75th Anniversary Feature: Nashville and NASCAR go back awhile

Offering both a rich history and a modern-day sparkle on the NASCAR calendar, Nashville Superspeedway holds a vital position in the sport – the track home to the popular Ally 400 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday night (7 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and the town host to the annual NASCAR Awards Ceremony each winter.

Not only is the track’s locale – about a 20-minute drive from Nashville proper – a vibrant place full of both longstanding and newly-minted NASCAR fans, but the race weekend atmosphere also has a distinct duel feel of historic appreciation and hip place-to-be on the calendar.

Many of NASCAR’s brightest stars claim Tennessee roots – from NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and his two-time Daytona 500-winning younger brother Michael to another two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin and the late, fan favorite and NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion Bobby Hamilton.

The Nashville area actually goes back to NASCAR’s earliest glory days. NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly won the sport’s first premier series race (formerly called the Grand National Series) at the Nashville Fairgrounds across town in 1958 and Geoffrey Bodine won the last race there in 1984; the sport’s King, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty is the all-time winningest at that former half-mile venue, hoisting nine trophies there.

Modern day NASCAR visits the neighboring 1.33-mile concrete Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn. Completed in 2001, it has picked up the race baton and is a top-tier event for both fan and competitor.

“I like Nashville,” Wood Brothers Racing driver Harrison Burton said. “It’s a cool city and the fans are always excited. It’s been a fun racetrack for us with lots of lane choices.”

The track’s history is unique in that there were exciting key races at Nashville Superspeedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series from 2001-2011, before a decade-long break on the competitive calendar and a purchase two years ago by Speedway Motorsports.

Greg Biffle won the very first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Nashville Superspeedway in 2001 and Carl Edwards won the last during that time frame. In fact, Edwards is the all-time winningest Xfinity Series driver at the track with five victories – including three straight from 2006-07 and a series sweep in 2011.

Five active drivers – but only one fulltime championship contender – have wins at the track, which is hosting Saturday’s Tennessee Lottery 250 (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier are the most recent winners taking the coveted Gibson guitar trophies in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Similarly, the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series had a successful run of races from 2001-2011. Scott Riggs won the inaugural event, from the pole position in 2001, leading a dominating 131 of the 150 laps. Austin Dillon closed that decade with a win in the 2011 CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race.

There’s been only one name to know since the series has been back. Ryan Preece won both the 2021 and 2022 Truck races and is going for his third consecutive in Friday night’s Rackley Roofing 200 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The NASCAR Cup Series marks only its third race at Nashville Superspeedway with a pair of past champions earning the previous two Gibson guitar trophies. Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson led a dominating 264 of 300 laps and held off runner-up Ross Chastain by more than 4-seconds to claim the 2021 victory en route to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Last year, Larson’s teammate Chase Elliott held off Kurt Busch by .551-seconds to earn the 2022 race win. Denny Hamlin led the most laps (114) but finished sixth.

The drivers and teams have immediately taken to one of the newer venues but most traditional of locations on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

“It’s an interesting place,” said Team Penske driver Austin Cindric. “It’s an intermediate that drives like a short track or a short track that drives like an intermediate. It probably depends on how your car is handling, but it’s a pretty involved racetrack with a lot of shifting and different lanes.

“It’s a nice race again this year, so I’m looking forward to that. Obviously, I don’t think there are too many better locations for a NASCAR race to be, so I think it definitely deserves a race on the schedule and I’m looking forward to going back.”