With two races left in the first half of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway kicks off a pivotal stretch.
The 1.33-mile concrete oval is a harbinger of seeing who’s got the chops to take on the toughest, grittiest conditions. In other words, it’s a hybrid of an intermediate and short track with the physicality of Dover or Bristol, its concrete counterparts.
For the fans, it’s about a race near the Music City, a third race weekend in Tennessee and hoping that Mother Nature treats all at the track with welcome arms and less humidity. As for the drivers and teams, it’s probably the freshest they’ll feel until after the season finale at Phoenix.
Last year, Kyle Larson drove to his fourth win of his championship season. This year, he hopes to repeat his Volunteer State magic, even with interim crew chief Kevin Meendering at the helm in place of Cliff Daniels, who’s serving a four race penalty for a loose wheel infraction. However, the likes of Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney cannot be dismissed.
This weekend, Cody Shoppe, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis Torres, Matt Sisoler, Nathan Solomon, Taylor Kitchen and yours truly think about the grueling stretch awaiting the Cup Series starting at Nashville and three favorites to consider.
Podium Preview: Ally 400 at Nashville
Sunday’s Ally 400 kicks off a stretch of 20 consecutive races for the NASCAR Cup Series. How important will it be to start this stretch off on a strong note, particularly for those still vying for a Playoff spot?
Tiongson : It’s going to be crucial for those outside of the Playoffs or those needing a win to get their act together starting this weekend. It’s going to be a grind and the mistakes we saw from drivers and pit crews in the first several weeks of the year have to be minimized.
For those securely in the Playoffs, I think it’s OK to have some margin for error but not the kinds that can become habitual heading into the Southern 500 at Darlington. But if you’re toward the bottom of the standings with just a win, you’ll have to fight as hard as those without victories to make the postseason field.
Nashville isn’t an all out, loud track in terms of the tenaciousness of that seen at Darlington or Texas. But it’s the opening act to the busiest stretch for NASCAR since 1998.
Solomon : It’s extremely important for everyone, especially non-playoff drivers, to start off this 20-week stretch strong. A good run can set a positive tone heading to Road America and beyond. Now, at this point of the season, it’s time to seriously begin considering the playoff picture.
As of now, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and others are winless. It’s still possible to have more than 16 winners, so it’s crucial for those drivers to win and clinch a spot.
Lambeth : It’ll be extremely important for the drivers to kick off this long stretch of races to the end of the season with some positive momentum. The pressure is definitely on for those still searching for a win to get into the playoff picture. However, I believe drivers with only one win have to start getting nervous, especially if we leave Nashville with our 13th different winner of the season.
We may not reach a total of 16 race winners, but there’s still a possibility that it happens. If the number of winners inch closer to 16, the one-time winners this season will likely start feeling some anxiety and the need to win again so they don’t have to worry about a worst case scenario. The parity in 2022 has been off the charts!
Kitchen : With 10 races left in the regular season, it is paramount that these drivers go to the Nashville race with their game faces on.
I am hoping that the off weekend was a good time for these drivers to recharge and refocus. I am hoping that this was not a time for these drivers to detach from their season and lose sight of the task at hand: a championship.
This will be the second Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway, a track that provided great action last year. Who are your top three favorites for this weekend?
Shoppe : Ross Chastain almost won here last year in the 42 before he was ever considered a serious Cup contender. This year, I’d call him the favorite.
Chase Elliott won our last concrete race in Dover so look out for the most popular driver!
One more guy to watch is Ryan Blaney. The 12 didn’t have a chance to race much in last year’s inaugural event and they look to make up for lost time this Sunday at a type of track Blaney is strong at.
Sisoler : My three to watch for the weekend are Ross Chastain, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
Chastain because he was threatening to win last year in the 42 and his equipment this year is even better.
Logano because he starts from the outside pole and seems to know why the track is reacting to the sun the way it is.
The third one I’ll be keeping an eye out for is Kyle Busch. Sure, he’s starting from the back after backing it into the fence in Turns 3 and 4 on Saturday, but we have seen in the past what happens when Rowdy gets mad at himself. He has the ability to drive out of his skin and has put together some fantastic efforts, not to mention he was the second fastest car in practice, only behind Bubba Wallace.
Sharpe : After watching qualifying the predictions I had going into this weekend flew right out the window. Even though concrete doesn’t heat up or cool down as dramatically as asphalt does, the sunlight is playing huge on how these cars will handle and drive on the track this weekend.
This weekend, I will be picking a driver from each manufacturer. Out of the Chevy camp, keep a close eye out for Alex Bowman. He’s done a solid job overall this season and seems to be able to keep the car out of crazy situations.
Meanwhile, over at Ford, I really liked how Joey Logano did overall. The interview with Parker Kligerman was decent and he understands how the sunlight is working with the track.
Now, over at Toyota, I have to go with Denny Hamlin, the pole winner after qualifying was cut short due to rain. He’s a seasoned veteran in the series and has made quite the name for himself over the years. He may not be the best when it comes to handling pressure, but I have a feeling he knows what he needs to do in order to win.
Torres : Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Elliott – keep an eye on those guys. Busch and Nashville tend to go like bread and butter. He’ll need a huge confidence booster to get his second win and do so as the man to beat rather than what happened at Bristol Dirt where you can say, “the win was handed to him.”
Stenhouse and Elliott were strong at Dover, a concrete track. I can see both thriving in Nashville with Stenhouse being a legit threat for the win. I do see it translating this weekend despite the size of the track being drastically different.
Of course, Elliott won at “The Monster Mile” and Hendrick can use any luck imaginable. While they’ve won from time-to-time, they haven’t quite been the team to beat compared to Trackhouse Racing and Team Penske.
Two laps around Nashville has us singing our praises for great racing action! Next, let’s rewind two weeks ago to Race 16 at Sonoma Raceway with our race and points reports for the Toyota/Save Mart 350!
Next, here’s our top 10 starters for Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway!
Without further ado, here’s our winning picks for Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway!
Torres : Kyle Busch has a thing for guitars in Nashville. The only one missing in his arsenal is one on the Cup Series. With the 20-week grind kicking off, a win in Tennessee will certainly be a boost morale for him and the entire No. 18 JGR team. It’s tough to go against Kyle in tracks he’s had plenty of success in the past.
Lambeth : Despite crashing out of qualifying on Saturday afternoon, I think Kyle Busch will storm from the back of the field and get the job done in the Music City. Could there be another guitar smash in the works?
Tiongson : What better way is there for Kyle Larson and his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy team to rebound after their maddening June? How about a win at Nashville?
If Ryan Preece can win for a second consecutive year at Nashville in the Truck Series, Larson can do the same for the Cup race with interim crew chief, Kevin Meendering.
Solomon : I typically have a reason to pick a winning driver, but this week, it’s just gut feeling. Kyle Larson may have won this race last year, but everything is out the window with the new car. However, I still feel that he’ll get it done on Sunday for the second time in 2022.
Shoppe : Ross Chastain nearly won this race last year in Ganassi’s No. 42 car, long before he became a weekly contender to win in the Cup series. Now with all of the Melon Man’s front running experiences of late, Chastain will earn his impressive third win of the season!
Sharpe : Alex Bowman has had an overall solid season. I believe his hard work will finally pay off and give him a win.
Kitchen : With qualifying cut short, I’m looking at practice for who has had the most speed. To me, Tyler Reddick was pretty fast, finishing practice in third.
I have a feeling we will get a surprise winner this weekend so, my money is on Reddick.
Sisoler : It seems like there’s a better than average chance of, if nothing else, cloudy skies over Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday afternoon, and the Fords found pace under the overcast on Saturday.
I’m taking the fastest Mustang in the 15-car stable, Joey Logano, to find victory lane under leadened skies on, hopefully Sunday, and if not then, Monday.
We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win? Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!
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The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.
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