The NASCAR Xfinity Series is set to visit not only a new track next season, but a whole new corner of the country with its first venture into the Pacific Northwest.
Portland (Ore.) International Raceway takes a prime midseason spot on the Xfinity Series’ 2022 schedule, which was released Wednesday in conjunction with the Camping World Truck Series’ calendar of events for next season. The 1.964-mile road course will serve as the Xfinity Series’ sole stand-alone event June 4, marking the first national series race there since 1999-2000 — a two-year run for the truck tour.
The agreement marks an extension of NASCAR’s partnership with Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which promotes events at the Portland track, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and street circuits for IndyCar events in Toronto and St. Petersburg, Florida. Portland’s Xfinity Series date is being realigned away from Mid-Ohio, which transitions into a Truck Series host track in 2022.
“I think why now from a timing perspective, we’ve looked at the Pacific Northwest really since we started off in building out the 2021 schedule,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of strategy and innovation. “I’ve had the opportunity to go out to Seattle and Portland and look at a number of different opportunities and, seeing that we had a good relationship with Green Savoree and Kevin Savoree, it felt like it was a good opportunity for us to explore it in 2022 and bring it on the Xfinity Series schedule and really make a special weekend there in early June.
“A great time of year to be racing, especially in the Pacific Northwest starting to warm up, and I think it’ll be a great addition to the schedule.”
Kevin Savoree — co-owner, president and chief operating officer of the promotions group — also embraced the return: “What an exciting day for Portland and Pacific Northwest race fans. This region of the country hasn’t had a visit from a NASCAR national series in over two decades. We are thrilled the wait is over. When the NASCAR Xfinity Series stops at PIR next June, it will deliver great racing and strong economic impact to the region.”
NASCAR has an intriguing history with the region, though it has been a largely untapped frontier in recent years. The Cup Series visited the half-mile Portland Speedway seven times from 1956-57, and ran a 1957 event at the Kitsap County Airport in Bremerton, Washington. Several prominent NASCAR drivers have emerged from the area, including Washington natives Greg Biffle, Derrike Cope, Kasey Kahne and Chad Little, plus Hall of Fame nominee Hershel McGriff, who hails from Oregon.
As for the Portland road course, it was a frequent venue on the NASCAR Northwest Series that ran from 1985-2006, and it has been an occasional host of what is now called the ARCA Menards Series West. Portland returned to that series’ schedule this year for the first time since a 2009-2012 stint.
But revisiting that part of the country was a priority for Kennedy, who said his team also explored other potential venues in the Portland and Seattle vicinities.
“Quite a few tracks reached out to us, and a few projects as well that we’ve had some discussions with, but very, very early stages of a lot of those conversations, too,” Kennedy said. “I think it was seeing where Portland Raceway was and the ability for us to go there in 2022 and really make it a special event. If you go out to the track, it’s not far from downtown Portland, and you’re only a few hours’ drive from Seattle as well, so you know it’s always been a key part of the country that we’ve been looking at. We’ve seen a lot of growth from a fan perspective there and wanted to get there as quickly as we could, especially with the Xfinity Series.”
Kennedy said NASCAR officials plan to use the 1.964-mile, 12-turn configuration that includes a chicane intended to scrub speed on the main straightaway shortly after the start-finish line. ARCA West and IndyCar have used that layout in their events this year, and Kennedy said he was able to test out both versions in laps of his own.
“I think ultimately we ended up with that configuration, both from a speed perspective as well as just a racing product perspective,” Kennedy says. “I think that chicane, in particular, is one of the most unique aspects of that track. We had the opportunity to go around it in a car a few times, both with the chicane and without the chicane. So I think from a speed perspective really, being mindful of that, and then just from a racing product perspective, it’s an iconic part of the track and we feel like it’s important to include that.”
While the news remains fresh for the Xfinity Series schedule that’s ahead, Portland’s addition begs the question of whether a Cup Series date might eventually be in the offing. Other venues — notably Road America and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway — were longtime hosts of Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series stand-alone events before migrating onto the premier-series calendar in recent years.
Kennedy says for the moment, the approach is wait and see.
“We’re taking it as-is for now,” Kennedy said. “I think it’ll be good to get up there with the Xfinity Series, see how it does. It’ll be a FOX event as a stand-alone event, and I know that they want to make it special and something unique. That said, we’ll certainly continue to evaluate it, and it’s one of the neat things about the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series, it gives you a little more flexibility to be able to go and test some of these new markets that you otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to go into. Excited to see how it plays out and we’ll see where it goes from there.”