NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It felt good to be back. The city of Nashville had opened its arms wide to embrace NASCAR with its Champion’s Week celebration for the first time in 2019, and the natural pairing seemed like an annual tradition set to take root.
Last year’s awards became a more muted made-for-TV event after the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans for a full-on Year 2 in Nashville. But 2021 brought a return to in-person celebration, and Music City was here for it.
NASCAR honored Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and recognized a host of title winners this week, capping off the festivities with Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards gala from the Music City Center. It was another chance to reconnect, both with the city and the industry as the offseason hits full swing.
“It’s really good to get back to having that opportunity and being able to celebrate everyone’s year and accomplishments,” said Kyle Busch, who was cheered as Cup Series champ during Nashville’s 2019 event. “It’s just nice to kind of have a sense of that again and to just be in Nashville and enjoy it.”
The sound of live music filled the historic streets of Nashville each night as it does every night. Drivers and teams soaked in the honky-tonk atmosphere but added their own engine rumble to mix in with the twang with Wednesday’s Burnouts on Broadway — a tire-smoking show on Nashville’s main street.
Hoots and hollers rang out from the city sidewalks, and drivers put on a show for the revelers.
“You see all the fans last night while we’re doing Burnouts on Broadway, and we’re not even racing. Like, people are dressed up in their favorite driver’s gear. It shows the passion that Nashville has for NASCAR,” Joey Logano said. “I was just thinking about that: There’s people lined up all the way down the street — and they’re real race fans; they’re not just people that happened to be in Nashville this weekend, right? It’s people are came here for our banquet and watched cars do donuts. They didn’t even get to see us race. It just shows the passion that Nashville has for NASCAR, for sure.”
This year’s version borrowed some of the features of NASCAR’s inaugural visit, but with some new twists. For one, champions in the other national series, plus regional and touring title winners were also honored.
Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric and Camping World Truck Series champ Ben Rhodes were among those sharing the stage.
“It’s special, special to come into a week with this kind of environment, have the fans, the industry, really just your peers rally around our champions not only of all three top series but the local division series,” Hemric said. “That’s cool, right? Everybody puts so much into it, so to come here and enjoy it with your peers, that’s all you can ask for.”
Thursday brought a glitzy end to the weeklong affair, but NASCAR’s ties to Nashville have only grown. The Cup Series visited Nashville Superspeedway for the first time this year, bringing racing in NASCAR’s top division to the Music City for the first time since 1984. And investments planned for the city fairgrounds may provide another Nashville racing revival.
That mutual embrace between NASCAR and Nashville? It’s only getting stronger.
“It’s a good feel of just walking down Broadway, you see all the action,” Kurt Busch said. “With the burnouts, it’s a privilege to be out there doing that out on city streets. Then with the bars, the bands, the people — there’s knuckle-bumps and people aren’t out there hustling. It’s just, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ It’s like a vibe all the way through.”
Good to be back.