The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams make their final trip out west this weekend, in preparations for this weekend's activities at Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz, after just finishing up two trips in two weeks with both Series racing at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) and Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Las Vegas Nev.). But one thing for sure, it isn’t cheap. With gas prices soaring up to about $5 a gallon on the West Coast, it is putting a lot of pressure on smaller teams on making the trip just to try to make the race.
Joey Gase, driver/owner of the #35 Toyota Supra for Emerling Gase Motorsports in the Xfinity Series was quoted saying, “The West Coast Swing is probably the hardest part of the year. You have to have so many cars ready to go to make this long trip even before the season starts. The competition this year has been the strongest it has been in years I’ve been in the sport.” The NASCAR Xfinity Series only allows 38 cars to compete, and that means when 39 or more cars show up, somebody is going to be sent home. “There have been three cars going home every week, and this weekend there will be four cars going home with 42 cars being entered, so there is a chance we might not even make the field.”
Due to the new rule change NASCAR made, teams will have to bring cars with them for all three tracks, to prevent race teams from traveling back and forth from the West Coast all the way to Charlotte, N.C. “The back up car for Fontana and Vegas as the primary car for Phoenix,” said Gase. “We have to be ready for this and for the next week at the newly repaved Atlanta Motor Speedway as well as Circuit of the Americas as well. It is no easy task to say the least.”
When you travel from Charlotte, to Fontana, to Vegas, to Phoenix, and then back to Charlotte, that is almost 5,000 miles in three weeks. Gase even said gas was nearly $5.30 a gallon for diesel for the big rigs that carry the NASCAR Xfinity cars. I asked Gase if it was even worth heading out west just to spend all of this money. “It’s going to hurt a lot in the pocketbook, but this is the plan no matter what, especially if you are a full time race team like us. You have to be out here to keep the points for the point standings, sponsorship, provisionals, and all of that stuff.”
This won’t be the last trip to the West Coast for the Xfinity Series by far. They will make a special trip in June for the inaugural Grand Prix of Portland at the Portland International Raceway in Portland, Ore., then it is back to Vegas in September, and then the Championship Race back in Phoenix in November. On what the teams would have to prepare for for the races out there later on in the year, Gase said, “That is way too far out for me to even think about as of right now. We do make some stops before those races that are still a drive away like Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas), and even Atlanta Motor Speedway (Atlanta, Ga.) that we have to prepare for before those races out west again.”
The West Coast Swing really wasn’t a thing in NASCAR until 2015, when they decided to shake up the schedule. Before then you would have a track like Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tenn.) or Atlanta in the middle of those trips out west in the early spring time. I asked Gase about what he thought about getting the first three West Coast races out of the way early, or if he thought we should add an east coast race to the beginning of the schedule. “It has its perks and its downfalls the way it is now,” said Gase. “It’s great to not have to travel back and forth all the time, but at the same time it is a lot of work on every team to get everything ready in time for the races no matter which way you look at it with expenses. We sent most of our guys back to Charlotte after Fontana to get other cars ready for the next couple of races that are coming up. Flights are expensive as well as hotels and gas. It is probably for the best to get them out of the way as early as we can like we have been doing.”
I also questioned if his perspective changed when we put on the fire suit on Saturdays as a driver? Gase replied back with “Maybe just a little bit, but not as big as you would think. Most of my career I have been on smaller race teams like Emerling Gase Motorsports, and if I destroyed the race car it is kinda the same deal as it is now as in we might not be able to race the next week if we completely destroy our car. It definitely changes my perspective a little bit, but my mentality driving these cars have been the same.”
Joey Gase won’t be racing in Saturdays United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway, as Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, will be wheeling the #35 Toyota Supra for Emerling Gase Motorsports. I asked Gase about what he mentioned earlier, which was the possibility of not making the big show. Would he consider it a waste of time and money to travel out to the West Coast? Or was it still worth it to try and make the race? “That is kind of a silly question,” quoted Gase. “We have no choice but to come to these races. We are in a great spot, and way better than most small owner driver race teams. We are sitting good in points and I believe we have a pretty great hot rod for Jeffrey (Earnhardt) at Phoenix, but no matter what we have to try and come to these races. We don’t want to miss a race because obviously it can affect our whole season.”
The United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway will be on FS1 for T.V. and radio coverage is on MRN. Coverage will start at 4:30 p.m. Eastern and 3:30 p.m. Central. After Saturday the Cup Series will race on the mile oval in the desert at 3:30 p.m. Eastern and 2:30 Central. Next week will be the race everyone is anticipating, as the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway will be races on next Saturday for the Xfinity Series, and next Sunday for the Cup Series will take its turn mid afternoon.