Nashville Superspeedway

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Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

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Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

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Nashville Superspeedway sold to real estate development company

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Dover Motorsports, Inc., which owns Dover International Speedway, has announced it has sold Nashville Superspeedway and “some related equipment and assets ” to a real estate development company.

DMI has sold the 1.3-mile track in Lebanon, Tennessee, to the Panattoni Development Company, which specializes in “industrial, office and build-to-suit projects” for $27.5 million in cash.

Closing of the sale, after “customary due diligence and closing conditions, including zoning approvals,” is expected early in 2017.

Nashville has not hosted a NASCAR event since 2011, when it held its last Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series races. The track was the site of 21 Xfinity races and 13 Truck races beginning in 2001.

The track also hosted the Verizon IndyCar Series from 2001-2008.

Carl Edwards won the last Xfinity Series race at Nashville, the 2011 Federated Auto Parts 300.

Grandstands but not racetrack will be improved at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway

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Nashville’s Fairground Speedway will see approximately $2.5 million in improvements to its grandstands, but not to its venerable .596-mile paved racetrack.

The track, which is part of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds (also known as The Fairgrounds Nashville), is located just south of the city center.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last raced there in 1984, while both the Xfinity and Truck series last raced there in 2000 before moving to the 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway in nearby Lebanon, Tenn., where the last NASCAR-sanctioned races were held in 2011.

But while the smaller Fairgrounds track will have better grandstand seating for its card of local weekend racing, don’t expect NASCAR to return there anytime soon.

According to The Tennessean newspaper, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced that the city will invest $15 million into improving and updating the Fairgrounds complex, which has seen some of its property become antiquated or dilapidated.

The three-year improvement program will renovate five exposition buildings, demolish others and create new soccer fields and a dog park, according to The Tennessean.

The grandstands of the racetrack will receive “significant upgrades,” including restroom and entrance improvements, the newspaper said. But the track itself will not receive any upgrades.

That the track will not see any upgrades leaves race promoter Tony Formosa “very disappointed,” he told The Tennessean. Formosa said the overall racing facility needs improvements to fencing, walls, pits and the track speaker system.

“The racetrack has been the roots of the fairgrounds since it began, and the racetrack needs to carry on and it needs improvements,” Formosa told The Tennessean. “It’s in very bad shape.

“There’s a lot of things that could be done that wouldn’t cost a whole lot to do.”

Formosa has a contract to host races at the Fairgrounds through the remainder of 2016.

Construction on the overall project is slated to begin next year.

Click here to read the full story from The Tennessean.

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