News, Notes, and Wild Rides at Phoenix International Raceway

Brad Vipperman@TeamVip33Correspondent INovember 14, 2009

The weather is starting to get cooler here in Phoenix.  The relentless summer heat that lasted through October this year has finally seemed to give way to the inevitable winter season.

For those of us lucky enough to be at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend, that means we will be given a perfect temperature to take in all the events.

As the sun rose again today over PIR there was talk of champions in the air.

At 51 years-old, Ron Hornaday won his record fourth Trucks Series championship last night, finishing in fourth place behind Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Aric Almirola.

While Busch finished second in yesterday's race, talk of him winning his own championship has been on everyone's tongues today.

Kyle Busch leads Carl Edwards by 247 points in the Nationwide standings and will look to win his first championship this afternoon here in Phoenix.

When asked about this possibility, Busch said that it would be his biggest accomplishment in racing thus far.

While all this talk is loud and clear, if you listen closely you can hear whispers of potentially a third champion being crowned this weekend here at PIR.

With Jimme Johnson holding a 73-point lead over Mark Martin, and a 112-point lead over Jeff Gordon, it is conceivable, however unlikely, that Johnson could wrap-up his incredible fourth-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship this weekend.

That will have to wait until tomorrow, however.

Personally, I'd like to talk a bit about yesterday.

Attending my first NASCAR race was quite an experience on many levels.  From seeing the track for the first time—and enough people, RV's, campers, and mobile homes to merit its own congressional district—to hearing the incredible roar of the cars whizzing around the track, it was a lot to take in for me.

The highlight, however, would have to be my interaction with Judy Dominick and Jeff Chew of Chevrolet.

Upon arriving at the track I met with Mrs. Dominick to participate in the "Ride and Drive" event as I have previously talked about .

She then took me over to the "Ride and Drive" area where fans are given a fantastic opportunity to get behind the wheel of some amazing vehicles.

Before I could do so, however, I had to go through the completely understandable process of signing a few waivers, showing my drivers license, and taking a breathalyzer.  That's all it takes folks.

I was pretty excited when the supervisor I would be driving with walked me over to a black, 2010 Chevy Camaro V6.  He told me to get in, and I complied willingly.

Upon sliding into the car, I couldn't help but feel impressed.  The sleek, modern displays inside, combined with knowledge of the power underneath the hood, made me extremely happy to be me at that moment.

I was able to take the car on a modified loop that included leaving the display area and getting onto the main road that runs by the track.  It was a great feeling to be driving that car out in the world for everyone to see.  At the same time it made me begin to hate everyone else on the road for impeding my ability to drive at, err, the speed limit.  Let me tell you, 70 mph doesn't feel like 70 mph inside a Camaro.

When I looped back to the display area and got out of the car, I held the door open for the next driver, one who looked just as excited as I had been.  Thinking that my experience was at an end, I started to walk back towards the sign-up tent.  It was then when the man running the "Ride and Drive" event asked me if I wanted to take the "SS" for a drive.

You see the car in the picture display of this orange 2010 Chevy Camaro SS...yeah, I drove that.

This car was an absolute beauty and has power to boot.  I even caused a little hiccup when I hit the gas petal a little too firmly at one point.  I then made the comment to my supervisor that "this has slightly more power than my 2001 Toyota Avalon."

This time, on my way back to the display area after making my loop, I was driving past a couple of guys around my age (23) who pulled up next to me and rolled their window down.  The guy in the passenger seat was giving me a nod/thumbs-up in obvious appreciation of my ride.

I decided to roll with it and gave him a little half-smile with a slight shrug as if to say, "Yeah, I car is sweet."  No reason for him to know I was handing over the keys in a matter of minutes right?

The whole experience was a lot of fun and the people running it were nothing but helpful, friendly and personable.  To top the whole thing off, they give every participant a t-shirt and a coffee mug for participating in the experience.

From there, I accompanied Mrs. Dominick and Mr. Chew to the Chevy display.

Jeff Chew is the NASCAR Marketing Manager for Chevy Racing and he gave me a detailed tour of everything that Chevy offers fans on race weekend.  Aside from the "Ride and Drive," Chevy has a several different cars on display for fans to look at, including a custom made Dale Earnhardt Jr. Camaro which was quite impressive.

I was also given an in-depth look at the Chevy Traverse by its Chief Engineer, Sue Morales.  The car is packed with virtually every amenity you could want in a vehicle.  I asked Morales if there was some aspect of the Traverse that she thought really excelled and she said, "Fuel economy and safety." 

The safety aspect was really quite interesting, as the Traverse has sensors in its seats which determine how hard the airbags will deploy in the advent of a crash.  If I listed every feature here this article would rival "War and Peace" in length.

In talking with Mr. Chew while walking around the display, I asked him how important he felt it was that Chevy strive to accommodate fans on race weekend.  He said:

"We take pride in our ability to share our enthusiasm and knowledge with the fans at the track each weekend.  Our goal is for Chevrolet to be top-of-mind when it is time for them to purchase their next vehicle."

To help aid this, Chevy has computers set up all around the display which allow fans to enter information about themselves, as well as the type of car they might be interested in purchasing (as well as when), and Chevy then sends information to them regarding possible options.

In keeping with today's modern times, Chevy also allows fans to do this via their BlackBerry's, PDA's, or other Smart Phones.

As I've mentioned, everyone I met yesterday at Chevy couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.  When I mentioned this to Mr. Chew he responded by saying:

"As you experienced today, at Chevy, we have a group of dedicated and highly motivated individuals that enthusiastically promote our products."

As my tour drew to a close, I decided to bring up Chevy's current NASCAR successes to Mr. Chew and ask him how important NASCAR, and race weekends, are for the Chevy brand.  He answered me by saying:

"At Chevy we are constantly striving to find new and innovative methods to connect with the fans at the track.  From electronic data capture, to utilizing mobile applications for our fans to communicate with us when they visit our display, to conducting Chevy Drive programs where fans can test drive our great vehicles first hand at the track, we want to provide a memorable experience for them through our NASCAR participation."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  As we all shook hands and parted ways, I thanked them for a fantastic experience, one that made my first day at a NASCAR race all the more memorable.

The last thing I did before calling it a day, was stop by Greg Biffle's press conference, where I thought he said some interesting things.

One reporter asked him if, other than himself obviously, he was rooting for Mark Martin to pull out a victory.

Biffle responded by saying that he definitely was rooting for Martin because of everything that he's done for the sport and because he's a former teammate.

Biffle was also asked if a Mark Martin victory over Jimmie Johnson could be paralleled to the New York Giants historic upset over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago.  "I definitely think so," said Biffle.

America loves an underdog and it seems like fans and drivers alike have started to back Mark Martin in his quest for that elusive first championship.

One more thought I had from Biffle's press conference was the emphasis he put on how difficult this track is to drive.  Because of this, he believes that it is a real "drivers track" and it gives the driver more control over the outcome of the race.  Biffle said that it, "really suits his style" and that he is "really looking forward to the challenge this racetrack provides."

Taking that into account, I think we could be in for a real dogfight in the two remaining races here at Phoenix International Raceway.  With championships on the line and the drivers being the main factors in deciding them, I think we could be in for an extremely fast-paced, exciting weekend.

One thing is for sure, however, about the future Sprint Cup champion, be it Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, or Jeff Gordon...

They'll be driving a Chevy.


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