6,000 spectators flocked to Phoenix Raceway on Tuesday to get a first-hand look at the future of NASCAR. After three years of development, the sport’s premier series is receiving a much needed facelift in the form of the aptly labeled “Next Gen” car.
The seventh generation stock car comes loaded with promises of providing the most radical and progressive changes the sport has seen in decades. Phoenix became the site of one final test to apply knowledge accumulated after three years of development.
Without getting too technical, fans will pick up on a few things from the grandstands and on TV broadcasts, starting with the emphasis on putting the “stock” back in stock car. The new showroom-accurate designs feature sleek body lines and aggressive indentations to mirror what you’re able to purchase from a dealership. Fans attending races should be sure to pack headphones, because the engines produce a noticeably louder and throatier roar than years past to truly showcase the power of these cars.
With a future of longevity in mind, NASCAR is striving to adapt to an ever-changing automotive climate, while managing to stay relevant and appealing to spectators and investors alike.
“It’s been a project about racing, but also a project about what’s going on in the world,” said John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation. “We feel the car is going to put on a really great show. We’ve got a lot of momentum in the sport right now and we’re looking forward to a really good year on multiple fronts. The more we’re able to get new eyes on the sport, I think they’ll see it’s very entertaining and a great way to spend your afternoon.”
The significance of these two days of testing is it was the last time teams will have a chance to build a notebook of knowledge for this new car before jumping into a competitive setting. To add another element of vitality, Phoenix remains the site of NASCAR’s Championship Weekend for the third consecutive season.
“There’s going to be a lot of information gathered that’s the basis of where we go for (Phoenix) in March, when we come back in November, when we go to these other short tracks — it’s all going to start with the knowledge that we gathered here,” driver Tyler Reddick said.
Although labeled a test, this trial-and-error session is more like last minute studying for a final exam: the Busch Light Clash.
The exhibition race will be held at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6, one week before the Super Bowl at So-Fi Stadium just over seven miles away. With performances from Pitbull and Ice Cube headlining the event, hand-in-hand with the debut of the Next Gen car at the freshly paved quarter-mile track, the hope is to attract a new audience for the one-of-a-kind spectacle.
“It’s going to be wild, for sure,” driver Bubba Wallace said. “There’s going to be a lot of excitement, a lot of chaos and a lot of pissed-off drivers. Jumping into that market is huge. We’ll really get a good gauge on just how big NASCAR is — how much we’re trending upwards.
“We’re going to get out and put on a good show.”
With an estimated 70% of ticket holders for the Clash being first-time attendees, it appears NASCAR’s efforts to bolster its West Coast program are working. Fox will show the debut of the Next Gen car in action at one of sports’ most renowned venues in the world at 4 p.m. Arizona time.
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