In 99 previous NASCAR Xfinity Series victories, it could have been said that Kyle Busch walked to victory on more than a few occasions. To claim victory number 100 in Saturday’s (June 19) Tennessee Lottery 250 at Nashville Superspeedway, Busch had to outduel Justin Allgaier during several restarts in the final 50 laps.
Busch was the control car for the final restart in the outside lane but Allgaier was just a nose ahead as the pair took the green flag. As had been the case in the two previous restarts, Allgaier on the low side beat Busch to turn 1, but the 2009 Xfinity Series champion powered his Toyota Supra through the first two corners on the outside, taking back the lead as the field entered the backstretch. For the next lap and a half, the battle was for second, and Busch was the first to cross the finish line as the checkered flag waved.
In what was already a historic weekend for Nashville, with the track returning to a racing calendar for the first time in a decade and hosting its first NASCAR Cup Series race, Busch’s win put the 1.333-mile concrete oval in exclusive company. Busch becomes only the third driver in NASCAR history to win 100 races in a single series, joining Richard Petty and David Pearson. They earned 200 and 105 victories, respectively, in the NASCAR Cup Series. Petty’s 100th Cup Series win came on August 22, 1969, at Bowman Gray Stadium and Pearson’s at Rockingham Speedway on March 5, 1978. Nashville’s history-making weekend grew a bit more thanks to Busch.
Allgaier held onto second place, with Harrison Burton finishing third. Josh Berry ended his 2021 tenure with JR Motorsports with a fourth-place finish at his hometown race and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.
NASCAR decided to apply resin in the corners of the 1.333-mile speedway. The application of resin allowed rubber to lay down faster and stay, compared to the PJ1 traction compound, which provides traction. This was a wise move and gave a traditionally one-groove racetrack an extra two lanes. While the track was a two-lane track through most of the race, three-wide in the middle of the corners wasn’t rare deep into a green flag run. Although one-groove racetracks shouldn’t be avoided entirely, the ability for drivers to move around with ease will induce a positive fan reaction from this weekend’s events.
One of the reasons that Nashville Superspeedway’s resurrection should be praised is simply its unique design. From high above, it looks like Las Vegas Motor Speedway but has a length similar to that of Darlington Raceway. Yet its 14 degrees of banking in the corners is closer to Martinsville Speedway, and not one of the so-called “cookie-cutter” mile-and-a-half tracks have concrete for a surface. Nashville Superspeedway is quite literally a one-of-a-kind track. Due to its unique design, drivers race it like a short track, and that caused brake issues. While we don’t want to see a plethora of brake failures because that can lead to unwanted accidents on track and in the pits, there isn’t an abundance of mechanical failures in today’s NASCAR. Several drivers complained about brake issues. This indicated the cars were being pushed to their limits and the drivers’ ability to manage their cars was tested.
Man and machine being tested is old-school racing. And that’s never a bad thing.
Though Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to have Berry back in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the future, Saturday’s race was Berry’s final appearance in the No. 8 for the 2021 season. He qualified a disappointing 22nd but clawed his way to a ninth-place finish in a caution-free stage one. He finished stage two in sixth place, setting the stage for a solid race to the finish. Halfway through the final stage, teammates Allgaier and Berry found themselves running second and third and matching the lap times of leader Busch. Berry was the first to pit with 49 laps to go, but bad luck struck when Brandon Brown brought the caution out after his left front tire blew. That ruined the No. 8 team’s chances of undercutting Allgaier and trimming the gap between them and Busch.
Despite that bad luck, Berry was able to take the wave around and get his lap back. Four more cautions were thrown for on-track incidents, which allowed Berry to find his way back to the top five, but he never returned to the top three. Berry grew as a driver and showcased his talents in his 12 Xfinity Series starts this season. His No. 8 JRM Chevrolet and teammate Allgaier were the only two legitimate contenders for Busch. Fans will be left wondering what might have been if Allgaier and Berry had been working together during the final restarts to pass Busch. Berry, a Nashville native, still put on a show for his local supporters, but sometimes bad luck strikes in the most inopportune of times. While Berry’s rebound to finish fourth-place isn’t a traditional “bad” point of a race, it’s a sight moment as likely any more opportunities Berry gets in 2021 will not be as competitive for wins as the 12 races with JRM have proven to be.
The points battle along the playoff cutline widened for three prospective drivers and teams after the event. Brown suffered a tire failure on lap 141, relegating him to a 35th place finish. He entered Saturday’s race 24 points behind 12th place Jeremy Clements but now sits 48 points behind after earning zero stage points. Ryan Sieg’s points gap also worsened, albeit not as harmful compared to Brown. He entered 87 points behind Clements and now leaves 91 points back, but every point counts. Sieg finished 16th, and that came after spinning and bringing out the caution, pitting, then causing Landon Cassill to spin and wreck, which was the final caution for the race. Cassill and his JD Motorsports team are longshots for the playoffs based solely on speed, but the odds deteriorated after losing 18 points to Clements. Cassill now sits 130 points away from the playoff cutline after only his third DNF of the 2021 season.
Underdog Performance of the Race
In his debut with Sam Hunt Racing, Will Rodgers had a quiet day. He started 14th but slipped back a few positions and even fell back to 24th at one point. Rodgers survived the late-race carnage, kept his car clean and brought the No. 26 home in 14th. It was the team’s first top-20 finish since Talladega Superspeedway seven races ago. Crashes and mechanical issues plagued the team over the past month and a half, and the effort put in by Rodgers will undoubtedly be welcomed as he and the team have a multi-race deal in place for the rest of the season.
Double Duty Interlopers
The only other NASCAR Cup Series regular joining Busch in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was Tyler Reddick. He piloted the No. 31 for Jordan Anderson Racing but didn’t succeed compared to his first two starts with the team. Reddick qualified 17th and spent the majority of the day around 20th. His 15th-place finish was aided by late-race restarts, helping to earn Anderson a few more points in the owner’s championship.
“Everybody’s getting a piece tonight.” – Kyle Busch
“I was on Taylor (Moyer) all year about being aggressive on pit calls, and he went for the win, and it bit us today. But we still got back to fourth which was super impressive at a track they say you can’t pass at. I just want to just thank everybody for this opportunity. It’s been unbelievable… It’s just been a dream come true. I’m definitely emotional about it, but definitely, we’re not done.” – Josh Berry
It was a welcome sight to see Nashville back on the Xfinity Series calendar. Its unique configuration makes it that much more special. As the United States and the world continue to progress out of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope Nashville’s triumphant return helps to spark the return of other former tracks. World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway) has been a part of the Camping World Truck Series schedule since 2014 but has yet to return to the Xfinity Series since being dropped after 2010. The track, commonly known as Gateway, is unique itself and deserves its own Xfinity return. Other former Xfinity Series tracks I’d like to see return are Memphis International Raceway, the Milwaukee Mile, Pikes Peak International Raceway and Iowa Speedway. Will all four return at once or to the schedule at once? Likely not. But with Nashville successfully returning and the resin application already proving to be a superior alternative to other traction compounds used in the past, these four tracks all deserve to be in the conversation for future schedules.
Next weekend, the Northeast hosts its first Xfinity Series race of the season when the field takes the green flag on Sunday, June 27 at Pocono Raceway. The Pocono Green 225 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons begins at noon ET on NBCSN and MRN as it precedes the second Cup Series race of the weekend. Following Pocono, the Xfinity field will travel to Road America (Jul. 3), Atlanta Motor Speedway (Jul. 10), and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Jul. 17) before a two-week break for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.