This past weekend saw the first major race weekend at Nashville Superspeedway since 2011. You probably saw the various clips posted by NASCAR, FOX Sports and NBC Sports of Pastor Joe Nelms and his invocation that gave thanks to, among other things, Roush and Yates getting together, R07 engines (from Chevrolet) and his “smokin’ hot wife.” That was the last race weekend there before the place was shuttered.
For this past race weekend, resin was laid down on the track so that it would be more conducive to taking rubber, something that seems to be an issue on concrete tracks. That wasn’t a problem at all. There was something else that was an issue, though.
With the 750 horsepower package in play Sunday, the possibility of a runaway was always there. Sure enough, it happened. Having the low downforce also meant that brakes were a big issue.
The problem here is that the last time anyone raced at Nashville Superspeedway was before NASCAR launched the Gen6 car. Most of the discussion centering around power output at non-plate tracks and spoiler height really didn’t exist in the COT era. The only major rule changes to the cars in that generation occurred in 2010 when the wings were replaced by a blade spoiler and the cavity in the front nose was filled in.
While yes, there were simulations that teams could use to help prepare for Nashville, the brake packages that a lot of teams used had some degree of guess work in them. Heck, the track wasn’t even in iRacing until a couple of weeks ago.
In the Cup Series, the braking issues came to the forefront early and often. This is why it took 3.5 hours to run 400 miles at Nashville. It’s the right distance for this race, but it shouldn’t have taken that long. Rarely do you see multiple teams exploding brake rotors, but the design of Nashville Superspeedway with this package is tailor made for it. The track is shaped like an intermediate track, but the turns are tight enough that they require significant braking. Teams are reluctant to put the proper cooling ducts in place for the brakes (or if they do, they keep them covered up by tape) because it could hurt the car aerodynamically. Admittedly, this is a dangerous situation for everyone involved as those parts can fly out of tracks and injure people.
Sunday’s race saw multiple teams fall out of the race after either exploding brake rotors, or crash after hitting broken pieces of brake rotors. Ryan Blaney was in trouble by lap 35. He stopped early on, but it didn’t really help. By lap 55, he was out. Chase Briscoe, Ryan Preece and David Starr also had rotors explode. In the case of Briscoe and Preece, the right rear wheel wells of both cars caught fire.
Viewers never really got to see what these rotors (or what were left of them) looked like afterwards. In this scenario, it’s hard for viewers to figure out what causes the rupture. We also don’t know how the teams were handling brake bias on Sunday. Putting too much bias to the front or rear brakes could have played a role in some of the issues we saw. What we do know is that there were significant differences in brake usage. For instance, when Kyle Larson wasn’t saving fuel, he rarely used more than 40-50% of his braking ability. When he was, it was barely 20-30%. On the other hand, Kyle Busch was using 80% or more at times, in between ranting about his Camry.
What we did see were references to the amount of brake dust that was being generated by the cars. The best ones didn’t generate that much. Then again, it’s a little hard to tell since most of the teams (for now) run black wheels. Blaney does not, and … it showed. Wheels going from chartreuse to dark gray in 39 laps is not a good look if you plan on finishing the race. In the future, I don’t know if this is even going to be something that we can look for. It’s unclear whether NASCAR is going to allow painted wheels on the NextGen cars (my personal guess is heck no because it would be viewed as modifying it).
While Larson dominated at the front for the fourth dang week in a row, this was likely one of the more competitive NASCAR races at the 1.33-mile tri-oval. There was side-by-side racing. Drivers were able to run each other down and race with them. There was a strategy element as well. Could have done without the braking issues, though. In the future, that will be worked out.
Having the NBC Sports team of Earnhardt Jr., Rick Allen and Steve Letarte back in the booth is a considerable change as compared to FOX Sports. While I’m not going to claim that FOX Sports is unprofessional (because they’re not), you have an entirely different feel. There isn’t as much joking around here. I find the broadcast to be more cerebral. Obviously, the race is called, but there’s a lot more discussion around strategy.
I think that some of what you see on FOX Sports out of the broadcast booth is forced. It’s not like that with NBC. Allen wouldn’t tolerate that. In 2018, I learned about the legit camaraderie that NBC Sports’ booth commentators have.
That said, I could have done without some of the points talk during the race. It’s June, dudes. I would have understood seeing that Friday night during the Rackley Roofing 200 on FOX Sports 1 since there’s now only three races remaining before the Camping World Truck Series playoffs begin (note: that’s bonkers, and I really hope they change that in 2022).
Sunday was the first NASCAR Cup Series race of 2021 to air on the NBC family of networks. It also aired as part of a doubleheader with the NTT IndyCar Series REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, a swell doubleheader of action that covered more than seven hours of Sunday. While there are some that aren’t really cool with giving up their Sunday for racing, I’m all for it.
For 2021, there are some changes. As you’re probably aware, Krista Voda was let go at the end of last season. I wasn’t a fan of the move, but NBC Sports felt that they didn’t have anything for her to do going forward. That’s rough.
At Nashville, Dale Earnhardt Jr. served as the host for Countdown to Green alongside Brad Paisley. Paisley will not be there every week, but since they started off in Tennessee, why the heck not? After all, Paisley did show up in the ad campaigns for the race.
While Earnhardt Jr. is primarily a booth analyst on television, I think he did just fine in the role. Like many of the guest analysts on FOX Sports 1’s broadcasts, Paisley was partially there to plug a charity. In this case, it was The Store, a non-profit free grocery store in Nashville that allows people in need to shop for basic needs that Paisley founded with his wife, Kimberly.
Of course, Paisley is a big race fan himself. Had he not been involved with NBC Sports for the weekend, he probably would have made the trip out to the track anyway.
I don’t think they’re going to have celebrity guest hosts for Countdown to Green every week. I could see it being a rotating spot for most of the rest of the season.
We also saw the NASCAR debut of Jac Collinsworth, son of NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth. Collinsworth is a relative newbie to NBC Sports, having only joined the company full-time in March of last year. Collinsworth’s bio on NBC Sports Press Box lists him as primarily being involved in the Notre Dame football broadcasts and hosting a digital series called Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game. 2021 has seen Collinsworth’s role expand out of the studio, having made his INDYCAR broadcast debut at Indianapolis last month. You’re likely to see more of him as the year progresses, especially once football’s back up and running.
For what it’s worth, I don’t have an issue with Collinsworth’s presence here. He strikes me as someone who’s maybe not the most knowledgeable person there about NASCAR, but he’s got Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty to lean on. He’s still very young (he’s a 2017 Notre Dame grad, so he’s somewhere between 24-28), so he has room to grow with NBC Sports. He’s also involved with some digital videos with Jarrett and Petty that will be available on Peacock and NBCSports.com.
Honestly, it was rather amazing just how much the Nashville area got into the race weekend. Heck, there was a building in Downtown Nashville covered in Nutrien AgSolutions logos and Jeb Burton’s Xfinity car. You don’t see that every day. Part of it is the fact that they never had a Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway before the 1.33-mile tri-oval originally shuttered. It was truly hopping, both at the track and in Nashville proper. My guess is that they’ll have more than 38,000 seats available for next year’s race (I believe the track was limited to that number due to COVID-19 protocols). Perhaps the region could actually support a weekend at Nashville Superspeedway, the new Music City Grand Prix and something major at the Fairgrounds, eventually.
Post-race coverage was very brief since the race ran long. It finished roughly 40-45 minutes behind schedule at 7:30 p.m., when the half-hour post-race show was supposed to end. As a result, viewers only got to see a post-race interview with Larson and a check of the points before NBCSN left Nashville to go to pre-game coverage for Game No. 4 of the Vegas Golden Knights-Montreal Canadiens series. Additional interviews with Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were uploaded to NBCSports.com.
Overall, this was a decent first go-around of the year for NBC Sports. Viewers got a good amount of action on-track. Drivers that don’t always get much in way of reference (like JJ Yeley) got some airtime Sunday. With all the issues with brakes, I’m not really sure how tire wear was on Sunday. It was conceivably possible to take two tires on a short run, but seemingly no one was beating Larson.
The dudes at Nashville Superspeedway did a good job. I’m pretty sure that this was one of the biggest crowds ever at the track, and while there were some issues (mainly with traffic), they’ll put that in their memory banks and make it better for next year.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.