Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series at Nashville

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series at Nashville

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After the only off weekend of the regular season, the Cup Series returns to competition Sunday (5 p.m. ET, NBC) with a 399-mile race at Nashville Superspeedway near Lebanon, Tenn.

The race will be only the second Cup event at the 1.33-mile track. Kyle Larson won in runaway fashion in the track’s Cup debut last season. Previously, the Xfinity and Truck series raced at Nashville. They are also on this weekend’s schedule.

The Cup race will begin a 10-week, 10-race run at the end of the regular season. The 10-race playoffs are scheduled to begin Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

FRONT RUNNERS

Kyle Larson

  • Position Points: 7th
  • Last three races: 15th at Sonoma; 12th at Gateway; 9th at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: Won in 2021

Larson virtually defines the term “front runner” at Nashville. Last year he led 264 of the race’s 300 laps and won by 4.33 seconds, practically a calendar page in front of second-place Ross Chastain.

Larson is riding a 14-race winless streak and will run at Nashville with interim crew chief Kevin Meendering, who is replacing Cliff Daniels, who was suspended after Larson’s Chevrolet lost a wheel at Sonoma.

Ross Chastain

  • Position Points: 2nd
  • Last three races: 7th at Sonoma; 8th at Gateway; 15th at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: 2nd in 2021

Chastain, one of only four drivers with multiple wins this season, finished second to winner Kyle Larson last year at Nashville in what developed as a fuel-mileage finish.

In the season’s past eight races, Chastain has finished eighth or better five times. He has seven top fives (including two wins) in the past 14 events.

William Byron

  • Position Points: 8th
  • Last three races: 9th at Sonoma; 19th at Gateway; 32nd at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: 3rd in 2021

Byron, who has won this season at Atlanta and Martinsville, has been relatively quiet recently. He has led 570 laps for the year, but 482 of those were logged in the first eight races. In the past eight races, Byron has led only 88 laps.

His Nashville run last year, however, puts him on the watch list for this weekend. Despite starting the race from the rear because of improper adjustments, he rolled through the field and finished third.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kevin Harvick

  • Position Points: 12th
  • Last three races: 4th at Sonoma; 33rd at Gateway; 3rd at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: 5th in 2021

Harvick remains the most prominent driver still on the outside looking in for a playoff spot. He is the first driver below the point cutoff line, seven points behind Aric Almirola. Harvick has participated in 12 straight playoffs, the most among active drivers.

Harvick’s season has been a struggle, but he has two finishes of fourth or better in the past four races and has finished in the top 10 in five of the past seven. He ran well last year at Nashville, finishing fifth after running out of gas on the last lap, giving up fourth. He owns two Xfinity wins at the track.

Harvick is riding a 59-race winless streak, a stretch in which he has finished second four times.

Daniel Suarez

  • Position Points: 17th
  • Last three races: Won at Sonoma; 23rd at Gateway; 25th at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: 7th in 2021

So, Daniel, can you do it again? Suarez broke into the winners circle at Sonoma and has four top 10s in the last 14 races. Now he needs to prove he can compete for victories on big ovals.

Suarez was seventh last year at Nashville after starting 22nd.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Position Points: 6th
  • Last three races: 26th at Sonoma; 6th at Gateway; 12th at Charlotte
  • Past at Nashville: 22nd in 2021

Truex remains winless this season after a 2021 run in which he won four times. At this point last year he had six top fives; now he has only two.

Currently 14th in playoff points, Truex was penalized twice during last year’s Nashville race at finished 22nd after pitting for fuel with 10 laps to go.

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