ISM Raceway to host NASCAR Championship Weekend in 2020

Update: ISM Raceway is now once again called, Phoenix Raceway, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is simply called the NASCAR Cup Series

Another national championship will call Arizona home as NASCAR announces it will zoom into the valley to determine its champion in 2020.

The NASCAR Championship Weekend has been moved to Phoenix at the state-of-the-art ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix Raceway Nov. 8-10. The Avondale track will begin hosting the NASCAR Championship races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The highly anticipated change was announced at the track’s new Gatorade Victory Lane on Tuesday, coinciding with the announcement of NASCAR’s 2020 season schedule. Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, was in attendance alongside NASCAR Vice Chairman, Mike Helton, and ISM Raceway President, Julie Giese.

“This is a historic day for ISM Raceway, the City of Phoenix, Avondale, NASCAR and the state of Arizona,” Ducy said. “Arizona’s proud to be the premier destination for the biggest events in all of sports. ISM Raceway will provide nothing short of the greatest experience in all of motorsports for NASCAR’s biggest weekend.”

“I think going forward, sports is a social event as much as it is an entertainment event,” Helton told Sports360AZ. “The blend that ISC has found at their facilities, particularly here at ISM, I think is the future of major events.

“ISM Raceway has proved itself as a host and a facility and with the modernization of it, it seemed to make sense as we were changing things up that, well, if you didn’t go where we were going where would you go? Phoenix was the town and ISM Raceway was the racetrack.”

The weekend before Thanksgiving will heat up as NASCAR hosts a “Pixar’s CARS”-like championship race – after eliminating all but four drivers from the NASCAR Playoffs, those top four drivers enter the weekend tied in points. Whoever finishes the race in front of the other three championship contenders wins the title. The only difference? There are 36 other cars also on track trying to win the race as well.

ISM Raceway’s parent company, International Speedway Corporation, flooded $178 million into a modernization project in 2018, reimagining the one-mile oval. Renovations included an entirely new INfield with interactive garages and victory lane, new grandstand seating, new concourses, and a move of the start/finish line.

Giese became the track president of ISM Raceway just over five months ago. In the time, the track has hosted two races, ZOOMTOWN Lights, the completion of the $178 million renovations and the championship race announcement. It’s all been quick, but Giese has taken it in stride.

“It’s been tremendous, I wouldn’t have and it any other way,” Giese told Sports360AZ. “It was nice to see NASCAR bring some notice and want to bring this championship here to us.”

The track formerly held the semifinal round of the NASCAR Playoffs and the sport has concluded the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2002. NASCAR adds their championship race to a large slate of championship events held in the west valley including the College Football Semifinal in 2019, Super Bowl LVII in 2023, and the 2024 College Basketball Final Four and Championship Game.

The weekend will host the championship race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the other series championship races are still to be announced. The race will be the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs, a ten-race elimination bracket where 16 drivers get condensed down to just four.

(Update: On April 3, NASCAR announced the Truck Series race will be at ISM Raceway on Nov. 6, and the Xfinity Series at the Avondale track on Nov. 7. Both of those series will have the same “final four drivers” format as the Cup series. The ARCA West Series, formerly K&N West Series, will race their championship on Nov. 7)

NASCAR signs a five-year contract with all venues that legally prevent NASCAR from making major adjustments to the schedule that could remove or add tracks to the 36-week schedule. Those contracts expire at the end of 2020. Therefore, more major changes could arrive in the 2021 schedule.

According to racing-reference, NASCAR first began racing in the valley at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in 1951. ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway, opened in 1964 and started holding NASCAR Cup races in 1988. The first Cup win was by Wisconson’s Alan Kulwicki. ISM Raceway held the semifinal race under a different points configuration starting in 1988 until a brief hiatus and reclaimed the race 2002.