LEBANON, Tenn. – Ross Chastain earned his first win in over a year after holding off Martin Truex Jr. in a long final green flag run at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday night, June 25. The rest of the top five finishers were Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, respectively.
The victory marked the first for Trackhouse Racing in over a year since Sonoma Raceway in June 2022.
But What Really Happened?
Since the sport’s return to the Music City in 2021, most individuals in the industry and fans alike made assumptions that the 1.33-mile track only acted as a space-holder for the eventual arrival of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway onto the series schedule.
But would it be that bad if it stuck around for a little longer?
Look, NASCAR returning to the half-mile short track for some short track racing would be nearly as spectacular as the return to North Wilkesboro Speedway. The popular Tennessee-based circuit would receive a very welcome return by NASCAR fans, especially those that have been around for a few decades and old enough to remember the last time the Cup Series traveled to the Fairgrounds.
But even the most grizzled NASCAR racing fan has to admit Sunday’s race at Nashville Superspeedway produced some jaw-dropping stuff.
With side-by-side battles and 21 lead changes, Sunday’s 400-miler exceeded or at least matched the quality of short track racing seen all year. That fact likely would have been something that surprised most NASCAR fans five years ago, but with the arrival of the Next Gen car, the reality of short track racing delivering a lesser racing product than a majority of races on the schedule is here.
If the Cup Series were to make a start at the Fairgrounds circuit this year with the current state of the Next Gen car, it likely wouldn’t be much different from those short tracks either. So, right now, why rush it to move from the Superspeedway?
Was the racing perfect on Sunday? No, not really. There were certainly moments of frustration when drivers were met with dirty air preventing them from passing, especially for the lead. Just ask Truex.
But at least passing was still a somewhat common occurrence and happened more frequently than what we saw at Martinsville Speedway. At the paperclip-shaped circuit, the average on-track number of quality passing was 20.6 for the whole field over the course of 400 laps in April.
On Sunday at Nashville, the average was 28.2. Now, you may argue the idea of multi-lane racing being a large factor of a higher number than that of a one-lane track like Martinsville, and perhaps that’s true.
However, you must remember the plight of Truex. Dirty air was very much a factor in play on Sunday. Despite that Chastain was held up by lap traffic often in that final 33-lap run after taking the lead for the final time, Truex could do nothing with him. That was case for many battles for the lead in the whole 300 laps.
In other words, passing was indeed difficult to do on Sunday, yet Nashville still outperformed one of the most popular short tracks on the circuit in terms of competition.
So, at least for right now, would the Fairgrounds be much different?
Who Stood Out?
Chastain is a topic again in the headlines of many media outlets this weekend. This time, however, it’s for all the right reasons.
It started on Saturday when the Melon Man earned his first career Cup Series pole at the 1.33-mile race track.
The triumph already had made the weekend a memorable one for the Trackhouse Racing driver, as he mentioned in the media center that it was a day he would never forget.
The pole award also came at a time of uncertainty among the media camp regarding Chastain’s driving confidence. After over a year of constant controversy stemming from the No. 1’s aggressive driving style, its driver had placed the camel-back-breaking straw when he collided with fellow Chevrolet driver Larson at Darlington Raceway, costing them both the win.
After numerous voices of outrage even from highly esteemed NASCAR industry leaders like Rick Hendrick, Chastain had since only earned one top-10 result when he finished 10th at Sonoma.
Naturally, many speculated the Floridian had been given a warning from his team owner Justin Marks to take his aggression down a notch. As a result, a toned-down Chastain wasn’t finding the success that he had before, and it was kind of hard to dispute against it.
But then on Sunday, he shut everyone up.
There was a handful of drivers that saw their way at the front of the field at certain points on Sunday night, but Chastain appeared to be the one there consistently the whole race. From starting on the pole to the checkered flag, the Trackhouse driver hovered in the top 10 and even finished second and third in stages one and two while leading a race-high 99 laps.
When he garnered the speed to take the lead back on lap 231, it was right before the final green flag pit stops. Despite some lap traffic in his way, Chastain kept the lead after the pit stop cycle and led to the end of the race.
And he did it all without wrecking a single person.
Who Fell Flat?
Despite all the fanfare and storylines for Chastain’s dominant performance, there was somebody else today that was just a little faster than him.
But he and his team lost it over a matter of something as small as a lug nut.
It was clear that Tyler Reddick and the No. 45 23XI Racing crew had put together a car that was going to be the one to beat on Sunday when the 27-year-old passed Chastain in stage one and cruised to what seemed like an easy stage victory.
With seemingly no one to challenge him, Reddick appeared to be on his way to what could have been a strong result in the Music City.
Until lap 140.
The good news for Reddick is he spun the car onto pit road before the wheel detached itself, which garnered NASCAR into only giving the No. 45 a commitment line violation and not to hold him for two laps for a lost wheel penalty.
The bad news was that it didn’t matter. Reddick still went to the rear and lost two laps as a result of the incident. With so many other drivers being lapped over long periods of green flag runs, Reddick never got the opportunity to recover. He finished 30th two laps down.
It’s amazing how much not pulling the air gun trigger for an extra millisecond can cost.
Better Than Last Time?
While last year’s event at Nashville wasn’t necessarily disappointing, a combination of sporadic rain delays and a dominating duo of Truex and Hamlin throughout the event lowered the bar for Sunday’s performance of the concrete track.
Despite all of the threats of rain, not a single drop fell from the sky onto the track surface on Sunday afternoon, which allowed the night race to run as intended without going too late into everyone’s bedtime.
Then, there’s the matter of competition, which was also an improvement over last year’s 18 lead changes and seven different leaders. By comparison, Sunday featured 21 lead changes and 12 different cars at the front of the field.
What didn’t change, however, was the limited lane racing available to NASCAR’s best.
Nashville is considered as another intermediate track on the NASCAR circuit, and the Next Gen has breathed new life into the intermediates. However, a lot of that is because of the various lanes drivers can take advantage of throughout the course of an event. Nashville doesn’t seem to offer as much as other intermediates do with drivers not able to utilize the top lane next to the wall.
Like last year, Nashville is still an exciting and welcomed intermediate racetrack, but just not as much as the others.
Paint Scheme of the Race
Busch beer does it again.
As part of its marketing campaign for its new peach flavor, the Busch Beer brand wrapped Kevin Harvick‘s No. 4 in a bright orange paint scheme that made it stick out more than almost every other competitor.
It’s simple, it’s bright, it’s orange and it’s only the latest piece of car artwork in the Busch beer catalog.
The most anticipated race of the season.
For the first time ever, the NASCAR Cup Series will go street racing with the inaugural Grant Park 220 taking place on the Chicago Street Course. Qualifying for the 220-mile race will be live on Saturday, July 1 at 2:30 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, July 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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