THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Cup Series at Nashville: Alley 400 picks, preview

Keep an eye on Ross Chastain this week at Nashville. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

After a one-week respite, the NASCAR Cup Series returns this weekend for the Second annual Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway. Much like its counterpart, World Wide Technologies Raceway, this racetrack was on the brink of permanent closure in 2012 when owners Dover Motorsports announced it was not going to feature a NASCAR-sanctioned event. While the track remained active for testing and a movie filming location, the prospect of a race returning to the track looked bleak. It wasn’t until 2020 when it was announced that the track would be hosting its first cup race, replacing one of Dover’s dates the next year in 2021. Attendance-wise, the race was a massive success as the race sold out rather quickly. It’s safe to say that this little 1.33-mile racetrack will be a mainstay on the schedule long into the future.

This track is one of the three concrete tracks on the schedule and as everyone knows, this type of surface is excruciating on tires. Like we see every week, this will be another race where drivers will have to be smart in keeping the rubber in good shape. The first pit stop last season was around lap 45, but with these tires being less reliable, expect everyone to peel off into pit road sooner.

Two weeks ago at Sonoma, Daniel Suarez finally captured his first career victory in the NASCAR Cup Series. It was a feat 195 races in the making for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. The path to victory lane had many twists and turns for the Mexican-born driver, starting in 2017 he was given the call to replace the retiring Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing and two seasons later was eventually replaced by Martin Truex Jr. After his untimely exodus from Gibbs, Suarez was given another opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing. During that time, he showed flashes and was consistently around the top ten, but ultimately it was Déjà vu all over again as he was replaced by Cole Custer in 2019 after only one season with the team. Finding a quality ride for Suarez did not come easy as he struggled mightily in 2020, but redemption would come as he would excel driving for newly formed Trackhouse Racing the next year. Suarez and his teammate Ross Chastain have both been in the trenches when it comes to their NASCAR careers, they have driven old cars and have had to slug their way to where they are today. And now it looks like the grind is finally paying off. This will be a fun team to follow going forward into the summer months.

One driver who was on the opposite end was Kyle Larson. When the race started, it seemed like this was going to be another dominant performance by him and his Hendrick racing team, but after a bad pit stop, Larson was mired back in traffic. Things got 100 times worse when he would lose a wheel later on in the race. Because of this, Crew-Chief Cliff Daniels will be suspended for the next four races. This is a big loss for the defending champion, but on the bright side, his interim Crew-Chief Kevin Meendering is a viable backup. I don’t foresee this being too much of an issue, and look for Larson to be one of the favorites to win come Sunday.

The driver I have winning this weekend is Ross Chastain. Last season, Ross was incredibly fast here. Towards the end, it seemed like he was the only car that could run with Kyle Larson as he finished second. After each stage, Ross would continue to climb as he started the race in 19th, but he just didn’t have the car that Larson did. Now, with a little bit better of a team behind him, he is the odds-on favorite to win. Trackhouse racing is on a roll right now coming off a victory with Daniel Suarez and I expect them to keep that momentum going come Sunday.

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