Will NASCAR return to the Fairgrounds Speedway or Rockingham Speedway?
Two former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tracks were in the news this week. Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville has long been one of the premier short tracks in the country, and from 1958 to 1984 hosted Cup races. Last year, in an open bid for the track, Speedway Motorsports Inc. attempted but failed to purchase the venerable track, but SMI president Marcus Smith has met with owner Tony Formosa in the year since, reportedly to try to bring a national touring series event to the short track.
As ESPN reports, there are hurdles to get around, namely the $20 million worth of improvements that would need to be made. It’s interesting that SMI has taken such an interest in a track it doesn’t own potentially getting a date that either came from an SMI track itself or could have gone to an SMI track.
The simplest solution as far as running a Camping World Truck Series race there would be to have it the same weekend in April as the ARCA Racing Series race, but it would seem very unlikely that there’s an XFINITY Series or Cup race at the Fairgrounds in the near future.
Meanwhile, Rockingham Speedway was purchased by a company called Rockingham Properties LLC, owned by Dan Lovenheim, who owns a number of properties in the Carolinas. Loveheim, who is apparently enough of a car guy to own a Lambo and not care where he parks it, has only said that his plans for the property are “remarkably encompassing.”
At this point, it’s probably too little, too late as far as racing on the site. Nobody has been able to take The Rock and make money with it, outside of Vince McMahon and producers in Hollywood. There’s just way too much competition in that part of the country to turn it into a hot spot for local racing that could make money, and as far as the national series go, Rockingham would probably need to invest even more money into improvements to attract a NASCAR date than the Fairgrounds does.
The sad thing about both tracks is that if both tracks had just one Cup date, they’d be able to pay off the cost of renovations within a few years just because of how much TV money has exploded. But without the TV contract, there’s really not a whole lot there to justify how much Rockingham in particular would need to spend to renovate.
How can each bubble driver make their way into the Cup playoffs?
There are 18 Cup drivers fighting for the final four spots in this season’s playoff field with just two races to go in the regular season. Of course, the easiest way to make the playoffs is to win one of the two races, but there are drivers who can still find ways to lock themselves in on points.
Denny Hamlin should be in good shape to take one of those spots. If a driver already locked into the playoffs wins at Darlington, Hamlin will clinch. If not, he simply needs to gain eight points at one of his best tracks on the schedule.
Aric Almirola, who has been having a career season in the No. 10, needs to score 25 points or more to clinch if a playoff driver wins. And Jimmie Johnson must gain 27 points on Alex Bowman if he wants to lock himself in on points for his 15th straight playoff appearance, but he would be in the catbird seat if there’s a new winner. Bowman can only clinch if he wins the race.
There are 14 other drivers who need to win in order to not enter Indianapolis Motor Speedway in do-or-die mode. With just 30 full-time drivers this season in Cup, the top 30 rule won’t come into effect this season. Matt Kenseth can also clinch a spot for the No. 6 in the owner points playoffs if he were to win this weekend.
Who can take home the Southern 500 trophy?
As far as favorites for the race itself, Hamlin is in the rotating fourth so-called big driver role this weekend. The case can be made that this is Hamlin’s best track on the schedule, even more than his home tracks at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway, or his other strongholds like New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Hamlin is also the defending race winner.
As far as the Big 3 go, all three members have scored more points at Darlington the past four years than any other driver in the field. In that timeframe, Kyle Busch is the only member without a win, but he did win the 2008 event at the speedway.
Kyle Larson should be a sleeper choice this weekend to get his first win of the season. With the Chevrolets getting better and better this past month, Larson will be entering a track where he led 124 laps last season. But all of those laps were in the first two stages of the race, so Larson is going to need to pick up some speed once the sun goes down and the track gets cooler.
Which throwback scheme will win best-in-show?
This season has been a bit disappointing when it comes to Darlington throwback schemes. Unlike the past few years, where a wide variety of colorful paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history took to the field on Sunday, this year’s selection has been a little… weak.
Johnson is throwing all the way back to himself in 2012. Instead of throwing back to himself or a really cool Mark Martin scheme, Matt Kenseth is racing… an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile-styled ride. Daniel Suarez is running a tribute to his 2018 ARRIS Toyota.
My favorites from this weekend are the No. 95 paying tribute to Kasey Kahne‘s 2006 season where the dam broke loose and he won six races, Ryan Blaney‘s throwback to his father’s old No. 77 Jasper machine and Ty Dillon‘s GEICO scheme from 2009, which should just be what Germain Racing should enter every weekend.
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