The Arizonans are used to seeing Larry Fitzgerald’s defenders on the football field, but today he’s leading a fiercer and faster group.
Pro Bowler served 11 times as the Honorary Speed Car Driver for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship, pulling a fleet of some of motorsports’ top athletes behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry.
Fitzgerald grew up as a Jeff Gordon fan and had his fair share of track time in NASCAR. He’s served as a rider traveling nearly 200 mph on the Talladega Superspeedway, while also making trips to Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, but this will be his first championship weekend experience.
“I’m happy,” Fitzgerald said. “This is the fourth time I’ve been out to[Phoenix]but not as extensively as I am now. You get a kind of behind-the-scenes view of what’s going on to make this race so special. It’s really unique and I’m excited to be here.”
Fitzgerald was welcomed into the championship weekend by incoming track head Latasha Kose, who has had an amazing working relationship with the Cardinals legend through several non-profit events across the valley. 2016 Man of the Year Walter Payton gave some words of support for the soon-to-be leader of Phoenix Raceway.
“I’ve never seen someone in the city more connected to the good stuff in terms of nonprofits,” Fitzgerald said. “Being an African American woman able to land a position like this in NASCAR shows you where the sport really focuses in being a diverse and inclusive process.
“She’s someone from the West Side who really cares a lot about this city and this organization and I know she’d do a great job.”
Back in 2020, Fitzgerald became a minority owner in the Phoenix Suns, raising questions about a 17-year Cardinals wide receiver who would likely be looking for a pilot project in NASCAR. With fellow NFL teammates Emmitt Smith and Alvin Kamara taking over the roles of team co-owner and growth engagement advisor, respectively, within the sport, the interest is there, but don’t expect an immediate move.
“I never really thought about it much,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know if it’s an opportunity I’ll talk to Mr. (Roger) Pinske or Mr. (Rick) Hendrik is about to see if they’ll let me join one of the teams, but it’s really nice to see the guys who’ve played in my career move[to NASCAR].
“You see what coach (Joe) Gibbs has done – one Hall of Fame career to another Hall of Fame career – my hat to the people who were able to make that smooth transition.”
NASCAR family mourns Coy Gibbs
Coy Gibbs, Vice President of Joe Gibbs Racing and son of the owner of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, died Sunday morning just hours after his son, Ty, won the Xfinity Series Championship. He was 49 years old.
NASCAR held a minute’s silence before the start of Sunday’s race, as JGR’s Christopher Bell was racing for the title.
A statement released before the race read, “Joe Gibbs Racing can confirm with great sadness that Coy Gibbs (co-owner) went to be with the Lord in his sleep last night. The family appreciates all thoughts and prayers and asks for privacy at this time.”
T Gibbs did not quit the race on Sunday and was replaced by Daniel Heimrick.
Arizona Communications Off the Track
In addition to Fitzgerald, another Arizona athlete had a strong presence in the NASCAR title fight.
Tucson-born John Gianninotto, who had been a staging post for the UNLV Rebels and briefly played for the Carolina Panthers, was seeking his second title as Chase Elliott’s gasman.
“I would love to come to my state and race for the championship,” said Gianninotto. “It is a real blessing to be in this (Champion 4) so many times. I am looking forward, trying to get this win and everything will feel so much better than just being here.”
The captain says goodbye:Julie Giese knocks out Phoenix Raceway in this weekend’s NASCAR Finals
Another Arizonan seeking his first championship was Michael Madel, a Glendale native. The 33-year-old rear suspension mechanic for Ross Chastain was hoping to finish his twelfth season in the sport with a hard work by the first team, but they would have to cut their work starting from 25th in the final series. .
Madell is looking forward to joining Dylan Capello of Phoenix as the second native of the state to win his first championship in Avondale. Cappello, the race engineer for Front Row Motorsports, made his mark Friday night when he put Zane Smith into a clinic to secure the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship.
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