PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — The last time Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was in Arizona, he was a part of a top-10 finish at ISM Raceway. Stenhouse found himself back in the Valley last Friday, but this time without a drivers suit on.
Along with fellow Monster Energy Cup driver Erik Jones and a board of racetrack presidents, Stenhouse participated in NASCAR’s West Coast Media Day at the Mountain Shadows Resort.
Together, the group addressed raceway renovations, the state of NASCAR on the West Coast, and the “NASCAR Goes West” initiative that the sport is taking.
“We have been really fortunate that here in Arizona, the race fans and the community have supported NASCAR,” said Bryan R. Sperber, president of ISM Raceway (former Phoenix International Raceway). “There is such an outpouring of support in the community from race fans.”
The NASCAR Goes West initiative is a three-week swing in March where the NASCAR series makes consecutive stops in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.
The event covers three states on the West Coast, and the only other West Coast race takes place later in the NASCAR schedule in June at Sonoma International Raceway in Northern California. Although the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup does not hit the western states too often, the three-week slate of races creates a unique time period in which many drivers remain in the West while their racing teams have to trek back-and-forth to change cars and make tune-ups.
“When I first started doing the West Coast swings, I would fly back-and-forth with the team,” Stenhouse said. “When you get out here on a Thursday, you have practice on Friday and you’d wake up at five o’clock (a.m.) ready to go. It’s something that race car drivers don’t like doing is waking up at five o’clock. …I did notice that staying out here on the West Coast definitely helps with my sleep schedule a lot.”
While Stenhouse might have to adjust to a different sleep schedule, the trip does not bother him, especially when the series shifts to Phoenix.
Stenhouse is an avid golfer, and the trip to the Valley means time for leisure and relaxation at many of Arizona’s best courses.
“For me, I will play golf Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in Phoenix,” Stenhouse said. “Sometimes after practice and in between qualifying, we will go sneak nine holes in.”
This week, Scottsdale is hosting the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The venue is known for its large crowds and wild atmospheres, but for Stenhouse, the course is a different gear for someone who is accustomed to going nearly 200 miles per hour in his No. 17 Ford Fusion.
“Scottsdale National is my favorite (course) that I play out here, but it’s always fun playing at TPC Scottsdale as well, just knowing that the tour just played there,” Stenhouse said.
Apparently, the week on the green has helped Stenhouse too, as his last two races at ISM raceway have resulted in top-10 finishes.
Nevertheless, NASCAR is continuing its efforts to grow the sport on the West Coast.
ISM Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway have begun major renovations to enhance the fan experience.
The racetrack in Avondale is constructing new suites and a fan zone with new concession stands to create an interactive experience, and the track in Fontana conducted an economic impact survey to assess the success and revenue of the Auto Club 400 in Southern California.
“We generate about $156,000,000 a year in economic impact,” said Auto Club Speedway president Dave Allen. “Your quick service restaurants, hotels and gas stations, everybody is affected by it (the race). We employ a lot of people and create a heck of an atmosphere. We are happy with where the marketplace has gone.”
With West Coast racing legends like Jeff Gordon and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, the NASCAR Goes West series appears to be gaining traction in the western time zones.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup will stop in Arizona at ISM Raceway on Sunday, Mar. 11 at 12:30 p.m MST for the TicketGuardian 500.