LOS ANGELES — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make stops in Las Vegas on March 6, Phoenix on March 13 and wrap up at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on March 20. A special preview event was held on Wednesday afternoon at the newly renovated Petersen Museum on L.A.’s Miracle Mile.
“My favorite part is the warm weather and the embrace from our fans,” said Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Ford Fusion for Team Penske. “We try to take a mini-vacation while we’re here on the west coast. Last year, I went to the Grand Canyon which is great. I don’t know what we’ll do this year.”
Team Penske recently celebrated its 50 Anniversary with a big gala in Charlotte, North Carolina. Comedian Jay Leno was among the invited guests.
“We’ve already celebrated,” the NASCAR driver answered. “We had a little party for the 50th Anniversary and now we’ve got to go to work and win races. My goal is to win the Sprint Cup championship in 2016 and anything less than that is a little bit of a disappointment.”
Aric Almirola drives the No. 43 Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports. He finished the 2015 Sprint Cup series with three top five finishes.
“My goal is to finish stronger each and every week and show up to the race track with faster race cars,” he explained. “Ultimately to make the Chase. We made the Chase in 2014 and had a really good season. In 2015, arguably we were better at the race track each and every weekend. We had more consistent race cars and barely missed the Chase on points. It gave a lot of motivation to a lot of guys on our race team to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Almirola said he enjoys coming to the west coast because he is an outdoors guy. There are plenty of fitness opportunities throughout the states of California, Arizona and Nevada.
“The weather is so beautiful when we come out here during the springtime,” the NASCAR driver added. “I enjoy hiking and doing a lot of things like that. There’s a lot of things to do away from the race track when you come out to the west coast. There’s quite a few east coast venues that we go to where you kind of stay trapped in our motor homes. When we come out west, I spend very little time in my motor home. I’m usually out and about.”
Kurt Busch drives the No. 41 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing. He talked about his brother Kyle and how he overcame an injury and prevailed to become Sprint Cup champion last season.
“How in the world are you back in the car by that race?” Busch asked during the press conference. “He wins Sonoma literally three weeks after he was back in the car where we all thought his left foot was going to be troublesome for braking. I finished second to him that day. It was great to let him win. But to see him power through the recovery, Kyle powered through this like nobody else. He was on his own planet when he came back.”
How are the three race tracks unique from one another?
The three track presidents from “NASCAR Goes West” were also on hand for the press conference. That includes Dave Allen from Auto Club Speedway, Chris Powell of Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Bryan Sperber of Phoenix International Raceway.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway provides fans an opportunity to enjoy several days of racing along with the chance to take advantage of the gaming, great hotels and restaurants on The Strip. Fans can take the Speedway Shuttle from any of the casinos directly to the race track without needing to rent a car.
“We’re excited to have the Kobalt 400 and the Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday,” Powell said. “We’ll have the World of Outlaws in town. We’ve got the Neon Garage where fans can get the kind of access that they can’t get on any other track on the circuit. They can watch the teams and drivers as they prepare the cars and get ready for battle. We’re having our 20th anniversary this year. We’ve got a new hospitality area and a new RV area. We offer a tremendous back-door route to Las Vegas Motor Speedway so there’s no sitting in traffic. We’ve got a secret passageway.”
Meanwhile, Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) President Bryan Sperber says his track offers something different–the desert landscape. PIR also welcomes the IndyCar Series on Saturday, April 2 under the lights.
“There’s an incredible setting with the cactus and the mountains, it’s very unusual and very beautiful,” Sperber explained. “There’s so many things going on starting with the brand new Busch garage which will have food, beverage and entertainment all night. It’s become a party destination. Safeway will have an 8,000-square-foot grocery store. The campers don’t have to bring their food and beverage from home. You get multiple days of racing. At PIR, I think the dogleg and the dive bombing in the back is so unique and it’s such an interesting wrinkle to see the drivers contend with that. It produces great drama. All of things add up for a great weekend of driving.”
The Auto Club Speedway in Fontana will kick off the Auto Club 400 weekend festivities with a St. Patrick’s Day Fan Fest presented by Bubba Burger on Thursday. In addition, the O’Reilly Auto Parts Fan Zone will be open for free following the Hauler Parade.
“The Auto Club 400 on March 20 is going to be a fantastic event,” said Dave Allen, president of Auto Club Speedway. “On Saturday, we’ll have the Xfinity series race. We’ve got Switchfoot confirmed for the musical entertainment. There’s just a lot of fun things happening. The infield is going to be themed with disco. We’ve got Disco Kings that are going to be playing in the infield. You heard Brad say that arguably its the most fun race track that they enjoy running at. It’s just aged well. We’re going to try and get our third sell out.”
Allen said the track is getting a fresh coat of paint. In addition, ACS is opening a new club called Richter’s on the Terrace Level area. The Vons supermarket and the Monster Energy hospitality area are both returning to the infield.
“It’s named after Les Richter which we’ve effectively called ‘coach’ for many years,” the track president explained. “He helped develop the race track. We lost him a few years back. It’s a way to continue to remember him. It’s an offering for about 70 fans in this high-end club, pace car rides and driver visits. It should be pretty cool. We’re coming up on our 20th anniversary–2017 will be our 20th year in business. There’s things that we’re doing from enhancements visually.”
The question everybody wants to know…any chance of the IndyCar series making a return to Fontana?
“There’s always a chance, we tried hard to get that done,” Allen answered. “I would never say, ‘no.’ We’re still in discussions with them. Our track produces incredible IndyCar racing. I think our race last year, the MAVTV 500, was one of the best races I’ve ever seen anywhere. We would need more people to get out for it. We would need to find a date that worked for our fans and for us. They’re going to be running at Phoenix this year which I think will be interesting. Obviously, a different style of race track and different style of racing for them.”
NASCAR’s west coast swing begins on March 6 in Las Vegas, continues on March 13 in Phoenix and wraps up at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on March 20.