Westward Ho! How NASCAR teams are handling a three-week stretch of endless travel

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With Sprint Cup teams facing one of their longest western swings, a symphony of logistical planning is under way to handle the transport of cars, crew members and equipment.

Virtually every team in NASCAR’s premier series will send additional haulers to meet their primary 18-wheel transporter to swap out its cars after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next week’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. After the March 15 race at Phoenix, the same swap will occur with more trailers to ship fresh cars to Fontana, Calif., for the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway.

There will be lots of variance, though, on how and where teams make those swaps and how they handle their team members’ schedules. Here’s a breakdown of the plans for some NASCAR organizations:

–Hendrick Motorsports: Team members will return after the race at Las Vegas (the No. 5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne will be testing for Goodyear at Charlotte Motor Speedway March 10-11). After the Phoenix race, most of the team members will stay out west for the Fontana race.

–Stewart-Haas Racing: The primary haulers for the team’s four cars left Tuesday morning for Las Vegas. Three more transporters will leave the team’s Kannapolis, N.C., headquarters Friday and swap out cars and equipment Monday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (the process will be repeated the following Sunday night at Phoenix after that race).

With the exception of the No. 4 team of Kevin Harvick (which is testing March 11 at Charlotte) and No. 41 crew chief Daniel Knost (whose wife is expecting a baby next month), team members will travel directly from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Knost and Harvick’s team will fly Thursday morning on a chartered plane to Phoenix from North Carolina.

After the Phoenix race, SHR will fly all of its crews back to North Carolina. They will fly Thurs., March 19 from Concord, N.C., to Ontario, Calif., for the Fontana race.

Chip Ganassi Racing: During the Las Vegas-Phoenix-California swing, the team will be providing its crew members with the option of staying out west rather than commuting to its home base in Concord, N.C. It’s expecting to swap out its cars twice in Phoenix.

Joe Gibbs Racing: Will keep most of its team members out west during the swing. JGR also is renting warehouse space in Phoenix where its cars can be prepared.

–Roush Fenway Racing: Teams will travel back to North Carolina after races as usual. The team will swap cars and equipment in Las Vegas for the Phoenix race and in Phoenix for the Fontana race.

Richard Childress Racing: Trailers will swap out cars for the Phoenix race in Vegas and for Fontana in Phoenix. Most of the road crews will stay in Las Vegas, drive Thursday morning to Phoenix and fly back to North Carolina before heading to Southern California.

The team estimates it will log more than 97,000 miles between all of its haulers over the next three weeks.

Richard Petty Motorsports: Team members will commute from North Carolina during the swing (the No. 43 team of Aric Almirola will be testing March 10-11 at Charlotte).

Between the races at Phoenix and California, Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. are headed to team owner Richard Petty’s ranch in Wyoming for a team bonding trip.

JTG Daugherty Racing: In a team release, A.J. Allmendinger said his smaller single-car team will keep its crew on the West Coast during the three-race swing. “Being out there for three weeks is good for one reason and that’s cost,” Allmendinger said. “When they stay out away from the race shop, we legitimately only have maybe 10 to 12 people back in Harrisburg (N.C.) getting cars ready.

“I know they have had to work really hard the last few weeks leading up to this week trying to get everything as close as possible for the next three weeks so we are not behind when we get home. It’s tough on them knowing they are not going to get to see their families for three weeks. It’s good and bad. It’s a part of it.”