There is an understandable excitement as NASCAR visits new venues, and this week‘s Nashville Superspeedway is a track many NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers have long had circled on the schedule.
Not only is the 1.33-mile concrete oval a new test for most of the field, Nashville has a history of crowning first-time race winners in the Xfinity Series. Half of the 14 previous race winners — including names such as Greg Biffle, Jason Leffler, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski — hoisted their first series trophy in Nashville.
The Tennessee Lottery 250 (Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) may again add to that legacy. There are certainly some big names ready to make their first trip to Victory Lane in 2021. Six of the 12 drivers currently inside the playoff bubble are still looking for their first win of the season.
In Daniel Hemric‘s case, he‘s looking for his first career win in any of NASCAR‘s three national series. So, Nashville‘s tendency to celebrate new winners must be especially encouraging for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He‘s coming off a fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway last week — his first top-10 in a four-race period. He led a season-high 105 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway three weeks ago only to crash and finish 28th.
He did have a top-five run at the 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway in May — a track of nearly the same length as this week‘s Nashville track.
JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier won at Darlington this May in an epic battle between himself and teammate Josh Berry in the closing laps. And Allgaier is one of eight drivers entered this week who has competed at Nashville previously. He has three top-five finishes in six Nashville starts, including a fourth place in the last race held there in 2011.
One of his JR Motorsports teammates, Noah Gragson, would certainly love to notch his first victory in what has been an extremely frustrating season. The driver of the No. 9 JRM Chevrolet rebounded last week from a tough spring stretch — scoring a seventh-place finish at Texas. It was the perennial championship contender‘s first top-10 in a five-week span that included three DNFs.
The last time Gragson led a race was at Darlington — his 40 laps out front were a race high on the day. He finished fourth, and these kind of numbers are surely encouraging for this week‘s stop.
“I‘ve never raced at the superspeedway but we‘ve spent some time in the sim and luckily, we get a little bit of practice this weekend to learn the track and to make the right adjustments for the race,” Gragson said. “A part of me wishes we went straight into the race, but I know (crew chief) Dave (Elenz) and this entire No. 9 team will bring a fast Camaro and hopefully we can compete for the win.”
Allgaier and Gragson can certainly expect a challenge from another teammate. Berry is a Tennessee native and would love to earn a victory at Nashville this week. The same is true for championship leader Austin Cindric, who boasts a series-best 10 top-five finishes and more than 100-point advantage over second place A.J. Allmendinger in the standings, but who had his worst finish of the year (30th) on the similarly-sized Darlington track in May.
And then there‘s the big picture storyline: Kyle Busch‘s chance at earning a historic 100th NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion scored win No. 99 last weekend in Texas and is easily the most successful driver at the Nashville track for this weekend‘s event.
He won the 2009 Xfinity race from pole position leading 173 of the 225 laps. He also won from pole position in both of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career starts there (2010 and 2011). He led 131 of the 150 laps for the 2010 victory and led a dominating 140 of the 150 laps in his win the next the year.