Top 10 List: Phoenix Fun Facts
by Tom Jensen March 13, 2021
From the very first premier series race at Phoenix Raceway in 1988, NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers have starred in the Sonoran Desert.
Perched deep in the heart of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, Phoenix Raceway has consistently produced exciting and at times, very surprising, outcomes.
On March 13-14, the track will be hosting the Xfinity Series on Saturday and the premier series on Sunday. In recognition of NASCAR’s deep roots in Phoenix, here are 10 fun facts about NASCAR Hall of Famers and racing in the Valley of the Sun, including several that may come as big surprises.
10. In the Beginning
Although Phoenix Raceway opened in 1964, it didn’t host its first premier series race until November 6, 1988. But what a race it turned out to be. Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki (2019) scored his first premier series victory by winning the Checker 500. In a celebratory move he’d planned months in advance, Kulwicki took a victory lap clockwise around the track so he could look in the grandstands and see the faces of the fans. Called the “Polish victory lap,” by Kulwicki, the move thrilled fans and made national headlines because it had never been done before.
9. Lucky 7s
Alan Kulwicki won the first premier series race at Phoenix in 1988, driving his No. 7 Ford Thunderbird. But that was just a start, as the first seven races at the Arizona oval were all won by drivers who went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Bill Elliott (2015) won in 1989, Dale Earnhardt (2010) in 1990, Davey Allison (2019) in 1991 and ’92, Mark Martin (2017) in 1993 and Terry Labonte (2016) in 1994.
8. More Hall of Fame Winners
In addition to the drivers who won the first seven races at Phoenix, five other Hall of Fame drivers have found Victory Lane here: Dale Jarrett (2014) in 1997, Rusty Wallace (2013) in 1998, Tony Stewart (2020) in 1999, Jeff Gordon (2019) in 2007 and 2011, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021) in 2003, 2004 and 2015.
7. Ending a Streak
When Bobby Hamilton won the 1996 Dura Lube 500, it was the 266th of 268 race victories for the legendary Petty Enterprises team founded by Lee Petty (2011) and later passed down to his son Richard Petty (2010). Hamilton’s Phoenix victory was the first for Petty Enterprises since Richard won the 1983 Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
6. What’s in a Name?
Since its opening in 1964, the track has had four different names, including Phoenix International Raceway, ISM Raceway and now just Phoenix Raceway. The most unusual name? During the November 2015 race weekend only, the track was re-named Jeff Gordon Raceway, in honor of Gordon (2019), who was scheduled to retire at the end of the 2015 season.
5. Most Intimidating Performance
Dale Earnhardt (2010) came into the 1990 Checker 500 at Phoenix Raceway trailing Mark Martin (2017) by 45 points heading into the penultimate race of the season. But at Phoenix, Earnhardt drubbed Martin and the field, leading 262 of 312 laps to win, as Martin finished 10th after crashing on the last lap. Earnhardt left Phoenix with a 6-point lead over Martin and clinched his fourth of a record-tying seven championships two weeks later in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
4. Least Dominating Performance
In 1991, Davey Allison (2018) drubbed the field at Phoenix Raceway, leading 162 of 312 laps to win in a Ford Thunderbird fielded by fellow Hall of Famer Robert Yates (2018). The next year, Allison won again at Phoenix, this time leading just 30 laps, the fewest of any Hall of Famer in a Phoenix victory. Allison took his one and only lead on Lap 283, when he passed eventual runner-up Mark Martin (2017).
3. Oddest Sweep
Any time a driver sweeps a pair of races at a track in a single season, it’s a good thing, right? Driving for Hall of Fame team owner Richard Childress (2017), Kevin Harvick had a strange sweep at Phoenix in 2006. In the Subway Fresh 500, the spring race, Harvick didn’t take the lead until there were just 10 laps to go. And those 10 laps were the only ones Harvick led. Flash forward to the fall race, the Checker Auto Parts 500, and Harvick stomped the field, leading 262 of 312 laps.
2. Most Family Wins
Two Hall of Fame families have won at Phoenix with more than one family member. Dale Earnhardt (2010) won the third race staged at the Arizona track in 1990, while son Dale Jr. (2021) was victorious in 2003-04 and 2015. Bill Elliott (2015) won the second race at Phoenix in 1989, and his son, Chase Elliott, captured the most recent race there, the 2020 championship finale.
1. Last Victory
No one had any way of knowing it at the time, but the 2015 Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix Raceway was Dale Earnhardt’s Jr.’s 26th and final premier series race victory. For everyone not named Earnhardt, it was an awful race, as a series of torrential rainstorms caused the scheduled daytime race to run deep into the night. The race was eventually shortened to 219 laps due to the incessant rain showers.