NASCAR PREVIEW: NASHVILLE

By Brennen McCall, Racing Contributor

Ask anyone what the city of Nashville is known for. “Music” would probably be the first answer they give you. Folks who travel to the Music City go there for a party. The bars, food, music, and nightlife probably sum up a typical weekend trip. But, that music may want to play a little louder if it wants to drown out the massive roar of a NASCAR Cup car.

For the first time in history, NASCAR’s top level will pay a visit to the 1.3-mile concrete oval known as Nashville Superspeedway. Accompanied by the lower-tiered series of Xfinity and Trucks, this weekend marks the end of a racing drought which began in 2012.

Nashville hosted NASCAR events since it was built back in 2001. While they never managed to host a Cup race, the speedway still brought in good money hosting Xfinity and Truck races. Indycar and Indy Lights races were even held until 2008. But the hype surrounding racing in the Music City quickly faded as sluggish ticket sales continued until the 2010s, an issue that began to claim other tracks on the NASCAR schedule. The track was forced to shut down and any hope of racing again quickly faded. That hope was resurrected again last year when it was announced that all three of NASCAR’s major touring series will bring back racing to Nashville once again.

When teams return to a track every year, they tend to lean on notes and data they’ve gathered from previous races. This data can come in many forms from race strategy to car setup. But teams will not have any data to lean on for Nashville Superspeedway. The surface and layout is unique and presents a different set of challenges compared to other tracks. The speeds are like that of a normal 1.5-mile oval but the corners drive like a short track. Drivers in the past have fought balance issues ranging from getting loose on entry to getting tight off the corners. These are common issues found at short tracks. You may see a few overconfident drivers tag the wall on corner exit trying to find that limit.

The track surface can also present a unique challenge in that it is concrete. Much like Dover’s concrete characteristics, Nashville will take rubber differently compared to asphalt tracks. When a tire degrades, rubber begins to build up and get forced into the tiny cracks and crevices in the track surface. These very noticeable black streaks of rubber add grip wherever they are formed, adding another factor to the equation for teams when adjusting their cars. To make matters worse, that rubber that was just forced down during a long run can easily get picked up under caution. The hot sticky rubber can get picked up by the much colder new tires, creating a cleaner racing surface. So, the challenge for teams is to find the right balance to handle well on a clean surface compared to a surface that is “rubbered-in”.

Much like the challenges on the racetrack, predicting a winner is going to be difficult. The organization that’s had the most recent success has been Hendrick Motorsports, specifically their driver Kyle Larson.

Larson is on an impressive hot streak winning the last three Cup events, including last week’s wild All-Star race. In the last five points-paying events, Larson has finished either first or second. That type of consistency can place him as a likely frontrunner on Sunday.

Teammate Alex Bowman won at the last concrete track at Dover. That was a day Hendrick motorsports finished in a historic 1-2-3-4 finish. That was also the last time Cup ran the high horsepower/low downforce configuration on an oval.

Aside from the foursome at Hendrick Motorsports, another driver to keep an eye on would be Kyle Busch. Busch enters the weekend coming off back-to-back top-5 finishes. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver looks continue his streak of strong runs by logging in some extra laps to help prepare him by running Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

Notable drivers who are still searching for their first win in 2021 include Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, and Kurt Busch. With just ten races left in the regular season, time is running out for these drivers and their competition to snag a win and punch their ticket to the playoffs.

Let’s have ourselves a race in the Music City!

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