Nashville is one of 10 races left in the race to the Playoffs
With his victory two weeks ago at the Sonoma, Calif. road course, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. has taken over the NASCAR Cup Series championship lead for the first time since a one-week stay there in October 2021.
The 2017 series champion now has a pair of points-paying wins in addition to his season-opening victory in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition — making him the fourth driver with multiple wins on the year and well-equipped with some well-timed momentum as the series heads to Tennessee for Sunday night‘s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
It‘s the third triple-header weekend since NASCAR returned to competition at the 1.33-mile concrete oval in 2021 after a 10-year absence.
Only one driver — Hendrick Motorsports‘ William Byron — has managed to put together back-to-back victories this season (at Las Vegas and Phoenix) and the three-race winner trails Truex by a slight 13 points in the title run. Team Penske‘s Ryan Blaney, who snapped a career-long winless streak with his victory at Charlotte during Memorial Day weekend, is third in the standings tied with Trackhouse Racing‘s Ross Chastain, who is still vying for his first trophy of the season but has finished in the top five in both previous races in Nashville. They are 24 points behind Truex, who has yet to score a top-10 finish since NASCAR returned to the 1.33-mile track.
Interestingly, Truex has finished 22nd in both previous NASCAR Cup Series races at Nashville — however the two outings were in complete contrast to one another. In 2021, he failed to lead a lap or earn a single stage point. In 2022, he led 82 laps and won both stages.
One driver hoping to match his previous effort at Nashville is the defending race winner, Hendrick Motorsports‘ Chase Elliott. The 2020 series champion has missed seven races this season — six for an injury and one for disciplinary reasons — and sits 27th in the standings, a hefty 84 points outside the Playoff cutoff position. With 10 races remaining in the regular season, Elliott‘s most direct path to challenge for a second title is to win a race.
And Nashville presents a prime opportunity. Elliott has won back-to-back races at a track twice previously — at Watkins Glen, N.Y. 2018-19 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2019-2020).
While 10 drivers have essentially guaranteed their Playoff position by virtue of a 2023 victory, six more positions are still up for grabs. Currently Chastain, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman hold those remaining Playoff spots based on points.
And among the drivers still looking for their first win of the season — Elliott, Harvick, Ryan Preece, Austin Dillon and Keselowski all have past victories at Nashville. Elliott, the defending NASCAR Cup Series race winner, Harvick has a pair of Xfinity Series wins (2006 and 2010), Preece is the two-time defending NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series winner (2021-22), Dillon won the 2011 CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race and Keselowski has a pair of Xfinity Series wins (2008 and 2010).
Practice for the Ally 400 is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET (USA Network), with Busch Light Pole Qualifying Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (USA Network).
Xfinity Series standings are tight heading to Nashville
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to action after a week off with Saturday‘s Tennessee Lottery 250 (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) where a stacked lineup is ready to take the winner‘s guitar trophy.
Kyle Busch (2021) and Justin Allgaier (2022) are the race winners in the two years since NASCAR reassumed competition at the 1.33-mile concrete oval outside Nashville.
Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, has finished second (2021) and first (2022) at Nashville and picked up his first win of 2023 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May to solidify his place among the Playoff eligible for this season‘s title run.
“I really enjoy racing at Nashville, it‘s always been one of my favorite places and it‘s great going into this weekend as the race winner,” Allgaier said, adding, “We‘ve had the momentum on our side here lately and hopefully we can keep that going on Saturday.”
The overall standings remain a tight back-and-forth between two-race winner John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and three-race winner Austin Hill in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Nemechek holds a slim four-point edge over Hill coming into Nashville. The two drivers combined to win four of the season‘s opening five races, but Nemechek‘s Martinsville, Va. victory seven races ago marks the last time one of these two has hoisted a trophy.
A victory would certainly be the culmination of a big week career-wise for Tennessee-native Josh Berry. The 32-year-old JR Motorsports driver was formally introduced Wednesday to take over driving duties of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford for retiring NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. Berry was fourth in the Nashville race in 2021 and is still racing for his first Xfinity Series win of this season, despite being ranked fifth in the series driver standings — the only one among the series‘ top six without a visit to Victory Lane yet this year.
In addition to the normal slate of Xfinity Series championship competitors, NASCAR Cup Series full-timers Ty Dillon, A.J. Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs are entered, as well as Sage Karam, Chad Chastain and Truck Series standouts Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar. Smith will be driving the No 28 RSS Racing Ford that NASCAR Cup Series regular Aric Almirola drove to an Xfinity Series victory at Sonoma, Calif. two weeks ago.
Opening practice is scheduled for Friday at 5:35 p.m. ET with qualifying at noon on Saturday before the green flag waves at 3:30 p.m. All the series‘ on-track activity is airing live on USA Network.
CRAFTSMAN Truck Series is looking for a new Nashville winner
One thing we know for sure. … there will be a first-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Nashville Speedway race winner this weekend as Ryan Preece — the two-time defending winner of Friday night‘s Rackley Roofing 200 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — is not entered for the race, nor are any other past winners.
That‘s certainly good news for Preece‘s closest competitors as the series returns to action this week after a three-week break in the schedule. Reigning series champion Zane Smith was runner-up in 2022 by a half-second to Preece after leading 70 of the 150 laps. Another of this year‘s championship-eligible drivers, Grant Enfinger ran third to Preece two years ago.
Both Smith and Stewart Friesen have top-five finishes in both races since the track began hosting the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series again in 2021 after a 10-year absence.
In terms of the 2023 championship, TRICON Garage driver Corey Heim comes into Friday‘s Nashville race leading the championship standings by a mere 1-point over ThorSport Racing‘s Ty Majeski with two-race winners Smith (Front Row Motorsports) and Enfinger (GMS Racing), nine and 19 points off the championship lead, respectively.
It certainly makes for a competitive situation atop the standings with four different race teams represented. No driver has won back-to-back races in 2023. Enfinger is the most recent winner, earning his second trophy of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway on June 3.
The victory also gave Enfinger the second leg in the Triple Truck Challenge incentive program that culminates with Friday‘s race in Nashville. Ben Rhodes, who sits fifth in the championship, won the opening race in the Triple Truck Challenge at Charlotte. Should either of them win Friday night, they would claim a $150,000 bonus as part of the program. If another fulltime series driver takes the win, he or she will earn a $50,000 bonus check.
The Truck Series will take to the 1.33-mile track at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, June 23 for practice with Cometic Gasket Pole Qualifying following at 4:30 p.m. and the race at 8 p.m. All on-track activity will be televised on FS1.
—- NASCAR News Wire —-