NASCAR race at Nashville Superspeedway a keeper with fans filling stands
LEBANON – Were it not for a troublesome weather forecast, this was a fine summer evening for racing at the Nashville Superspeedway. Sunny and hot to start, barely a cloud in the sky. A beautiful scene.
You hoped it would last.
This was the Ally 400, after all, and our young NASCAR Cup Series race has been cursed with bad weather in its brief existence.
Rain got the best of last year’s edition. The second Ally 400, delayed at length, ended up lasting about seven hours. It finished around 11 p.m. That’s a long day in the Middle Tennessee heat, and it wasn’t an enticing prelude to Sunday’s third Ally 400, which had been scheduled as a night race.
So wouldn’t you know it: Severe thunderstorms – wind, hail, rain, maybe even a stray tornado – were projected on the horizon at some point Sunday night, maybe earlier, maybe later.
Given the memories of last year’s soggy ordeal – or the traffic woes prior to the inaugural Ally 400 in 2021 – the threatening weather offered reason for those in and around Nashville to resist the journey out I-840 to a racetrack that’s equal parts Wilson and Rutherford Counties – not quite the middle of nowhere, but not far from it.
That, however, made this more impressive: When the race started around 6 p.m., there was hardly an empty seat in sight.
A sold-out crowd exceeding 30,000 fans – the second sellout in the Ally 400’s three years – had wedged into the Superspeedway to cheer and to again demonstrate why NASCAR for so long so badly wanted to bring an annual race back to the Nashville market.
Those fans were rewarded by a race that ended promptly under the lights and with cooler temperatures. Ross Chastain beat the field and the thunderstorms for the victory.
It was a nice evening and a nice moment. Well-earned for those who’ve worked to revive the old Superspeedway these past few years. After issues and poor luck the past two years, this felt like a culmination of those efforts.
The Ally 400 – born as an underdog for so many NASCAR fans and insiders – has earned its keep. This event keeps growing and improving. It’s becoming a staple on Nashville’s summer sports calendar, and it has been doing it in the shadow of a race that – so far – still doesn’t exist.
Doesn’t seem that long ago that the folks in Dover dropped the Ally 400 by surprise into Nashville’s lap while everyone was busy focusing on what was happening with the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
In some ways, that’s still the case. It still feels like you can’t run a race out here in the country at the Superspeedway without conversation ultimately shifting to the city’s Fairgrounds. Because that’s still the race that so many want to see happen.
And maybe it will soon. Evidentially, they’re inching closer to NASCAR’s return to the Fairgrounds, something that those inside the sport have been clamoring to see for years. If it happens, it’d be great. It’d be a hit. It’d be a welcome addition.
Helps that the Ally 400 has been, too.
It’s a good thing they’ve got going out here. Just ask around.
A full house for the first Ally 400 in 2021 was one thing, because Nashville is a city that’ll try anything once. Interest, while still high, slipped a bit in 2022, which seemed a natural progression.
Maybe it was the night race, but in 2023, something amped back up. There seemed to be more of a buzz about this summer’s NASCAR weekend, and that was validated by Ally 400 tickets being sold out a few days ahead of time.
Along the way, too, many of the doubts that dogged the Superspeedway have been eased.
The capacity isn’t too small or too large. Seems about right. The distance from Nashville hasn’t been a problem. And traffic, a nightmare in 2021, has been much improved the past two years.
The 1.33-mile concrete track has improved, too, after complaints in years past about how drivers had been limited in a way that made for boring races.
“I guess that’s why people stopped coming, and it went out of business,” Joey Logano told the Associated Press prior to Sunday’s Ally 400. “But now, like the track’s three to four lanes wide, and the racing has gotten a lot better.”
It may not be Nashville’s racetrack.
But for the time being, the Ally 400 has earned the right to be Nashville’s NASCAR race.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.