Three Big Stories: Nashville (2022)

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The NASCAR Cup Series’ second trip to Nashville left us with much to discuss.

Chase Elliott upended the Toyotas to take the checkered flag, Sunday. Bubba Wallace‘s pit crew coughed up, again, and cost him a chance at victory, again. Furthermore, let Sunday be the beginning of the end of ridiculously late start times.

Without further adieu, here are Three Big Stories from Nashville Superspeedway.

1 – Chase Elliott spoils the Toyota camp’s Nashville party

LEBANON, Tenn. – JUNE 26: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, poses for photos with Nashville Superspeedway president Erik Moses in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26, 2022, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Two hundred and fifty-three laps.

The Toyota camp led a combined 84.3% of Sunday’s Ally 400. Joe Gibbs Racing, alone, accounted for 250 of those laps. With all but Christopher Bell taking turns at the head of the field.

Moreover, during the last cycle of green-flag pit stops, Kyle Busch overtook Elliott as he came up to speed on the warm-up lane, with 51 laps to go. So had the cycle played out, uninterrupted, Busch would’ve shuffled back to the lead.

But then Chris Buescher hit the wall in Turn 4 and lost his right-rear wheel.

Despite the outside being the strong line most of the night, Elliott made the bottom work on the penultimate restart.

“Yeah, the 18 did it to (Martin Truex Jr.), the restart prior to that,” he said. “I felt like the opportunity was there to do it, if the circumstances go your way, and fortunately they did.”

He edged out Busch at the line on Lap 263 and never relinquished the lead.

“Once we got the lead there, it was just trying to control my gap to him, run my race, manage my tires the best I could, and not lose the lead,” he said. “Then hope that a caution didn’t come out. I hate that it did, but it did, and fortunately, it worked out for us.”

Unfortunately, we don’t know what went through Busch or Truex’s minds on that restart, the decision to pit under the final caution or drop through the field on the final restart. Both finished outside the top-10 and weren’t required to speak to the media, after the race.

For now, however, Elliott continued Hendrick Motorsports’ perfect record at Nashville.

2 – Bubba Wallace’s pit crew drops the ball

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As Wallace exited pit road during a caution for rain, crew chief Bootie Barker hopped on the radio and told him to stop, because he had a loose wheel. He did, then Tyler Reddick rammed into the back of his car.

Wallace went off on Barker.

And really, who could blame him?

Wallace posted the fastest time in practice, Friday, and worked his way through the field, after a poor qualifying run, Saturday. He had a top-five and possibly winning car, but his pit crew blew it, yet again.

And this isn’t isolated. Wallace’s crew coughed up on pit road and cost their driver spots in seven different races, this season.

It happened in Kansas Speedway, while teammate Kurt Busch drove on to victory and it happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a tactical error by Barker caused Wallace to not meet minimum speed. Which got him parked.

And before you say I’m carrying water for Wallace, no. There are just as many, if not more, races, this season, where he didn’t perform. Sunday wasn’t on Wallace. It’s on his team. Once or twice, I get it. It happens. But this is week in and week out.

At some point, 23XI Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing need to fix this. Otherwise, you’re damning Wallace to mediocrity.

3 – Enough with these late starts

LEBANON, Tenn. – JUNE 26: Cars site covered on the grid during a weather delay in the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26, 2022, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Had Sunday’s race started at 1 p.m. ET, you avoid multiple rain delays. Had it started at 2, you MIGHT have run the whole race before lightning affected it.

It started just after 5, even though we knew weather was in the forecast for Sunday evening.

And yet, NASCAR didn’t move up the start an hour, but rather 10 minutes.

Yes, the weather isn’t the easiest thing to predict. Yes, summer is a wet period in the state of Tennessee. With that said, however, there’s no reason this race should’ve started as late as it did.

Sure, it’s more conducive to the west coast audience, but that disregards the fact that all 10 of NASCAR’s biggest TV markets (in terms of ratings and viewership) are east of the Mississippi River, and only two are outside the Eastern Time Zone.

Furthermore, the NFL alone disproves that early starts are ratings/viewership killers.

Sure, the 1 p.m. window isn’t the biggest numbers draw for the NFL, but its early window games draw on average 10-to-15 million viewers. This was the case for Week 18 of the 2021 season, where most of the games had no playoff implications.

Look, I get NBC (as well as FOX) has other sports commitments, too. But there has to be a better balance between what TV wants and not running races this ridiculously late.

With how much NASCAR depends on audience carryover, this was a shot in the foot that the league didn’t need.

TOP IMAGE: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images