NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Ally 400 (5 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)

Will Start Time Hinder Crowd?

We keep banging that Noon drum or at the very least a 1 p.m. ET start in NASCAR but 5 p.m. ET? Last year the Nashville race was your typical 3:30 p.m. ET start on Father’s Day. To move it back 90 more minutes though? INDYCAR raced in August of last year on the streets of Nashville at 5 ET and it worked ,but can NASCAR make it work themselves?

See, the crowd last year was massive for this inaugural race. Starting later makes it tougher to get home for those coming into town from out of state. With Nashville’s proximity to cities like Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Knoxville and even into the Carolina’s, you can get a lot of out of town fans to come to this one. But starting this late, you almost make it impossible for them to get back home afterwards and back in a decent enough time for work on Monday morning.

If you give yourself 3 hours for the race, plus another hour or so to get out of the parking lots, you’re not even beginning your drive towards your house until around 9 ET.

Does that hurt the attendance?

I don’t necessarily like such a late Sunday start when we’ve been pushing for them to be earlier.

LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 20: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Dent Wizard Ford, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Neon Lights Chevrolet, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 20, 2021 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Does Nashville Needs Some Chaos/Storylines Coming Out Of It?

I’m one that is pretty vanilla. I like my athletes drama free and without chaos. But, as we sit here today, I think this weekend’s race in Nashville could use some animosity coming out of it. Why?

Well this is the first race on the NBC Sports portion of the schedule. After a week off last week, we’re back this one on NBC. It’s the first race on network TV since the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29.

However, it’s also the last race on network TV until July 31 at Indianapolis too. Really, out of the next 9 weeks, 7 of them will be on USA not NBC. How much of a factor will this play into the ratings game?

At least last year you had NBCSN. How many people will scroll down to USA to find NASCAR? Not many did for the INDYCAR race at Belle Isle earlier this month. You hope you’d get the casual Sunday afternoon viewer watching since there’s not a lot on TV during weekend days during the summertime. But does being on USA hurt NASCAR now?

That’s why you really need something big coming out of Nashville to help.

LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 20: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Pedigree Toyota, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger/Nature Valley Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 20, 2021 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Is Sunday’s Race Imperative To Put On A Good Show?

NASCAR took a risk last year by bringing the Nashville Superspeedway back. The track was left for dead but with how much Music City USA has embraced the NASCAR crowd and is one of the biggest growing cities in America, they decided to not only come back to the 1.33-mile track, but to bring the Cup Series with them.

Now, Nashville had the banquet as well as a Cup date. With a packed house in 2021, Kyle Larson won the inaugural Ally 400. However, that packed house saw 1 driver lead 264 of 300 laps and win by 4.335-seconds.

You can’t have that again, especially with a 5 p.m. ET start. If this track wants to remain on the future schedule, they need to put on a show.

See, with the Nashville Fairgrounds gaining more and more traction, if they want to have 2 dates in the city limits each year, this race needs to produce. The criticism of this track in the past was that it was a dull race and hard to pass on. Last year didn’t help.

Luckily though, the intermediate package has been phenomenal this season and I don’t see any reason as to why Nashville won’t either.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 15: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, drives through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Are The Toyota’s The Best On The Intermediate Package?

It’s no secret, the Toyota’s struggled out of the gates to the 2022 season. However, they’ve made some upgrades and off they’ve went back towards the top. Part of that improvement too is the fact that they’ve arguably been the top manufacturer on intermediate tracks.

We’ve had 5 races on them this season and Toyota has won 2 of them so far. In fact, you can almost throw Atlanta out of the intermediate category now despite the size of it being in this realm. Atlanta races more like Daytona/Talladega rather than an intermediate now.

So, you can say Toyota has won half of the eligible intermediate tracks. Among the 2 that they didn’t win, they ran 1-2 with three laps left in Vegas before a late race caution. Alex Bowman stole the win by pit strategy in overtime. For Darlington, they had all 5 cars in the top 6 at one point before all of them being taken out in a single wreck late in that race too.

They then won the next two at Kansas and Charlotte including a 1-2 finish in the Coca-Cola 600 and a 1-3-5-6 finish in Kansas.

Does this make them the favorites this weekend in Nashville?

Chevy went 1-2-3 here last year with the top Toyota in 9th (Christopher Bell). However, I feel like this could be Toyota’s race to lose now and wouldn’t put it past them to score their 3rd win in the last 5 races on Sunday.

The only thing is, did they lose their momentum in Sonoma (26-27-30-31) or leave it there?

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 13: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, gives a thumbs up to fans during the red carpet prior to the Ruoff Mortgage 500 during at Phoenix Raceway on March 13, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Should We Be Concerned About Hendrick Motorsports?

At this point last year, I was wondering if we should pump the brakes on the Hendrick Motorsports love. The main question at this part of the year in 2021 was if HMS would sweep the entire Championship 4. I felt like it was a little much. However, it was relevant in the end with them taking 2 of the 4 spots in the Final Round at Phoenix including a title off of a record breaking year for the organzation.

Now, I’m wondering if we need to start questioning how far they can go in the playoffs. Not only do they not look like championship front runners, I’m wondering how many of them get to the Round of 8.

Granted, I’m saying this as 1 of their 4 drivers leads the points standings right now and another tied for the lead in the playoff standings. All 4 of their drivers have reached victory lane this season too. However, they’re slumping over the last couple of months though.

Kyle Larson has just 1 top 5 in his last 6 races run on the year. Alex Bowman only has 1 top 5 in his last 10. Chase Elliott has 2. William Byron hasn’t had a top 5 since his Martinsville win (8 races). While Larson led all but 36 laps in this race last year, do you really trust them right now, especially with the suspension of Cliff Daniels?

Defending a race win at a track is something Larson has only done once among his 17 series career victories, when he won three straight at Michigan International Speedway from 2016-2017.

Last season, HMS went 1-2 at the Sonoma Raceway. This year, they went 8-9-15-16. They’re 0-for-2 on road courses too.

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