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NASCAR ready for long-term commitment in Nashville

Here’s what NASCAR hopes is the honky tonk truth — that a Nashville reboot is good enough this time to make the sport a tough ticket in the heart of one of the entertainment hot spots of the south.

The first step? Convincing its star drivers the trip to Nashville Superspeedway in 2021 is the spark of a motorsports rebirth in the area and not just another lazy ride on an intermediate concrete track.

And, that the Superspeedway will prove a worthy choice over the historic half-mile Fairgrounds.

“One snooze fest at that joint will put the nail in the coffin of the fairgrounds, bummer,” tweeted Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s most popular driver.

There’s little sense now debating which track is worthy of the renovations and safety upgrades necessary to hold Cup Series races at least through 2024. Dover Motorsports, Inc. held on to the track it developed nearly 20 years ago — a potential $46 million sale in 2014 fell through — and kept it in its back pocket should the time come when NASCAR wanted to expand its geographic schedule. There was little appetite among race fans for two NASCAR weekends at Dover International Speedway — noted by the seating capacity of roughly 135,000 seats in 2001 stripped to about 55,000 this season — which cushioned the blow of moving the race to Nashville.

So it’s off to Music City, where NASCAR wants to hit the right notes.

The Nashville area appears ready to go racing. The stock series staged a wildly successful blowout last December for its season-ending awards celebration. Drivers performed burnouts on Broadway, NASCAR fan and country music star Blake Shelton was the star of a party and — step aside, Randy Travis — there was a NASCAR-themed night at the Grand Ole Opry.

“We need to make sure that we match the expectations of the industry and the Nashville community with what we do with the facility and how we operate,” Dover track president Mike Tatoian told The Associated Press.

The TV numbers also showed there was a demand for NASCAR in Nashville. Fox Sports said Nashville ranks as the 14th-best TV market this season and was 14th as well in 2018, a solid showing for a sport that has suffered ratings declines over the last decade. When NASCAR returned from its hiatus this season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Nashville tuned in and was the fourth-highest market for the race at Darlington Raceway.

Dover wants to act smart in the expansion. The company said it would pump $8 million to $10 million into the track for capital improvements and does not plan to add permanent seating beyond the 25,000 capacity currently at track.

“We only have one person out there,” Tatoian said. “We’ve had a maintenance person just to help. So we’ve never been able to take advantage of the phone calls that we still get today from people that want to rent the facility for various things. Now, we’re able to do that again.”

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