Fairgrounds are a big deal for NASCAR’s Elliott | News, Sports, Jobs

By Jenna Fryer

The Associated Press

LEBANON, Tenn. – To be clear, Chase Elliott will get a win wherever he can get one.

But shortly after lifting the celebratory guitar he earned for his victory at the Nashville Superspeedway, Elliott couldn’t help but wonder if NASCAR is still on the wrong racetrack.

NASCAR’s most popular driver loves the track at the Nashville Fairgrounds. When he heard that the Cup Series would return to the region in 2021 – but on the D-shaped oval in Lebanon, around 40 minutes from downtown hotspots – he was not happy.

“A siesta party at this joint will put the nail in the fairground’s coffin, too bad,” Elliott tweeted in 2020.

He’s now raced the superspeedway two years in a row, picked up a win and the guitar late Sunday night, and his opinion hasn’t changed. Elliott wants to race at the fairgrounds, where his Hall of Fame dad often did and the two faced off last summer in the Superstar Racing Experience. Chase won the race.

“Yeah, look, I wish we were at the fairgrounds, for the record, but I’m glad we were at the market at least,” said Elliott. “It’s a cool city. It’s a great place. It’s a great place to race. It’s a city that I think embraces us, and we embrace the people who are here.

The Nashville market has indeed become a prime motorsports target since 2019, when NASCAR moved its season-ending awards ceremony from Las Vegas to Lower Broadway. Nashville Superspeedway was added to NASCAR’s 2021 schedule, IndyCar launched a street race downtown that was a resounding success and SRX will return to the fairgrounds for a second straight year in two weeks.

Elliott won’t be in the SRX field next month, but the morning after beating his dad there last year – and being disqualified and finishing 39th in the NASCAR race at the superspeedway – he made an impassioned plea for let NASCAR take its Cup cars to the fairgrounds.

“Just the vibe at the fairgrounds, the energy last night was absolutely amazing. I wish you were all there to see it. It was crazy. It just made sure it was is where we belong in my eyes,” said Elliott. “I’ve always felt that, but this other track (the superspeedway) is not the answer. The energy is there, in town, and we need look no further.

Marcus Smith agrees, and as head of Speedway Motorsports, he is pushing to bring NASCAR back to the 0.596-mile track for the first time since 1984. The initiative has met with local resistance at town hall meetings. Meanwhile, Speedway Motorsports bought the superspeedway in Lebanon last December and served as its official promoter last weekend.

Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith died last week at age 95, then Marcus Smith’s mother suffered a stroke on Friday. He was unavailable at the superspeedway this weekend to discuss Speedway Motorsports’ plans for the Nashville area.

But many in the industry believe the market can support multiple races, even with NASCAR, SRX and IndyCar all stopping in Nashville for three straight months.

Elliott balked at the fairground, although he admitted that even with three hours of weather delays, a determined crowd held on for a race that lasted seven hours and was a better product than last year.

“It was a lot more racy than I thought. But that still doesn’t mean I prefer it to the carnival and what it could be,” said Elliott. “It’s just this racecourse and the story of this racecourse and its location is just something we’re never going to replicate again.”

He then pointed to other markets where the tracks are 30 to 45 minutes out of town – in Michigan, Atlanta or Miami.

“With the fairgrounds, you would draw in an area about 15 blocks away,” he said “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s much closer. In today’s society, you’ll never build a racetrack in a town like that again.

He said he was encouraged by Marcus Smith’s commitment to the area and hopes to have his Cup car at the show soon.

“Looks like they’re working on it at least,” he said. “I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and I think there’s a way to be respectful to the people who live in the area and to be able to do that in a positive light.”

Jenna Fryer covers motor racing for The Associated Press. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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