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Drivers to watch in the NASCAR Cup Series at Nashville

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After the only bye weekend of the regular season, the Cup Series returns to competition on Sunday (5 pm ET, NBC) with a 399-mile race at the Nashville Superspeedway near Lebanon, Tennessee.

The race will be only the second Cup event at the 1.33-mile track. Kyle Larson won a runaway victory in the Track Cup debut last season. Previously, the Xfinity and Truck series raced in Nashville. They’re also on the show this weekend.

The Cup race will begin a 10-week, 10-race run until the end of the regular season. The 10-race playoffs are scheduled to begin on September 4 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

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FRONT RUNNERS

Kyle Larson

  • Position of the points: 7
  • The last three races: 15 in Sonoma; 12 at Gateway; 9 in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: Won in 2021

Larson virtually defines the term “main” in Nashville. Last year he led 264 of the race’s 300 laps and won by 4.33 seconds, nearly a calendar page ahead of second-place Ross Chastain.

Larson is on a 14-race winless streak and will race at Nashville with interim crew chief Kevin Meendering, who will replace Cliff Daniels, who was suspended after Larson’s Chevrolet lost a wheel at Sonoma.

Ross Chastain

  • Position of the points: 2nd
  • The last three races: 7 in Sonoma; 8 at Gateway; 15 in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: 2nd in 2021

Chastain, one of only four drivers with multiple wins this season, finished second to winner Kyle Larson last year at Nashville in what turned into a fuel-guzzling finish.

In the last eight races of the season, Chastain has finished eighth or better five times. He has seven top-five finishes (including two wins) in the last 14 events.

William Byron

  • Position of the points: 8
  • The last three races: 9 in Sonoma; 19 at Gateway; 32 in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: 3rd in 2021

Byron, who has wins this season at Atlanta and Martinsville, has been relatively quiet recently. He has led 570 laps on the year, but 482 of them were recorded in the first eight races. In the last eight races, Byron has led just 88 laps.

However, his run at Nashville last year puts him on the watch list for this weekend. Despite starting the race from the back due to improper adjustments, he rolled through the field and finished third.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kevin Harvik

  • Position of the points: 12
  • The last three races: 4th at Sonoma; 33 at Gateway; third in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: 5th in 2021

Harvick remains the standout driver still out there looking for a playoff spot. He is the first driver below the points cutoff line, seven points behind Aric Almirola. Harvick has made 12 consecutive playoff appearances, the most among active drivers.

Harvick’s season has been a rough one, but he has two finishes of fourth or better in the last four races and has finished in the top 10 in five of the last seven. He ran well last year at Nashville, finishing fifth after running out of gas on the final lap, dropping fourth. He owns two Xfinity wins at the track.

Harvick is on a 59-race winless streak, a stretch in which he finished second four times.

Daniel Suarez

  • Position of the points: 17
  • The last three races: Won at Sonoma; 23 at Gateway; 25 in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: 7th in 2021

So, Daniel, can you do it again? Suarez broke into the winner’s circle at Sonoma and has four top-10 finishes in the last 14 races. He now needs to show that he can compete for wins on the big ovals.

Suarez was seventh last year at Nashville after starting 22nd.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Position of the points: 6th
  • The last three races: 26 in Sonoma; 6th at Gateway; 12 in charlotte
  • Past in Nashville: 22 in 2021

Truex remains winless this season after a 2021 run in which he won four times. At this point last year he had six top-five finishes; now he only has two.

Truex, currently 14th in the playoff points, was penalized twice during last year’s Nashville race for finishing 22nd after stopping for fuel with 10 laps to go.

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