Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials on Tuesday revealed their long-awaited $60 million renovation plan to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.
This is the first public revealing of the renovation plan after several closed-door meetings between SMI officials and representatives of Nashville Mayor David Briley’s administration.
“This is your racetrack,” said Jerry Caldwell, Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president told Metro Board of Fair commissioners, according to The Tennessean. “This racetrack belongs to the people of Nashville. We see tremendous potential … and are willing to offer our resources and experience in partnership with you.”
SMI’s plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers, according to The Tennesseean. Caldwell also revealed a financing plan that could be done through revenue bonds and revenue generated through the use of speedway property.
A previous funding plan by SMI for $54 million in bond payments and $2 million in a city cash subsidy was rejected by Briley’s administration, which wants the project to be a private investment and not include any funding from taxpayers, according to The Tennessean.
One other major obstacle remains: a new $275 million Major League Soccer stadium – and surrounding mixed-use development that would include private residences – will have one of its abutting walls only 20 feet from the Speedway’s main entrance. It has been a stumbling block that neither the city, the soccer team nor SMI have been able to reach a compromise on.
Nashville SC, the group that will bring MLS soccer to the city and is behind construction of the new stadium, has remained adamant that its plans are set in stone.
“Our group has worked diligently over the past eighteen months to engage with stakeholders, the Fairgrounds staff and the architects to design a stadium and surrounding development that safely serves the property and future users of the Fairgrounds,” Zach Hunt, a spokesperson for the MLS ownership group, said in a statement, according to The Tennessean.
“The Mayor and Metro Council made the boundaries for our project very clear and we’ve maintained our commitment to building a first-class venue within those boundaries.”
Metro council member Robert Swope told The Tennessean, “We have a chance, if we redo the speedway along with this (soccer stadium), to turn this facility into the crown jewel of Nashville. But that only happens if you bring an operator like (Speedway Motorsports) to help with the speedway renovations.”
BRISTOL, Tenn. – So maybe eight races into the season is a little early to start looking ahead to the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But don’t fault Kyle Busch for looking ahead – and simultaneously looking back – after his series-high third victory of the Cup season in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With eight consecutive top-10 finishes (the first driver to do that since Terry Labonte in 1992), the 2015 champion is off to one of the greatest starts in the history of NASCAR’s premier series.
So is Busch the championship favorite after outdueling Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, whose Team Penske Fords have combined with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota to account for every victory this year (Keselowski has two, Logano one and Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin has the other two)?
“No, I don’t think we’re the championship favorite,” Busch told NBC Sports in victory lane Sunday. “I think any of the two Penske guys (Keselowski and Logano) are the championship favorites. They certainly have the speed, and they showed us what short-run speed looked like last year at Homestead, so that’s what I see right now. We’ve got some work to do.”
That was largely on the strength of playoff points, which Busch is accumulating at an even greater rate than the Big Three last year. With 19 through eight races (Keselowski is next closest with 12), Busch is well on the way to carrying a full race of points cushion into the playoffs, which would help blaze a clear path toward his fifth consecutive championship round appearance.
But yet … it doesn’t feel as if Busch is the clear-cut favorite. He led 71 laps at Bristol while Logano (146) and Keselowski (40) more than doubled his total (and Penske’s third driver, Ryan Blaney, led a race-high 156 laps).
“That was an honest interview from Kyle in victory lane talking about the Penske cars,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Monday on NASCAR America’s Bristol recap. “He knows when they go to Homestead, short-run speed is going to be important. He knows that’s something you have to work on all year long. He also knows that he was not the dominant car at Bristol. I feel I have to agree with them that Penske cars are the favorites right now.”
Though he turned the tables on Logano at Bristol with crew chief Adam Stevens’ clever strategy call, the short-run equation still feels the same five months later.
“I would hesitate to pick who’s best right now,” Stevens said when asked about whether Gibbs or Penske was the favorite. “I mean, they’ve had us covered today. We weren’t very good, like I’ve said a dozen times already. I don’t think being fast in the first seven or eight races of the year really means that you’re going to go to Homestead and wear everybody out. Certainly, their program is in a good spot. I think we’re in a good spot.
“I think if we do our jobs, hit it right, we can run with anybody. I don’t expect that will be different when we get down to the playoffs.”
That’s in the long run. In the meantime, keep an eye on the short-run speed.
Here are other items that caught our eye at Bristol:
Regardless, even though the inspections were undoubtedly a stressful distraction, they probably were worth it for a driver who has implored his team to reassert the dominant speed it had in 2014, ’15, ’16 and ‘18.
The penalty (a pass-through at the start that dropped Harvick a lap down) was stiff, but a Lap 3 caution kept Harvick from falling two laps down and might have given him a shot at contending for a win if not for a loose wheel on his first stop.
He still rebounded from being four laps down to finish 13th and on the lead lap.
Harvick didn’t offer any comments after this race, but he clearly was happy with the speed of his Stewart-Haas Racing team even though Sunday was only his second finish outside the top 10 in 2019.
Bristol has become one of the best tracks for Clint Bowyer (who has six top 10s in the past eight races there), but how much better could the 0.533-mile oval be if the No. 14 Ford driver improved on restarts?
The case can be made that Bowyer has left 11 playoff points on the table over the past two races at Bristol. In the Aug. 18, 2018 race, he lost the lead to winner Kurt Busch on a restart with 23 laps remaining, failing to launch well despite having the preferred outside lane.
Sunday, he paid for choosing the inside line as the leader on a restart with two laps to go in the first stage, losing the playoff point by inches to Ty Dillon at the line.
Bowyer also lost the lead Sunday to race leader Kyle Busch on a Lap 383 restart despite having the outside line, and he fell from second to fourth from inside on a Lap 423 restart, which resulted in the battle with Joey Logano nine laps later that put Bowyer’s car in the wall.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver rebounded for a seventh by staying on track through the final caution but called it “just horribly disappointing. You get that close. Long runs were my strong suit. I couldn’t take off all day long.”
If Bowyer’s team can figure out a way to keep more air pressure in his tires for the restarts and short runs, the win will come, but in the meantime, it likely will mean much more frustration at Bristol, which has become one of the most line-sensitive tracks in NASCAR for restarts.
How important is lane assignment on restarts at Bristol?
As David Smith of the excellent Motorsports Analytics site notes, having the outside vs. the inside groove is the largest disparity in NASCAR’s premier series. According to statistics provided by Smith on his Positive Regression podcast with Alan Cavanna, cars lining up on the outside retained positions 93% of the time while those on the inside kept their spots at a rate of only 9%.
Positive Regression Episode 11 – …But Was It a Good Race?
In which our heroes debate the necessity of entertaining qualifying sessions and dissect NASCAR's greatest races in search of commonalities. https://t.co/IjikdEbr0T
This is worth keeping in mind if another situation arises like the scoring confusion involving Keselowski’s car on the final restart – and why it’s incumbent upon NASCAR to get cars accurately lined up as quickly as possible. The stark difference between outside and inside could mean that there could be undue resistance from cars that don’t want to be ordered in the correct spot, making the process even more difficult.
For example, Ryan Newman thought he was restarting sixth (and on the outside) before Keselowski obeyed NASCAR’s orders. Though Newman “improved” to fifth on the restart as Keselowski awkwardly dropped into a three-wide formation in the fourth row on the way to serving black flag, the No. 6 Ford would finish ninth – which was likely worse than he might have if he’d restarted sixth.
Such is the era of double-file restarts on tracks with an overwhelmingly preferred restart groove.
Jimmie Johnson’s resurgence continued with his No. 48 Chevrolet starting and finishing 10th, building on a fifth at Texas Motor Speedway. But it might have started with what the team did wrong in his stunning 24th (two laps down) at Martinsville Speedway. The seven-time champion provided insight into what happened at one of his best tracks, noting the No. 48 team learned from the No. 9’s runner-up finish with a Chevrolet that featured fewer new widgets.
“At times you need to be aggressive and put new stuff on the car,” Johnson said after final practice at Bristol. “Then there are other times when you know there is a proven component or proven product that you just need to stay the course with. I don’t envy the crew chief position, or others, when you have drivers saying, ‘We need more, we need more…we need something new. What we have is not working’. So we put in all new sometimes. That is what we did at Martinsville. New wasn’t the thing to do. There are proven things that that we should have stayed the course. When to be aggressive and when not to…it sucks.”
And it’s compounded by two factors: 1) the Nevada-Arizona-California swing that precludes making major changes to the cars between races and ratchets up the pressure to improve when the opportunity arrives; and 2) the lack of real-world test to validate aerodynamics.
“Things that look good in sim, and we are ‘Oh, well, OK, We are putting that in!’ We still have to go prove it in race conditions,” Johnson said. “That is one thing simulation can not do. What the track is going to do when it rubbers up. And honestly in a lot of cases what it is like in traffic. That is all speculation. We don’t have any simulation that replicate what goes on in dirty air.”
After this column posted, a considerate and faithful reader noted that it neglected to touch on the spate of loose wheels Sunday at Bristol. Among the most notable and costly:
—Erik Jones made two green-flag pit stops (from second on Lap 65 and from 14th on Lap 320), costing him a good finish.
–Martin Truex Jr. was forced to pit from the top five under green before the end of the second stage and was stuck a lap down for the rest of the race.
–Brad Keselowski pitted for a loose wheel under yellow after the end of the second stage.
—Chris Buescher was headed toward a top five before slamming the Turn 2 wall because of a loose wheel with less than 50 laps remaining.
–Harvick also went four laps down after pitting under green on Lap 65 for a loose right front.
The root cause of all the problems?
Denny Hamlin theorized it’s the pit guns.
Somewhere around 10-12 loose wheels.. where’s @TonyStewart when you need him to talk about safety.. Guns just aren’t up to standards
Typically loose wheels tend to be a byproduct of mistakes from pit crews rushing to gain track position (which did prove critical at Bristol based on the final round of pit strategy) or malfunctioning equipment.
Bristol’s high banking does put a heavy load on lug nuts, so getting them secure is essential. Some teams expressed concern to NBCSports.com that the NASCAR-mandated pit guns (which were introduced last year) don’t apply enough torque to keep the lug nuts secure even when they are fastened perfectly.
The pitting outside the box penalty on Daniel Suarez’s team was a ticky-tack call that NASCAR hopefully will be revisiting for next season.
Daniel Suarez's one lap penalty was for removing tape as he left the pit stall. Rule says no work can be done "if any part of the vehicle is visibly on top of or over the front line of the pit box." pic.twitter.com/QktcfhFPLK
Shortly after the race, Suarez hadn’t seen the video of the stop in which a crew member removed tape from the nose while the No. 41 Ford was a few inches over the line. And once Suarez had seen it, it probably wouldn’t have changed his opinion. And that reveals something important about the Stewart-Haas Racing driver: In his third full season, Suarez doesn’t have time for excuses, whether it’s about being thrust into Cup too soon (he was) or challenging whether a whistle from the tower was questionable (it was).
“We know the rules,” he said after finishing eighth. “We cannot work on the car when the car is out of the box. I stopped moving, and then he went back to get. I thought he had it already. I shouldn’t move if he didn’t have it, and he shouldn’t touch the car if it’s out of the box, no matter what.
“So it’s something we have to work on. It’s good these things happen right now. We don’t want these things to happen later in the season. These mistakes have to happen right now so we can clean everything up for when the important part of the season is here.”
We are making the NASCAR experience more affordable for our 60th anniversary! We have adjusted our 2020 grandstand pricing to make going to our races more accessible for fans everywhere! 🏁 #RacetoAMS2020
But trying to cap hotel prices isn’t the answer (nor is it feasible or even necessarily advisable given that the small market’s tax base likely counts on that revenue).
There aren’t enough hotel rooms within a 60-mile radius of Bristol Motor Speedway for a complete lodging of the twice annual sellout crowds of 160,000 that regularly filled Bristol 10 to 15 years ago.
And even if there were enough hotel rooms within an hour’s drive, and if they were all affordable, the infrastructure of the Tri-Cities isn’t constructed to handle that many people driving into the race.
The reason that Bristol worked when it sold out twice annually was because most of its fans camped. The vast campgrounds surrounding the track suffered a mass exodus during the Great Recession, shortly after the track underwent a controversial reconfiguration in 2007 and subsequent reversion in 2012. The economy recovered, but the fans didn’t return en masse.
Had some curiosity after I came back from race today. Made some calls, this is what I got. Johnson City Courtyard =$319, but are now taking walk-ins at $105. Hampton Inn= $308. But will be back down to $133 on Monday. Reason he gave was “it’s race weekend.” Pisses me off!!!
Yes, hotel rates can be obscenely expensive in the area around Bristol, but that’s mostly because demand easily can outstrip supply.
Sky-high prices also are part and parcel to big-league sporting events (or maybe you missed what it cost to park in downtown Minneapolis last weekend), and market forces also work as those events lose their luster. Last weekend, rates at hotels within a 20-minute drive to the Bristol track plummeted to a third of what they likely would have been for the same race weekend 10 to 15 years ago.
If NASCAR officials are serious about ejecting hauler drivers from teams for inspection failures, it would create some interesting logistical challenges … and not just because of the need for a CDL-A license to move an 18-wheeler from the infield and up the high banks of Bristol.
With the long-haul requirement of all the ancillary companies that transport the support equipment for NASCAR’s traveling circus, there are enough prospective truck drivers hanging around the infield for a Cup team caught in a pinch.
The real costs to teams of tossing hauler drivers would be the institutional knowledge that all of them have about packing up their trucks and the support duties (many are master grillers).
NASCAR has tried many methods of deterrence over the years (points penalties, crew chief suspensions, practice time deductions) to force teams into bringing “cleaner” cars through inspection.
This type of punishment would be less about hurting teams competitively than about inconveniencing them. With teams required to submit full designated team rosters since last season, that makes it easier for NASCAR to be more selective in making them feel the hurt of a penalty. It could be a clever approach.
Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway yielded countless nuggets from several drivers whose stories often go overlooked or untold. Whether Bubba Wallace’s love of photography, Michael McDowell’s work habits or Tyler Reddick’s Twitter persona, all the interviews were worthwhile.
There is resistance to the new requirements from the establishment, and that’s understandable because 1) they are unaccustomed to the asks after years of handling media another way; and 2) the demands on their time – between increased sponsor rosters (and resultant appearances) and weekly data downloads from engineers – are greater than ever while their stature ensures they are requested heavily.
But for the next generation of drivers – such as Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell, all of whom patiently took questions at Bristol (some tough, in Bell’s case) – this arrangement will become the norm, and as it does, NASCAR, its sponsors and (most importantly) its fans will be better for it.
Joey Logano’s crew chief explains call to pit for tires late at Bristol
Joey Logano‘s crew chief reflected Monday on “The Morning Drive” on what he may have done differently at the end of Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With Logano leading late in the race, Gordon debated whether to bring his driver in for tires. When Kyle Larson hit the wall on Lap 479, bringing out the caution, Gordon made the call to bring Logano in for four tires.
“I thought we were in position to win the race, but the late caution threw up a decision-making time and with the information I had at the time, I chose one route and probably could have been a different route,” Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Gordon entered the pits as the race leader, only to watch Kyle Busch remain on the track and take the lead on Lap 482.
“We had been 33 laps on tires, thought we were going to have about 18 (laps) to go (before the restart),” Gordon said. “The sort out (of the lineup) afterwards took a bit longer than I thought so we had about 15 (laps) to go when we got done. … I was scanning the radios and the 18 (Busch) said it might stay out, but my concern was that if we and the 18 stayed out and everybody else behind us comes to get tires, then there’s tires lined up on the rows behind us.
“I didn’t want to be that guy that stayed out and then got beat by tires behind us. It was a last-minute call. We had talked back and forth about whether to stay out or come for tires. I felt like if we stayed out, my opinion was we were going to see tires in Row 2 and at worse in Row 3 and it didn’t end up being that way. When we came off pit road, I think we ended up in Row 4.
“It’s just trying to anticipate what other crew chiefs are going to do with their cars is a gamble and a guess and as (the race) leader, I think we had a really strong car and everybody knew we had a strong car. I think at times people react to whatever decision you make and go the opposite way. If we stay out, I don’t know that everybody that stayed out stays out, but we’ll never know that and you try to make the decisions you can with the information you have at the time. Immediately once you see how many guys stayed out, it’s pretty evident maybe we should have made the other call.”
Logano, who won Stage 2, finished third and led the second-most laps in the race (146).
“In the future, do you make that call differently? I don’t know,” Gordon said. “You take the information you have at the time and make decisions from the information you’ve got. You’re never going to make every call right. People can second-guess what you do and where it goes and it’s very easy to sit back on Monday and say they should have run the ball instead of throwing it.
“They’re reactionary calls. You can’t calculate every situation. In this one, could I have gone the other way? Yes. Was I all the way into the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 before I made the call for him to come because I was waffling on it? I got to the point where it was a 50-50 call in my head and when I get to 50-50 calls, I go for putting tires on because Joey is an awesome, aggressive driver and when we put him in those positions, he usually elevates.”
Later in the race, Harvick had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a loose wheel .
To their credit, however, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers ended up with a 13th-place finish. Harvick did not offer any quotes on his day after the race.
* Clint Bowyer was the highest-finishing SHR driver, ending up seventh, but he was disappointed afterward because he felt he should have finished in the top five, which didn’t happen primarily due to late-race contact with Joey Logano.
That contact led to a cut tire for Bowyer, who clipped the wall, ending his chance for a top five.
“We had a good car, it’s just horribly disappointingg,” Bowyer said. “You get that close. Long runs were my strong suit. I couldn’t take off all day long. Some of those things made sense. We were down a little bit on air and it took a little bit of time for them to come in. The problem is when you balance around that and you just pump the air-pressure up, then it doesn’t work either and you don’t handle there. It’s just disappointing.”
Still, Bowyer said the contact with Logano was just a racing deal.
“He was racing me pretty hard,” Bowyer said. “I could get under him. I saw that I could get under him and he would diamond it and just didn’t leave me much room there. It’s time to race. There’s no question about it. We just barely touched and it must have cut the valve stem out of it or something and hit it just right. Maybe his fender caught it or something, I don’t know.
“That’s about typical luck for here. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We put ourselves in position.”
* Daniel Suarez extended his streak of top 10 finishes to three straight races with an eighth-place showing. But he also had struggles at times, including being assessed a one-lap penalty for pitting outside his pit box when a crew member pulled tape off the front grill as the car was leaving the stall and the action was performed outside the box.
“Today was difficult,” Suarez admitted. “We made a lot of mistakes that we were lucky to overcome and finish in the top 10. I’m proud of that. We have to keep better, but it’s kind of good that we’re making these mistakes now so we can clean them up and be stronger in the second part of the season. We have a very good team. We have great race cars and it’s always good to perform well. Today, we had a lot of speed. I felt like we had top five speed at times and when we’re not very good we have top 10 speed and that’s where we ended up, so after all of those mistakes it was still a decent day.”
* Having the roughest day of all – watching it end just after three laps – was Aric Almirola, whose streak of six consecutive top 10 finishes come to an end with a last-place (37th) finish.
Almirola was forced into the wall on Lap 3 when William Byron came off a corner and rode up into Almirola’s No. 10 Ford. Almirola took his car to the garage, ending his day.
“The 24 (William Byron) just got loose under me,” Almirola said. “He struggled to get going on the initial start. He spun his tires and then was just loose and out of control that whole first lap. When we went down in Turn 1, he lost it under me and wiped us out. I’m pretty frustrated. You work all weekend, all week getting ready for the event and to make it one lap is kind of uncalled for, so I’m disappointed, frustrated, but life goes on. We’ll go to Richmond.”
Almirola felt the incident was due to “some of it is inexperience on William’s part. I think he started to panic because he started to lose spots on the start because he spun his tires on the start, and probably a little bit over his head with the tire pressures and everything not coming up and he just lost it. He got loose underneath me, lost it and ran right into the side of us and wrecked us. Part of that comes with experience, I guess, but, either way, it doesn’t change the outcome for us today.”
“Kyle’s won here eight times, I’ve got six,” Kurt told NBC Sports. “A lot of times you’ve got to stay out on old tires and just do battle. I was smiling ear to ear. I thought it was ours. Just couldn’t quite lean on the right rear tire as hard as I wanted to on restarts.
“So my plan was to let him go and get to the high side quicker than him, reel him in. It just didn’t time out right. I overstepped the car’s limits in Turn 1 with three (laps) to go. Otherwise, I was going to wreck him in (Turns) 3 and 4 coming to take the checkered. I was going to flat out wreck him. Absolutely. That puts us in the playoffs. He’s already won this year. I’m with a new team. He can get over it.”
It still might have made family dinners slightly awkward if Kurt had played rough to finish first instead of second. The brothers from Las Vegas were running 1-2 by electing to stay on track when several lead-lap cars pitted before a restart with 14 laps to go.
Kyle Busch joked that if he “ever was running second to Kurt, I’m going to wreck him” now that he was aware of what would happen if the roles were reversed.
“You can’t tell people (you’ll wreck them) because then they’re going to do the same thing back to you whether or not you did it or not, so he’s an idiot,” Kyle told NBC Sports with a laugh in his victory lane interview. “But I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened. I certainly would have wished that he won’t wreck me, but they’re racing for a win. We’ve already gotten a couple of wins.
“So anything can happen with guys who are in desperation like that, but it’s a little early in the season to go that way.”
Kurt’s first season with Chip Ganassi Racing is going well with Sunday’s season-best runner-up being the third top five in eight races. Busch, who is eighth in the points standings, individually thanked each of his team members afterward.
“I thank the guys each week,” said Busch, who started 27th but scored his third top 10 in four weeks after qualifying outside the top 20. “We’re making really good steps and getting good speed out of it. We just haven’t put it all together. Struggling in qualifying. I can’t quite lean on the right-rear tire, and I hurt us a little today on that last restart.
“We got a lot of pieces to the puzzle and we’ll get it right. It’s a good start.”