Ally 400 Preview: Nashville Sequel

Ally 400 Preview: Nashville Sequel

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Nashville Superspeedway this weekend after last season's debut at the track. This oval is a moderately-banked 1.33-mile track that is concrete paved and features 14 degree banking in the turns. The event is 300 laps, divided into three stages of 90 laps, 95 laps and 115 laps. Average speeds are likely to be around 160 mph as the concrete surface provides high grip and a lot of potential for side-by-side racing. The oval is somewhat reminiscent of the lower-banked intermediate ovals on the circuit like Kansas Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway, although modestly smaller in size than most NASCAR intermediate ovals. From its opening in 2001 until the track's closure in 2011, Nashville Superspeedway hosted Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series events, but the facility had not been a part of the NASCAR schedule for close to a decade until last season's Ally 400 and successful return. There will be some knowns thanks to last season's event, but there will also be some unknowns since this will be the first time the Next-Gen car takes to the banks of Nashville.   

Since this is just the second race at a new track, we have very limited data to examine. For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our NASCAR Cup Series drivers have accumulated this season on the intermediate ovals, as well as the loop data from the debut Nashville Superspeedway race from last season.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Nashville Superspeedway this weekend after last season's debut at the track. This oval is a moderately-banked 1.33-mile track that is concrete paved and features 14 degree banking in the turns. The event is 300 laps, divided into three stages of 90 laps, 95 laps and 115 laps. Average speeds are likely to be around 160 mph as the concrete surface provides high grip and a lot of potential for side-by-side racing. The oval is somewhat reminiscent of the lower-banked intermediate ovals on the circuit like Kansas Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway, although modestly smaller in size than most NASCAR intermediate ovals. From its opening in 2001 until the track's closure in 2011, Nashville Superspeedway hosted Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series events, but the facility had not been a part of the NASCAR schedule for close to a decade until last season's Ally 400 and successful return. There will be some knowns thanks to last season's event, but there will also be some unknowns since this will be the first time the Next-Gen car takes to the banks of Nashville.   

Since this is just the second race at a new track, we have very limited data to examine. For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our NASCAR Cup Series drivers have accumulated this season on the intermediate ovals, as well as the loop data from the debut Nashville Superspeedway race from last season. It's the only real measure of which drivers tend to thrive on these style tracks. The loop data from last season will be fresh, but bear in mind that these stats were accumulated in the old generation car. The new, Next-Gen car will be a variable this weekend. In the table below are the driver's loop stats from last season's Ally 400 at Nashville.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Larson1.017133264300149.7
Aric Almirola4.042111297116.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.6.048250296114.7
Kevin Harvick5.03510256108.1
Ross Chastain2.055184245106.0
William Byron3.0200020898.5
Chase Elliott13.02641328898.1
Kyle Busch11.035141022998.0
Joey Logano10.0400029697.3
Denny Hamlin22.0310022490.7
Kurt Busch8.0332322390.7
Christopher Bell9.0280018385.3
Daniel Suarez7.0371017784.4
Alex Bowman15.0240010276.3
Austin Dillon12.0180011673.8
Cole Custer31.01412012773.5
Chase Briscoe32.0310516570.4
Tyler Reddick19.020008768.2
Martin Truex Jr.23.0123012062.7
Erik Jones20.09005861.3

Speaking of last season's race at Nashville, we witnessed Kyle Larson lead 264 of the 300 laps and completely dominate the Cup Series' debut at Nashville Superspeedway. Few drivers posed much of a threat to the No. 5 Chevrolet in this event one year ago, and Larson cruised away to a 4+ second victory over Ross Chastain. We believe we're going to see something completely different this time around. For example, we've seen Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch win the last three intermediate oval events in the schedule. Each of those races saw multiple lap leaders, lots of parity and margins of victory less than 1-second. We should be in for more of that uncertainty Sunday in the Ally 400. In the outline below, we'll give you the drivers you need to succeed in your fantasy racing games in NASCAR's return to Nashville Superspeedway.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch – Busch has just one victory on the season, and that came on the Bristol dirt. However, he's been razor sharp on these mid-sized ovals and it's just a matter of time before he breaks through to win. That could easily happen this Sunday at Nashville. Busch has led 120 combined laps in his last three intermediate oval events and has collected finishes of third-, second- and second-place at Kansas, Charlotte and Gateway. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has been locked-in recently during events on these style ovals. Busch qualified on the outside pole here one year ago and led 10 laps before fading to finish 11th-place. We believe he'll be dramatically better in this installment of the Ally 400.

Kyle Larson – The Hendrick Motorsports star won this event one year ago in a dominant performance. Larson led 264 of the 300 laps and pounded the field into the pavement to win by more than four seconds over Ross Chastain. Larson hasn't been nearly as dominant this season in the new Next-Gen car, but he's been getting increasingly better in recent weeks. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet finished runner-up recently at Kansas and collected a ninth-place finish at Charlotte. Over the last three intermediate oval events, Larson has led a combined 80 laps. Considering how he's been coming on in recent races and how dominant Larson was at Nashville Superspeedway last season, we believe it's a winning fantasy racing combination for this weekend.

Kurt Busch – The veteran driver to watch closely this week is Busch. The 23XI Racing driver has been dialed-in on intermediate ovals of late. Busch led 116 laps and dominated to the victory at Kansas a few weeks ago, and more recently he led 12 laps and finished a strong third-place at Gateway. Busch and the No. 45 Toyota team are not to be underestimated this Sunday in the Ally 400. In this event one year ago, he drove from deep in the field to finish an impressive eighth-place in the inaugural Ally 400. Nashville Superspeedway holds a lot of promise and upside for this veteran driver. He'll be racing among the leaders in the closing laps Sunday afternoon.

Ross Chastain – The Trackhouse Racing driver led 4 laps and finished a brilliant runner-up in this event one year ago for old boss Chip Ganassi. Chastain will look to carry that experience and confidence to his new team, which has been surging this season. Chastain has led a combined 157 laps and grabbed two Top 10's in his last three intermediate oval starts. Closing victories on this style of track has been the elusive trick for the No. 1 team, but Chastain has been in the running to win these races recently. The runner-up finish that he turned in at this oval one year ago will certainly help in the experience department. We believe Chastain and his Trackhouse Racing team have considerable upside in this 300-lap battle on the banks of Nashville Superspeedway. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Joey Logano – Logano hadn't shown much life this season on the intermediate ovals until very recently. Last time out at World Wide Technology Raceway, the Penske Racing star was a late riser and took the lead from Kyle Busch in the closing laps to secure his second victory of the season. It was a surprising performance considering how the No. 22 team has performed this year on the cookie cutter ovals. Now Logano can set his sights on the 1.33-mile Nashville track and look for another strong performance. He started third and finished 10th in this event one year ago and will look to draw upon that valuable experience. A Top-10 finish seems more than likely for this driver and team.   

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been an up-and-down performer this season, but he's generally gotten his act together as the summer started. He won at the Charlotte oval recently in the Coca-Cola 600 and was Top 5 at Kansas prior to that. Hamlin's WWTR outing ended with a damaged car, but he did show speed and promise in that intermediate oval event. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota wasn't particularly impressive in this event one year ago, but we believe this driver and team are in a different place than they were at this point last season. Hamlin would qualify within the Top 10 and have a good starting spot for the Ally 400. We also believe he'll keep his car among the leaders until the end this Sunday afternoon.          

Christopher Bell – Bell has been razor sharp on the cookie cutter tracks this season. Most recently he's grabbed two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes between Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster hasn't been much of a threat to win, but he's been in close running with the leaders in these races. In this event one season ago, Bell started 25th on the grid and performed a masterful drive up through the field to capture a strong ninth-place finish by the checkered flag. That experience will serve him well when the green flag drops for the Nashville sequel this Sunday afternoon. Bell and the No. 20 JGR team have been pretty locked-in on these intermediate ovals all season long.    

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star hasn't been his usual dominant self on these intermediate ovals in 2022, but Truex has at least been consistent. He's racked up four Top 10's in the five events to date. Truex will now set his sights on the oval at Nashville Superspeedway. Most recently, he racked up 42 laps led and finished a strong sixth-place at the similar-sized oval in Madison, Illinois. We would consider that to be the ceiling for Truex this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. In this event one year ago, he peddled the old generation stock car to a subpar 22nd-place finish. We expect Truex and the No. 19 team to be greatly improved in this event.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history of road course racing & solid upside

Ryan Blaney – Much like his teammate, Joey Logano, Blaney hadn't shown much prowess on cookie cutter tracks until most recently. The last stop at WWTR saw the driver of the No. 12 Ford lead 12 laps and finish a brilliant fourth-place in the Enjoy Illinois 300 at Gateway. We believe Blaney can reproduce that potential again Sunday in NASCAR's return to Nashville Superspeedway. The young driver qualified well in this event one year ago, but he was a tough-luck finisher after an unfortunate crash and DNF. Blaney will rebound in this Ally 400. Blaney has always been a steady hand on the intermediate tracks, and this one will be no exception. Given how well the No. 12 Ford team raced at the similar oval in Illinois recently, we have big expectations for Blaney in Nashville.

Aric Almirola –  2021 was a tough season for Almirola and the No. 10 team, but Nashville Superspeedway was a high point for the veteran driver. He won the pole, raced among the leaders the full 400-miles and captured a strong fourth-place finish in this event one year ago. There's ample evidence to expect another good outing for Almirola this Sunday. He recently tamed the similar-sized oval at Gateway to the tune of a fifth-place finish in the Enjoy Illinois 300. That's a great last look at an intermediate oval heading into this event. Almirola hadn't done too much on the mid-sized tracks this season until that race, but it's clear this driver and team have figured something out and should be poised to capitalize in the Ally 400.   

Alex Bowman – Bowman has been steady but unspectacular in recent intermediate oval outings. Finishes of ninth-, 10th- and 13th-place have been his body of work recently at Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. That should be a good gauge of the No. 48 team has we enter the Ally 400 weekend in Nashville. Bowman raced to a 14th-place finish in this event one year ago in the old generation stock car. He should be at least that good, if not better, in Sunday's 400-mile battle. We don't consider Bowman a pick to be a good qualifier or lead laps at Nashville, but he should have little trouble driving up through the field and capturing a Top-10 or Top-15 finish in NASCAR's return to Nashville Superspeedway.     

Austin Cindric – The young Penske Racing driver has been in a malaise for much of the season after the big win in the Daytona 500. Cindric has been trying to get traction on various style tracks ever since winning the season-opener. The driver of the No. 2 Ford appeared to turn a corner very recently. An 11th-place finish at Kansas was followed by an 11th-place finish at Gateway, with Cindric then Cindric nabbing a strong fifth-place finish on the Sonoma road circuit before the break. He rides that momentum into Nashville Superspeedway this weekend. Cindric did not race in this event one year ago, so he'll be missing that experience, but it's clear that this talented youngster is beginning to figure some things out.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran had been on a pretty good streak until recently. Stenhouse strung together a four-race Top-10 streak through the month of May. Things have cooled a bit since the start of June, but we believe there's still fantasy racing value for this driver and team on intermediate ovals. In this event one year ago, Stenhouse piloted the No. 47 Chevrolet from 14th on the starting grid all the way up to a brilliant sixth-place finish. That experience will serve this team and driver well coming into the second Nashville race. The variable will be the new Next-Gen car, but as Stenhouse showed with his eighth-place finish at Kansas, there's lots of potential to exceed expectations.   

AJ Allmendinger – The deep dive into the driver field this week offers an opportunity with Kaulig Racing veteran Allmendinger. He'll pilot the No. 16 Chevrolet again here at Nashville Superspeedway. Allmendinger is fresh off a Top-20 finish at Sonoma two weeks ago, and more importantly his last outing at an intermediate oval (Gateway) netted a Top-10 finish. The veteran driver piloted the team's Chevy from 35th on the starting grid and making an incredible drive up to that Top 10 by the checkered flag. Allmendinger didn't start the Cup race at Nashville last season, but he did start in the Xfinity Series at the Tennessee oval. He raced to a brilliant fifth-place in Kaulig's Xfinity Series Chevy. We believe he's a sneaky, under-the-radar play in the Ally 400. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Chase Elliott – Elliott has been more famine than feast recently on these mid-sized ovals. Despite leading a combined 96 laps, his finishes of 29th-, 33rd- and 21st-place have been his recent body of work at Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. That lack of reliability and lack of consistency has bitten several players in fantasy racing games of all kinds. We would caution against any aspirations again this Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway. Elliott fought hard to crack the Top 10 in this event one year ago, but would be disqualified after post-race inspection for loose lug nuts and be credited with a last place finish. That is the elephant in the room in NASCAR's return to Nashville this weekend.

William Byron – Another driver of great talent and potential who's been struggling recently on the cookie cutter tracks is Byron. He has no Top-15 finishes and one finish outside the Top 30 recently at Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. The average finish checks in at a subpar 22.3. Qualifying well at these tracks has been a real issue for the No. 24 team and the finishes have not followed. Byron was a non-factor last time out on a track this size at Gateway, finishing a distant 19th-place. The stretch has been emblematic of his struggles in general of late. Byron has just one Top 10 in his last eight races and has slipped from third- to eighth-place in the driver points during that time. It's best to be conservative and give him a seat on the fantasy racing bench this Sunday.  

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski's first season at Roush has been anything but smooth. The driver of the No. 6 Ford has just two Top 10's for the season and is a lowly 30th in the driver standings coming into Nashville Superspeedway. Intermediate ovals have been inconsistent and perplexing for Keselowski of late. Finishes of 14th-, 30th- and 20th-place have been his work recently at Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. The average finish of 21.3 across the span is well below expectations for this driver and team's potential. Keselowski also had an uninspiring effort in this event one year ago, slogging to an uncharacteristic 23rd-place at Nashville for his old boss, Roger Penske.

Bubba Wallace – Another struggling driver who hasn't shown any signs of pulling out of his slump soon is Wallace. He has just one Top 10 since his Daytona 500 Top 5 and has three DNF's in the last five races. Wallace has sagged to 25th-place in the driver standings and is frankly challenged to maintain the lead lap most weeks. Intermediate ovals have been a part of those struggles for the No. 23 team. Wallace's finishes of 10th-, 28th- and 26th-place have been his performance of late at Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway. Before the break, Wallace suffered an engine failure and early retirement at Sonoma. Not a good look for the team coming into Nashville. Wallace scuffled to a subpar 20th-place finish in this event one year ago. That might be the ceiling for Sunday's Ally 400. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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