NASCAR Returns to Nashville
NASCAR will make a return to Nashville in 2021. Sort of.
It’s not really returning to Nashville – it’s returning to a site 35 miles southeast of downtown where Dover Motorsports built a 1.33-mile concrete oval. Nashville Superspeedway opened in 2001 and shut down after the 2011 season, but it is still in decent shape and will be ready for the June 20, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series race.
The idea was that NASCAR wanted to return to Nashville, the top new market in which NASCAR wanted to have a presence, as the vibe in the city during the NASCAR awards week made NASCAR feel it had to be there. So Dover agreed to move its late summer Cup race from Dover to Nashville.
The move signals NASCAR willingness to change. It also signals that not all of its 2021 schedule changes will be universally embraced.
The NASCAR racing roots in the area don’t exist in Nashville Superspeedway but instead at the Nashville Fairgrounds track, which played host to NASCAR Cup Series races from 1958-1984. Speedway Motorsports, which owns several tracks including Charlotte and Bristol, is working with the city leadership and the track’s local promoter to see if they can come up with a plan to renovate the facility enough to play host to a Cup race. It would add another short track (it is a 0.6-mile oval) to a series that has just three venues under a mile.
Any improvements at the Fairground likely couldn’t be done to have a race next year, and NASCAR didn’t want to wait. But in order to get Dover Motorsports to agree to make the $8 million-$10 million renovations necessary, NASCAR agreed to a four-year deal through 2025 to race at the bigger track miles and miles down the road from where Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt were among those who won races.
It is a risky experiment. Nashville Superspeedway closed in part because it couldn’t fill the 25,000 seats it had for Xfinity and Gander Trucks events.
“Once [the recession in] 2008 took all the wind out of the sails of everybody, the economics of trying to keep that track operating then just didn’t work out,” said Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn.
“So we’re happy to have this opportunity to go back and re-establish our relationships and hopefully fulfill a need that is high on NASCAR’s priority list.”
McGlynn shouldn’t shoulder the blame for the Nashville Superspeedway originally closing. NASCAR never boosted Xfinity Series revenues enough to make hosting a stand-alone event a guaranteed revenue generator for the track, something that Dover Motorsports banked on when it began securing race tracks. And the vibe at Nashville during some of those Xfinity and truck events appeared to be that if NASCAR wasn’t going to bring its A-list drivers and series, it wasn’t going to be supported – that there was still bitterness towards NASCAR stars for abandoning the market in 1984.
Maybe something has changed since then. Obviously something changed in Dover. When Dover announced in 1997 that it was going to build Nashville Superspeedway, it said it had no plans to move a race from Dover to Nashville. Things change over 20+ years, as Dover’s seating capacity was 135,000 as late as 2010 but is now 54,000.
“You go back 20 years ago, we still had 135,000 seats [at Dover] and we were filling them,” McGlynn said. “So to rebuild all the infrastructure out in Nashville just to move a race out there and get 135,000 people, it just didn’t make sense to go to that capital investment when we could still get the revenues here [in Dover].
“Today’s world is vastly different. ... The circumstances have changed where it does seem to make that switch.”
Or will they? A track that closed because it wasn’t embraced is now something NASCAR will ask fans to embrace. McGlynn thinks the demand will be huge and the track will use portable seating to expand to as much as 50,000 on demand.
The four years of Nashville races will garner more than $56 million in television revenue for the track (sanction fees will be approximately $15.2 million over the four years), which should help in case attendance doesn’t meet expectations.
“A Cup race does make a difference,” McGlynn said. “I look at Nashville as a very sophisticated NASCAR market – the demographic overlaps are too great to ignore.
“They had easy access to Bristol, to Atlanta, to Talladega, so it’s easy to understand how the second and third tier NASCAR products did not measure up to their expectations. We just weren’t in a position back then to deliver a Cup race. Now we are, and I think it is going to make all the difference in the world.”
NASCAR says it is working on more announcements for 2021 and “stay tuned” for “exciting” changes. NASCAR brass feel overhauling the schedule could be key to revitalizing the sport. It does appear that NASCAR will use the weekend before Memorial Day for a points race instead of the all-star race, as it told Dover that its one race weekend next year will be May 16 or May 23. Neither NASCAR nor Charlotte Motor Speedway would comment on plans for the 2021 all-star event.
There’s no doubt NASCAR is trying to condense its schedule so it doesn’t run for 41 weeks. It already has announced that the Busch Clash will run the Tuesday night before the Daytona 500 instead of the weekend before the Daytona 500.
Changes need to create enthusiasm. NASCAR needs to hit home runs with these changes as it knows it will disappoint those tracks where races might not return.
NASCAR also apparently is putting all its tracks on notice. The sanction agreement with Dover and Nashville are public record because those deals generate virtually all the revenues for the publicly-traded company. One can assume these agreements are the normal template for all NASCAR tracks, and they include a clause that requires a track to “use best efforts to ensure a minimum spectator attendance in grandstand seating ... of at least 70 percent of” the seating capacity.
There is no definition of “best efforts” nor does it say what will happen to tracks who don’t reach this minimum. NASCAR declined to comment on the clause.
Dover would have had that trouble had it not just removed so many seats. Other tracks, especially those that have two races a year, could find themselves with that problem. It remains to be seen if one race weekend will boost the crowd at Dover.
Xfinity: Gragson Takes Bristol
Noah Gragson won at Bristol after he tried to take advantage of a Justin Allgaier mistake that opened up the bottom lane. But when he got there, he got loose and got into Allgaier, ruining Allgaier’s day but ending up with a win for Gragson.
“I don’t know what is going to happen in the future,” Gragson said. “I take full responsibility for getting loose underneath him. That’s a fact. One thing you can’t say is I’m not aggressive and that I’m not going to try.
“He probably owes me one. But if you don’t slip up the lap before, I don’t get to you and you drive off to victory. So don’t mess up, I guess.”
With their top-four finishes at Bristol, Gragson, Chase Briscoe, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton qualified for the Dash 4 Cash bonus Saturday at Atlanta. The top driver among those four will earn $100,000, as well as earn a bid to be among the four drivers eligible at the next bonus race (second race at Homestead).
“Anytime you can add the possibility of $400,000 to your program, that’s night and day difference just in the amount to go racing,” said Briscoe, whose ride at Stewart-Haas Racing wasn’t solidified until January because of funding. “Obviously, that’s like bringing a whole new primary sponsor on board.”
Trucks: Now Back To Trucks
With the bounty over, the focus of the NASCAR Gander RV Trucks Series could return to those running for the series championship.
With both Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott entered for the race Saturday at Atlanta, they again could steel the focus at the show.
On The Air
NASCAR Xfinity Cheddar’s 300 (Bristol), 7 p.m., FS1
NASCAR Gander Trucks Vet Tix 200 (Atlanta), 1 p.m., FS1
NASCAR Xfinity EchoPark 200 (Atlanta), 4:30 p.m., FOX
NASCAR Cup Folds of Honor 500 (Atlanta), 3 p.m., FOX
Stat of Note
There have been nine different winners in the last nine 1.5-mile tracks:
Charlotte – Chase Elloitt
Charlotte – Brad Keselowski
Las Vegas – Joey Logano
Homestead – Kyle Busch
Texas – Kevin Harvick
Kansas – Denny Hamlin
Las Vegas – Martin Truex Jr.
Kentucky – Kurt Busch
Chicagoland – Alex Bowman
The last time that happened came in 2008-2009. The last time there was more than nine came in 2001-02, when there were 10.
They Said It
“It’s tough to see the world in this spot. But all we can do is come together and we have to fight the battle together and help each other understand what somebody is going through and how they deal with it and how you can help them.” – Bubba Wallace on NASCAR Race Hub