Three Big Stories: Nashville

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LEBANON, Tenn. — And just like that, the show ends and the tour heads for another city.

Sunday marked the return of the NASCAR Cup Series to Middle Tennessee for the first time in 37 years. During the Ally 400, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak, Denny Hamlin‘s points lead evaporated and Nashville proved it belongs on the Cup Series schedule.

So with that, here’s Three Big Stories for NASCAR’s return to Nashville Superspeedway.

Three Big Stories: Nashville

Kyle Larson’s ongoing hot streak

LEBANON, Tenn. – JUNE 20: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Chevrolet,celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 20, 2021, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Ever since his thread the needle pass in the closing laps at Darlington Raceway, Larson’s gone on an absolute tear. From leading the most laps at Dover International Speedway and losing out on victory at Circuit of the Americas due to rain to three straight victories. Not only that, but he’s won eight of the last nine stages, including seven in a row.

Sunday was no exception.

Larson was the absolute class of the field, as he beat almost everyone challenger on restarts and drove away from the field, too. He led 264 of 300 laps and never ran lower than ninth.

Moreover, the regular season championship and 15-playoff-point bonus that was Hamlin’s to lose is now up for grabs. And with the diversity of tracks Larson’s won on in the last month, I can’t say he’s not a factor to sweep the double-header at Pocono Raceway.

Three Big Stories: Nashville

Denny Hamlin’s slump

LEBANON, Tenn. – JUNE 20: A general view of cars on track during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 20, 2021, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

In the first 13 races, Hamlin led 751 laps and finished worse than 12th just once. Moreover, Hamlin’s points lead four races ago was 101 points.

After Sunday, he leads by just nine.

And it’s not due to bad luck, like what happened at Talladega. He’s fallen off in top-level performance. Case in point: In the last four races, he’s led five laps and finished worse than 12th twice.

And he was just a non-factor, Sunday, finishing 22nd.

If he wants to save that regular season championship that was once a lock for him, he needs to step up in the Pocono double-header.

Three Big Stories: Nashville

Nashville Superspeedway belongs on the Cup schedule

LEBANON, Tenn. – JUNE 18: A general view of the track prior to practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rackley Roofing 200 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 18, 2021, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A return to “normal” in NASCAR came at the perfect time for Nashville Superspeedway. Since the announcement last year that the Cup Series would run at it for the first time, we wondered if it was up to the task.

Traffic problems aside, the racing and the track delivered.

Drivers complained of ill-handling cars and controlling them in turns that invited deep attacks. It’s the kind of racing that suits the low-downforce package. A show of driver talent.

But it’s not just the on-track product that shows. It’s the little touches.

Take the race logo, for example. Did any of you realize that the big circle at the center of it was a record? The non-guitar trophies given to the race winners, this weekend, had the track’s logo written like a neon sign of a honkey tonk.

And so many more.

Track president Erik Moses and his team don’t shy away from the lifestyle of Nashville, Tennessee, like the previous regime did. Instead, they embrace it.

That’s not to say it was perfect, because it wasn’t. Nashville dodged a huge bullet with the traffic dilemma that unfolded, Sunday. It was damn close to turning into a repeat of the traffic debacle that plagued Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

All that we can hope for is that lessons were learned from this by Moses and his team and they’ll do better next season.

TOP IMAGE: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images