With NASCAR completely absent from the airwaves this weekend and the Nationwide Series in the midst of a two-week bye, the talk of the racing community is slowly shifting towards Rockingham and big-time racing’s return, as the Truck Series will tackle the North Carolina high banks next Sunday. But as hype builds, and rightfully so, for the return of NASCAR to one of its signature venues, its worth pausing to pay tribute to another track left behind…one that would be hosting their first race of the season this weekend.
The Nashville Superspeedway is no longer hosting races, largely the product of poor attendance and the continued struggles of Dover Motorsports. But in the wake of this bye weekend, it’s worth pausing to reflect on some of the finer moments of the Nashville Superspeedway’s final years as a Nationwide Series venue.
*March 22, 2008 – Scott Wimmer’s Last Win*
Despite being the first standalone Nationwide Series event of the season, the first two-thirds of Saturday’s race at Nashville saw Cup regulars dominating, with Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer claiming the top two spots.
But that all changed on Lap 163; and in an instant, a Nationwide-only driver was finally given his shot at Victory Lane.
First, the incident that changed the complexion of it all. Bowyer, making a run on Busch in Turn 4, got Busch’s No. 20 loose and sent him into a spin. Just like that, the 22-year-old was in the grass with a crushed left side fender, and Bowyer had damage to the right side of his Chevrolet. Busch clearly got the short end of the stick; he pitted under green to fix his car, and was never again a factor, finishing two laps off the pace.
Busch’s misfortune sent Bowyer to the point, with his teammate Scott Wimmer moving into second. The last 60 laps then saw Wimmer slowly run down Bowyer, finally making the pass for the lead with 21 laps to go. Wimmer, along with the rest of the race leaders, drove “with an egg under the throttle,” saving fuel to the finish to lock up the win for the No. 29 Chevrolet. Wimmer’s victory was the first for a Nationwide Series regular this season (albeit a part-time participant; Wimmer shares this ride with Cup Series veteran Jeff Burton). It was also the Wisconsin driver’s first triumph since July of 2003 at Pikes Peak, as well as his first since aligning with Richard Childress Racing following the 2006 season.
Said Wimmer of his victory, “I can’t believe it’s been this long.”
*June 7, 2008 – Brad Keselowski’s First Win*
While Joey Logano was untouchable in the early going, and David Stremme ran up front all race long, it was Brad Keselowski in the No. 88 who cashed in, scoring his first career NASCAR victory on the 1.33-mile speedway. Stremme, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer all stayed out on the track trying to stretch their fuel to the end, but a late race caution allowed Keselowski — who took four tires later in the race — to run down the leaders and score JR Motorsports’ second series victory this season. Keselowski was able to celebrate in Victory Lane with much of his family, as brother Brian was also in town after attempting to qualify for Saturday’s event (he spun on his qualifying lap and DNQ’d).
*April 11, 2009 – Kelly Bires Bests Cousin Carl*
Kelly Bires got a raw deal after the reshuffling at JTG Daugherty Racing last season left him without a ride despite a much improved 2008 campaign in the Nationwide Series for the team. This weekend, Bires was fortunate enough to land a one-off deal with KHI after running start and park in a handful of races for Braun Racing earlier this year, and boy did he deliver. After scoring a top 10 start, Bires fell out of the top 10 only once after a poor pit stop, and was challenging for the front late. Bires made one of the most overlooked moves of the race with less than 20 to go, making a bold power move under Carl Edwards entering Turn 1 that flat left the King of Concrete looking sheepish.
*April 23, 2011 – The Rebirth of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*
Anyone looking for a telling yardstick to measure Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.‘s driver development could not have asked for a better one than a return to the Nashville spring race… an event that the driver of the No. 6 failed to qualify for one season ago. This time, Stenhouse qualified in the top 5 and stayed there all day, scoring not only a career best finish on the Tennessee oval, but a career best on a concrete racing surface as well. What’s more, on a day that saw Roush Fenway Racing’s Mustangs the class of the field, the 2010 Rookie of the Year was able to capitalize on an underwhelming day from closest competitor Turner Motorsports, moving into a tie for the point lead after losing it in ugly fashion at Talladega only one weekend ago. Stenhouse would later claim the 2011 Nationwide Series championship.
And as for some not so fine moments? Looking back at just one race will take care of all that.
*June 6, 2009 – DC Rivalry in the Music City*
The incident that sparked the most fireworks, however, was on pit road. Coming in for a green flag stop, Brendan Gaughan was pulling into the pits only to have Marc Davis, also on pit road at the time, make the hard left turn to the garage…right in front of Gaughan’s machine. The resulting carnage obliterated the left front of Gaughan’s car and relegated him to a 24th place finish. After the race, Gaughan verbally assaulted the youngster Davis, claiming he must have gotten a better education at Georgetown than Howard (the Howard University radio station sponsors Davis’ car) and questioning the intelligence of Davis’ entire team.
*June 6, 2009 – The Day the Music Died*
Kyle Busch’s smashing the guitar in victory lane. Yes, I know a number of rock stars out there made a name (and quite the show) for themselves by smashing guitars following performances. Yes, I know that Kyle wanted to give a piece of the trophy to every member of his team. And yes, I know that Kyle spoke to Sam Bass about why he smashed his artwork…and that Bass was OK with it.
I wasn’t OK with it in 2009, and I’m still not, and that’s not because Busch did what he did with Bass present. I don’t care whether Busch considers himself a showman or a rock star, there is no way to equivocate Pete Townshend smashing a guitar following a concert with what Busch did. Busch didn’t destroy a musical instrument, he destroyed a trophy, a symbol of recognition and accomplishment as well as one of the most coveted pieces of hardware the Nationwide Series has to offer. That wasn’t a guitar, it was a trophy. Would it be acceptable to see Busch spike the Harley J. Earl trophy should he ever win the Daytona 500, or knock over a grandfather clock should he ever tame Martinsville? No, it wouldn’t be.
Nashville didn’t always put on the best show, but it was still a vital part of the Nationwide Series schedule for a long time. And on this weekend, when there’s no racing gracing my TV screen, it will be missed.
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