Ross Chastain and others look to upset Hendrick dominance at Nashville

LEBANON, TENNESSEE - JUNE 25: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Peach Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 25, 2023 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Nashville Superspeedway is becoming a fixture on the Cup Series schedule. Sunday’s Ally 400, airing at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, will be the series’ fourth visit to the 1.33-mile track.

In those three races, one team has proven themselves class of the field at the facility: Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Larson won in the series’ inaugural race at the track and Chase Elliott won the next year. Both enter with favorable odds to repeat the fact and return to victory lane.

Odds via BetMGM
+450 – Kyle Larson
+550 – Denny Hamlin
+700 – Christopher Bell
+750 – Martin Truex Jr.
+850 – Ross Chastain
+900 – Chase Elliott
+1000 – William Byron
+1100 – Tyler Reddick
+1100 – Ryan Blaney
+2000 – Joey Logano

But it was Ross Chastain who, last year, upset the order and stole the win from Hendrick Motorsports drivers, although both Larson and Elliott finished in the top five in that race.

This year, Chastain will be hoping for a repeat. He has yet to win – although he enters highest in the Playoff standings of drivers without wins – and got his first win of the season last year.

“Last year at Nashville was a career highlight for me for sure,” Chastain said. “It was one of those weekends that you dream about. We went out and performed really well.

“Now, there were times I was questioning if I was coming out the other side of a corner, and there were times that I deliberately lifted to get out of a situation that I didn’t think it was worth it. I’m really proud of that and I’ve been trying to put something together like that in a lot of weeks since.”

Chastain will be getting additional time on the racetrack in the Nashville area, racing a late model for Rackley WAR, which also runs a NASCAR Truck Series team, at the Nashville Fairgrounds closer to downtown.

“I’m super excited,” he said of the opportunity. “The Fairgrounds track is one I’ve wanted to race at since I was 12 years old and was googling other races and late model races, pro truck races around the country… 12-year-old Ross is going to be really excited.”

Other drivers looking to get a win are those without a ride next year. That most notably includes most of the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, whose team will be shutting its doors at the end of this year. It also includes past champion Martin Truex Jr, who is leaving of his own accord when he retires at the end of this year.

Truex finished runner-up to Ross Chastain in last year’s race at Nashville, and a win in the week he announces his retirement would be particularly triumphant.

“It was a good race,” he explained of last year. “We had a really strong car at times, and at times I just remember being really free and losing the lead and getting the car better at the end and tracking down Ross, and I just couldn’t find a way around him.

“So that was a little bit of a frustrating race because I felt like we had the car to beat – we just didn’t put it all together at the right time. I’m looking forward to going back. It is a fun track. It has been really good the last few years and hoping we can make it even better and get our Bass Pro Shops Camry to victory lane there.”

As for his retirement, the usually staid Truex was moved by the reaction to his retirement from throughout the NASCAR garage.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people,” Truex said. “This week was really kind of humbling to see the comments and it means so much to me just to hear what people think. A lot of people that I really respect and look up to have sent messages or said something in interviews, just whatever. It is really special to know that you’ve represented yourself well, your family well, your teams – all of the people I’ve worked with over the years.

“Really, really humbling to see that. I’m sure there will be more down the line, but it means a lot. It’s really special. It reminds you of how lucky we are to be able to do this,” he concluded.

USA Network, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will air practice from 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, followed immediately afterwards by qualifying.

LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 24: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Tennessee Lottery 250 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 24, 2023 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Xfinity points leader has still yet to win heading into Nashville

Heading into Saturday’s Tennessee Lottery 250, airing at 5 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, the points standings and Playoffs standings for the Xfinity Series look starkly different.

On top of the points is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer. His team will be shutting down at the end of this season, but co-owner Gene Haas announced this week that the Haas Factory Team will be set up next year. This team will continue to run both of the SHR Xfinity teams, and it will run one Cup Series charter. The team will be led by Joe Custer, Cole’s father, as well, making a return to the Cup Series seem likely for Custer.

Before Custer can move anywhere, however, he needs to defend his Xfinity Series championship. He has yet to win in the series this season, meaning he currently sits behind all six series regular winners this season in the Playoff points – Chandler Smith, Austin Hill, Sam Mayer, Shane van Gisbergen, Justin Allgaier, and Jesse Love.

Custer explained that a win would make the picture much clearer.

“It would take a lot of the pressure off,” Custer said of a chance to win. “Right now, we’re focused on winning, but points racing is always in the back of your mind. You can’t just forget about it, because you don’t want to point your way out of the playoffs, either.

“Ultimately, a win would put everything to rest and put some ease in our minds. We could race for more race wins and stage wins at that point. We have to balance it all at this point, though. In a perfect scenario, we would’ve won by now, but that’s not the reality. I’m confident that this team can get it done again, though. Hopefully we can do it this weekend at Nashville.”

At this stage last season, Custer was in the middle of a series of two wins, although both those came on road courses. He also won the championship finale at the Phoenix oval last season for his third win. Nashville might be an opportunity for him to finally convert one of his strong runs into a win, he believes, however.

“This track is one that has a lot of speed in it and I hope we can capitalize on it,” Custer said. “While I only have one start there in the Xfinity Series, we had a strong run last season. We probably could’ve gone for the win had our pit strategy not been off, but it’s just one of those instances where we have to put a perfect race together in order to find victory lane. We’ve been so close.”

The Xfinity regulars will have to face off against some Cup Series talents looking for extra experience at the racetrack. That will include Ty Gibbs in the No. 19, Tyler Reddick in the No. 26, and Noah Gragson in the No. 30. Late model standout Carson Kvapil will also drive the No. 88 again for JR Motorsports, backing up a very impressive second-place finish at Dover and two other top fives in four starts at Martinsville and New Hampshire respectively.

Practice will air at 12:05 p.m. ET on Saturday on USA Network and stream on the NBC Sports App with qualifying immediately after at 12:45 p.m. ET.

LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 24: Ben Rhodes, driver of the #99 Tenda Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rackley Roofing 200 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 24, 2022 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

It’s a race to make the Playoffs for Truck Series contenders

Four races remain before the Playoffs begin for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and there is plenty of room to make the ten-driver field on points. Heading into Friday night’s Rackley Roofing 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, airing at 8 p.m. ET on FS2, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, only four drivers have won in the series.

Corey Heim has been the class of the field with four wins, while Christian Eckes and Nick Sanchez both have won twice. Rajah Caruth also scored a win, with a big victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Still, it’s Christian Eckes who has the points lead by 31 points over Sanchez.

Heim and Sanchez both have extra motivation to win – $150,000 worth of motivation. Nashville hosts the conclusion of the Triple Truck Challenge, and a driver who’s already won one of the Challenge rounds, so Sanchez and Heim, is eligible to increase their $50,000 to that figure. A different third winner of the Challenge would get that initial $50,000 incentive as well.

But no full-time driver in the field has ever won at the track. Defending Nashville winner Carson Hocevar moved up to the Cup Series this year with Spire Motorsports, alongside new Spire teammate Zane Smith who finished second at this track last year.

Two new faces in the grid are Frankie Muniz and Clint Bowyer. Muniz, a former actor known for Malcolm in the Middle, has competed in ARCA for the past few years and will be making his debut in the No. 22 for Reaume Brothers Racing. Bowyer, a longtime Cup Series driver, retired from full-time competition in 2020 and will be making his first start since moving to the FOX television booth where he serves as broadcast analyst.

Practice will air at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday on FS2, followed immediately by qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

Owen Johnson