NASCAR returns to Nashville in 2021, at an unexpected venue

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In a surprising turn of events, NASCAR is adding Nashville Superspeedway to their 2021 schedule. Track owner Dover Motorsports Incorporated announced, alongside NASCAR on Wednesday, that they will host a Cup Series race at their 1.33-mile concrete tri-oval thirty minutes outside of Nashville, in Lebanon, Tennessee.

NASCAR has made it clear they intend to shake up their stale schedule with mid-week races and weekend doubleheaders. Their visit to Nashville Superspeedway will mark the first time they’ve added a new facility to the schedule since 2014.

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Over the past few years there were rumblings that NASCAR would make a return to the Music City. Previously, the rumors swirled around the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, an old short track less than three miles from downtown Broadway Street. Racetrack megacorp Speedway Motorsports and the Fairgrounds board seemed to be in constant discussions during 2019, with an aim at bringing NASCAR back to the track they first visited in 1958. Last fall, NASCAR even moved their year-end awards ceremony to the Grand Ole Opry. The Country Music Capital was itching to see NASCAR return to their backyard, and NASCAR was eager to fill a void in their market. It appears as though the enthusiasm was injected into another party.

Enter, Dover Motorsports Incorporated. The underdog. They only own two tracks (Dover International Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway), compared to Speedway Motorsport’s eight (Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma, and Texas).

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In 2012, after many years spent hosting lower-tier divisions while pushing for a Cup Series date, Dover Motorsports Inc. declined NASCAR sanctions at Nashville Superspeedway. It was clear a Cup Series date was not in their future. With “Thanks for all the memories!” in script across the top of the press release, their general manager Cliff Hawk said then, “…the reality is, after ten years of effort, we have to face the fact that without a Cup race and/or a significant change in the operating model for other events, we simply cannot continue.”

The track barred its doors, occasionally reopening for race team testing. In 2017, it looked as though the 1,400-acre property would be sold to a manufacturing company and Nashville Superspeedway would fall to the dozers, but in the eleventh hour, the 27.5 million-dollar cash-deal fell through. The track went missing from the headlines until this week.

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The agility of this deal was no doubt aided by the lack of parties involved. With NASCAR’s superintendence, Dover Motorsports Incorporated simply plucked one date from their track in Delaware and gave it to their defunct track in Tennessee. Easy-peasy, almost. In an interview with the associated press, Dover CEO Mike Tatoian estimated a requisite facility makeover will cost between $8 and $10 million.

Does this pour water on the Nashville Fairgrounds deal? Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith doesn’t think so. In a statement released Wednesday, he said “Our efforts to work with state and local government officials to revive the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will continue.” Good news for the Music City. With Nashville Superspeedway confirmed to be on the schedule in 2021, it looks like they could be poised for a Tennessee two-step.

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