Tyson Winter | NASCAR Digital Media

Same song, different verse: Revival reaction as roar returns to Nashville Superspeedway

LEBANON, Tenn. — It looks brand new.

That was the initial impression from many throughout the garage after getting an in-person look at Nashville Superspeedway.

The 1.33-mile concrete track sat dormant since the final NASCAR-sanctioned event — an Xfinity Series race won by now-retired driver Carl Edwards on July 23, 2011.

One of the highest marks the extensive renovations and fresh coats of paint received was from NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. upon walking into the track on Friday.

It was a well-earned compliment for track president Erik Moses and his fleet of employees, one that he didn’t take for granted.

“I would be lying to say I didn’t smile when I saw that,” Moses said on Saturday in the Nashville Superspeedway media center on Saturday. “It’s great to hear that kind of thing from people who are legends in the sport and for someone who really values this market as a market for NASCAR, it’s fantastic.

“We’ve thankfully heard that sentiment echoed out of people from NASCAR and our sport over the last couple days and we’re really grateful. It’s been a great team to get this to look like what you see here.”

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If that wasn’t enough, NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski raved about the track’s condition after Cup Series practice on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m really impressed. The track is in amazing condition for having sat 10 years,” said Keselowski, a two-time Xfinity winner here. “I feel like it’s in better condition than I last was here. I don’t know how that’s possible. It’s like it reversed age. They’ve got the fountain of youth in here somewhere. The concrete is really good … last time I was here it was really bumpy and it doesn’t seem nearly as bumpy as it used to be.

“Somebody has been doing a lot of work around here and they’ve done an excellent job. Far surpassed my expectations coming here to Nashville.”

Nashville
Chase Wilhelm | NASCAR Digital Media

The transformation came at a price — a mountain of work by many and a hefty investment to get the track back up to full song. Moses noted that it took $8 million-$10 million worth of improvements. The list of developments included the installation of WiFi and fiber networks, a revamp of the media center, infield care center and tower suites, light and sound systems just to name a few. The track also traded in traditional white outside retaining walls for a lighter, Tennessee blue coat.

No stone, or piece of concrete in this instance, was left unturned.

“There have been very few spaces on this campus that have not been touched as we’ve gotten this place ready to be reborn,” Moses said.

As the track enjoys the dawn of a new day, it also serves as a blast to NASCAR’s past in Music City. Twenty-two Xfinity Series races were held from 2001-11. Edwards was the winningest driver during that span with five career victories, including the final two events in 2011.

In the Camping World Truck Series, 11 different drivers won the 13 races held from 2001-11. Kyle Busch and Johnny Benson Jr. tied with a pair of victories, while Edwards also owns one triumph in a truck. Austin Dillon earned the victory in 2011 before the 10-year hiatus ended with Cup Series regular Ryan Preece’s win Friday night.

Keeping with tradition

The winner of each of those events received a custom guitar designed by the late Sam Bass and provided by Nashville-based guitar manufacturer Gibson.

While what was old is now new again, bringing back the Gibson tradition to Victory Lane and honoring Bass were constants that were important for Moses to keep intact.

“Without question it’s important to maintain the tradition of a Music City-made Gibson guitar for our race winners,” Moses said. “While everyone misses Sam and we could never recreate what he offered to our track champions, we are thrilled to rekindle our partnership with Gibson and to award their timeless guitars to our race winners.”

Moses also presented a special Gibson guitar that features Sam Bass’ iconic logo, which will be on display at the speedway for years to come.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

“Sam had a special place in this sport and certainly a special place at this track,” Moses said. “We thought that was worthy not only of a tribute to him, but one that would be permanent.”

Busch is a noteworthy story when it comes to the famous trophy’s past. After winning the Xfinity Series race at Nashville in 2009, Busch destroyed the guitar with a rock-star-style slam in Victory Lane. After making history by earning his 100th career Xfinity Series win in Saturday’s race, Busch jokingly pretended to crunch another one for the cameras, but better judgement prevailed.

“What’s the harm in having a little bit of fun?” Busch said after the race.

A look ahead

As renovations came to life and traditions were put back into place, an entitlement sponsor for the Cup Series race arrived as another integral part of the process. That’s where Ally Financial came into the fold, announcing their participation back in January, their first race entitlement sponsorship in company history.

“For an inaugural race and having the privilege to bring back Cup Series racing to Middle Tennessee for the first time in 37 years, it’s critically important that you have the right partner to help you lead that charge,” Moses said back in January. “I have no doubts that Ally is that right partner. They see this the same way we do, from investing in the community to making certain that we’re active in the promotion of this race.”

Moses was certainly right as we fast forward to Sunday where the Ally 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be run in front of a sold-out crowd, which will fill an additional 15,000 temporary grandstand seats to reach the roughly 40,000-seat capacity.

Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Now, with the re-imagining of Nashville Superspeedway finally realized and received with high accolades, what does the future hold for NASCAR in Middle Tennessee?

With a successful switch up to Nashville for the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Awards banquet and talks ongoing between Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc., and the City of Nashville, it appears the sport has a strong hold on Music City.

Moses continues to focus on reaching the highest level of success for his own facility, but he welcomes the opportunity for more racing in the heart of The Volunteer State.

“I will tell you, if any fans in the country deserve more Cup Series racing, it’s the fans in Middle Tennessee,” Moses said. “My view is a rising tide raises all boats. We’re going to put on a great show out here with our partners at Ally and make sure people want to come back to the Ally 400 year over year. If there’s more Cup Series racing in the marketplace, then that’s good for fans and good for our sport.”