Who… should you be talking about after the Ally 400?
Kyle larson proved again on Sunday (June 20) that the No.5 team is not a fluke. Larson led 264 of 300 laps at the Nashville Superspeedway and was rarely challenged up front during the NASCAR Cup Series debut on the track. Larson’s fourth win of the season adds to a strong 2021 year for Hendrick Motorsports, recording eight wins in the first 17 races of the season.
Behind him, Ross chastain played its fuel economy cards well. After a miserable start to the year, Chastain has come back to life with three top 10s in the last four races. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch also finished in the top 10, although he ran out of fuel when reaching the checkered flag.
Are the two men benefiting from the recent success of HMS? It didn’t always work for them, as two mechanical breakdowns at Charlotte Motor Speedway briefly stifled the momentum of this duo. But after receiving an apology from the engine department at Hendrick Motorsports, they used Hendrick’s power to score two top 10s in a row.
Honorable mention: After a last place in Sonoma, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has radically changed his season. Second behind Larson for much of the race, he landed sixth in his second top 10 of the season (Bristol Dirt Race). The race was Stenhouse’s best on the road since Dover International Speedway last August, Nashville’s sister track. Now 18th in the championship standings, just 43 points behind Buescher, a playoff bid remains a possibility if Stenhouse can run.
What … is NASCAR going to do with the traffic jam in Nashville?
Before the start of the Nashville Cup race, traffic entering the track would have been a big headache. The delays became so severe that some fans begged NASCAR to push back the tee time to make sure they could reach their seats. The sanctioning body listened, delaying the race by about 10 minutes, although several fans were unable to make it before the green flag.
Sunday is not the first time that a NASCAR Cup Series circuit has faced traffic problems in its debut. In 2011, Kentucky Motor Speedway fans waited hours to get on the track, many turned away when it was obvious they wouldn’t get there until well past the halfway point of the race.
With new tracks coming on the schedule, NASCAR must ensure that parking and traffic exits are adequate for fans. This includes working with local authorities to ensure there is the right infrastructure to handle the tens of thousands of people coming down your freeway.
You go…. Trying to enter the track I was turned over 6 times on side roads I have a baby kicking my bladder I want to pee I have no on duty. I am not well, these are real tears. Shopping in a motorhome when you get home pic.twitter.com/pf0nA5DKDo
– Marissa Briscoe (@MarissaBriscoe_) June 20, 2021
Where … did the other key players end up in the Ally 400?
Pole sitter Aric Almirola had a tough 2021 season, but qualifying provided a much needed boost of confidence. He hadn’t started in the top 10 since the Daytona 500, largely because of the lack of track qualifying this season.
While he lost his head on the first start, Almirola led only one lap under the second yellow of the day. By the time the checkered flag flew, the # 10 Ford driver was fourth, his best result this year.
Defending champion Chase Elliott started sixth and used a bit of pit strategy to win the first leg. He stayed close to the front, running in the top five for much of the race. However, a loose wheel killed Elliott’s speed in the final stage, sending him back to 13th place in the final laps.
The post-race inspection sent things from bad to worse. Five loose lug nuts were found on the No.9 Chevrolet, resulting in disqualification and dropping to 39th place in the marching order.
When… was the moment of truth in the Ally 400?
After the green flag fell, Larson battled Kyle Busch after just five laps. From there, it became clear that the No.5 Chevrolet was once again the one to beat. And while Larson had to deal with a mid-race issue with several debris clogging the front grille, sophisticated aerodynamic work with the help of JJ Yeley was enough to resolve the issue.
– NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 20, 2021
The victory is Larson’s third straight win and his sixth straight top-two finish, dating back to Mother’s Day weekend at Darlington Raceway last month. He also moves within 10 markers of Denny Hamlin for the lead point, a place the No. 11 Toyota rider has occupied since the second race of the season on the Daytona International Speedway road circuit.
Why … is Kyle Larson flipping the “17 Different Race Winners in One Season” script?
At the start of the season, two surprise two-race winners led NASCAR experts to think 17 regular-season winners were a possibility. 10 different drivers capturing the first 11 races gave credence to the theory that the NASCAR 16-driver playoff field was heading for the winners like the Indy 500 qualifying.
It’s not going to happen. Fast forward a few months later and Hendrick Motorsports has claimed the last six consecutive victories (including the All-Star Race). Upheavals have been harder to come by as NASCAR becomes more competitive. And this type of streak is a rarity in sports. Even with the impressive performances of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick last year, neither of them have a three-game winning streak.
The last time a driver won three consecutive paid races in a season was in 2018: Brad Keselowski did so to start the first round of the NASCAR playoffs. No Hendrick rider has won four consecutive points-earning events since Jimmie Johnson in 2007. Larson could match that next Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell had surprise wins to start 2021. But since then things have quickly returned to normal in a Cup Series where the cream has returned to the top.
How… is Nashville positioned for Cup races in the future?
After a 10-year hiatus from NASCAR, Nashville Superspeedway was brought back from the dead to host the top three stock car series this weekend. Tennessee has long been a breeding ground for the sport’s biggest stars, producing all kinds of drivers, from two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin to four-time Cup winner Bobby Hamilton. The relaunch of the Superspeedway also accelerated talks on the return of the Nashville Fairgrounds.
I give returning from the track a spicy Nashville Hot note, not a Nashville Inferno, however. There were hiccups along the way, including Larson’s dominance up front, but the racing product was good in providing consistent side-to-side competition across the field. A sold-out crowd witnessed new NASCAR memories in Nashville and the numbers make the track well positioned to host Cup races for 2022 and beyond.