Spring NASCAR racing at PIR might eventually move to April.
The nearly $180 million facility redevelopment project at Phoenix International Raceway might not be the only big change eventually coming to the Avondale track.
Preliminary discussions have taken place between PIR and NASCAR about moving the track’s spring weekend to April from the mid-march March date it’s had since 2015.
Nothing is likely to happen for next year, but there’s little doubt PIR would eventually love to reclaim the mid-April Saturday evening date it enjoyed from 2005-10.
Sunday’s grandstand crowd for the Camping World 500 was estimated by azcentral sports to be 45,000, about the same as last season.
PIR competes in March with the Cactus League and numerous other sports and entertainment events. It’s the end of the winter tourism season, which typically is accompanied by peak rates for resorts and hotels in the Phoenix area.
The Valley’s March race also vies for attention with two other races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ western swing, which began last week in Las Vegas and ends next Sunday in Fontana, Calif. PIR draws well from southern California; Vegas’ attractions offer race fans other options for their entertainment dollar.
PIR President Bryan Sperber and Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR vice president and chief racing development officer, were diplomatic in discussing the issue with azcentral sports.
“All year we have conversations with NASCAR about optimizing our schedule, whether it’s a date change in the future, or how we might set up a race weekend,” Sperber said. “All of that is conceptual discussions. We’re not in any position to talk about any changes. We’re not close to anything like official decisions or announcements.”
Said O’Donnell: “We are always having discussions but I’d say, short term, we like the (schedule’s) flow.”
La Russa’s new uniform
Hall of Fame manager and Diamondbacks executive Tony La Russa was a guest Sunday of Roger Penske. He wore a red, black and yellow No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford crew shirt as an honorary member of pole winner Joey Logano’s team.
La Russa said he had been to races at Daytona International Speedway and Sonoma Raceway, “but not with a crew. I hope they don’t ask me to change a tire.”
It didn’t come to that, but one of La Russa’s “players” made an error. Logano, who dominated early from the pole, was exiting the pits in third place when NASCAR’s electronic timing system caught him speeding on pit road. That dropped Logano to 32nd place after 122 laps; he finished 31st after a late-race accident.
“One little thing slips, hey, it costs you a game,” La Russa had observed before the race. “It costs you a win.”
La Russa described himself as “fascinated” by what he saw. “These guys (Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski) are loose. We (in baseball) do it 162 times but, 30-45 minutes (before a game), all of a sudden you see guys start to (get tight) … I’d thought they’d (drivers) be more up-tight.
“The more you learn about the teamwork involved, the organization, attention to details, it’s critical in any sport. … I think there are similarities all over the place. I got a kick out of talking to the drivers, their preparation, strategy. You want to get out in front. Just like in baseball, you want to score first.
“You can learn here (racing). I’ve learned a bunch of stuff. I might come out of retirement.”
La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation has a fundraising dinner Wednesday at Steak 44 in Phoenix. ARF’s core mission is the rescue of dogs and cats at public shelters. The three-time World Series winning manager got emotional in discussing his charitable cause.
“I wanted to be part of a solution,” he said. “The thing that inspires us is the animals themselves. They have this magical effect on people.
“We do work taking the animals to veterans’ hospitals, senior homes, special educational needs schools. Animals can be so important in rehabilitating people.”
La Russa is in an advisory role with the Diamondbacks after being in charge of all baseball operations the past several seasons. Asked about the makeup of this year’s roster, he said that he was “really impressed with (General Manager) Mike Hazen, and he brought in really sharp front-office guys. (Manager) Torey (Lovullo) has a great reputation for what he does day-to-day and I can see why.
“Once they saw the talent that’s here, they were impressed. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are a year older. We’ve got a nice blend of veterans. We have a really bright future, not withstanding last year, that was so crappy.”
– Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch struggled all day and finished 25th.
– Scottsdale’s Danica Patrick, who said she fought handling issues throughout the race, placed 22nd. Glendale’s Michael McDowell was 24th.
– Matt Kenseth wasn’t injured when he pounded the outside SAFER barrier because a right-front tire burst as he exited Turn 4. Kenseth said he had handling problems but no warning of an exploding tire. “No, I just had an indication I was going to hit the wall,” he said.
– Joe Leonard, Scott Pruett, Walker Evans, Michael Gaughan, Gene Price and Frank Secrist were announced as new members of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. Formal induction will be June 22 in Napa, Calif.