Big Machine Racing’s Success Shines In First NASCAR Xfinity Season [Interview]

Big Machine Racing’s No. 48 Chevrolet. Photo: by HHP/Harold Hinson.

NASCAR’s 2021 season is going down as one of the most exciting seasons in the sport’s history. The organization added seven road courses for the first time in 50 years, raced on dirt at Bristol, and made its long-awaited return to Nashville Superspeedway. NASCAR has also seen new teams in both the Xfinity and Cup Series grow and reach impressive success, bringing exciting racing to fans across the country.

One of these teams is CEO and founder of Big Machine Record Group Scott Borchetta‘s Big Machine Racing (BMR) which boasted its first-year NASCAR driver Jade Buford. BMR has racked up 11 top 20 finishes this season with Buford in the No. 48 Chevrolet and crew chief Patrick Donahue. The team’s success this season is truly amazing when you remember that this is the team’s first year, as well as Buford’s first full season driving a NASCAR stock car. Borchetta, however, is not surprised by their quick success.

“I expected us to do this good, honestly. Jade’s a very talented driver and Patrick is a very talented crew chief,” says Borchetta. “I thought we could run this well, and I think that when I look at the rest of the season, we’re a top 15 threat every week. Once you’re a top 15 threat, you’re a top 10 threat. I can see us getting a couple of top 10 finishes before the end of the season.”

Out of the 18 races Buford has driven in so far, he has only failed to finish four times, even scoring a top 10 start at the Lottery 250 at the Nashville Superspeedway in June. Buford, a 33-year-old Brentwood native, has been racing most of his life in sports cars and in the Porsche Club of America Racing. As he shares with The Sports Credential, his transition from sports cars to NASCAR was quite the difficult one.

“This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” says Buford. “Every weekend is kind of a big question mark. ‘How’s this going to go? Is it going to come easy or is this going to be pretty difficult to learn on the fly especially with no practice and no qualifying?’”

Jade Buford. Photo: by HHP/Chris Owens.

Even with the uncertainty, Buford is proud of what he and the BMR team have done so far in their inaugural season. He is currently sitting at No. 23 in the Xfinity Series Driver’s Poll out of 66 who have competed this season. NASCAR is a difficult sport to compete in, not to mention to see consistent and positive results. However, the Nashville-based team is doing just that.

“It’s been pretty incredible. Watching the team grow has definitely been really cool to be a part of from the ground up,” Buford shares. “I think it’s a pretty impressive transformation. Then to rack up 11 top 20 finishes… We exceeded our expectations, if nothing else.”

Buford and Borchetta met at the Circuit of the Americas track in 2018 racing sports cars, sharing a plane ride home back to Nashville. They quickly became friends as Borchetta invited him to race Enduro motorbikes, soon putting him behind the wheel of an Xfinity car. Borchetta knew Buford had talent and wanted to give him the chance to race in NASCAR fulltime.

“I think it’s all driven by talent. If you don’t have the talent, what do you have?” explains Borchetta. “While we sponsored other drivers and race teams, [Buford] was someone who was super talented but wasn’t going to get a shot which led to me sponsor him for some races last year in Xfinity. We got to the end of the year and I knew he deserved a chance to drive full time.”

Starting a NASCAR team was not a longtime plan-in-the-making for Borchetta, but actually came about from the opportunities that had come his way. With a driver like Buford, an experienced crew chief like Donahue, and Borchetta’s passion and knowledge of the sport, he felt that BMR might be able to give the NASCAR Xfinity Series a shot.

“There wasn’t a premeditated idea to start our own team at any point, but I’ve always loved the idea,” admits Borchetta. “Once we started going through the opportunities, I went to Jade and Patrick Donahue, and said, ‘What if we just start our own team? We know how to race. We can figure out the rest of this.’ From there, the stars aligned. It’s unreal what happened from the time we decided to do it–getting the cars, getting the team together, and putting the race cars on the track. I was already was looking in our advertising budget and was going to allocate that much to Jade’s sponsorship. Looking at all the numbers, for not that much more we could go by our own assets and have our own team and be in full control. So that was the decision.”

This Sunday, Aug. 8, NASCAR returns after its break to race at the historic Watkins Glen International road course, a track that Buford won at in 2018 when he raced in the Pirelli World Challenge in the Mustang GT4. It’s a track he loves and one that he’s been waiting for all year.

“I hope we unload well. If we do, we should have our best day of the year there,” says Buford. “I’ve had a lot of success there. It’s a track I’m really familiar with, and Patrick and I have already talked about what we really want to do there.”

With the season more than halfway finished and 14 races to go, Buford and the Big Machine Racing team have already proven they can race and compete at the professional level. However, Borchetta had no plans of being a one-shot deal or a “one hit wonder.”

“Oh, yeah, we’re not here to visit,” Borchetta states. “We’re here to stay.”

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Announces $100,000 Contest For Fans

The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has launched the $100,000 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Freeplay Challenge hosted by Action 247. The contest will run leading up to the 2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Aug. 8 in downtown Nashville.

Founded in 2020, Action 247 is a Nashville-based, Tennessee sportsbook offering a wide variety of sports betting games with a world-class customer experience. Fans can enter the contest by visiting the Action 247 website and making 10 picks before the race begins on Sunday afternoon.

“Our partnership with Action 247 gives our fans a great opportunity to be a part of the race while getting a shot at a $100,000 cash prize,” says CEO of Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Matt Crews. “This freeplay contest, like our event and our partners at Action 247, is entertainment that only Music City can serve up.”

“We are ecstatic to partner with such an incredible event, and the $100,000 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Freeplay Challenge will be a key part of the weekend action. We’re Nashville-based and Tennessee’s only locally owned and operated sportsbook, so it means a lot to be part of such a massive event in our hometown” says Tina Hodges, Action 247’s president.

Players that make every pick correctly will share a $100,000 cash prize. The contest will officially begin on Aug. 3.

Trackhouse Racing Adds Ross Chastain For The 2022 Cup Season

The Nashville-based Trackhouse Racing has announced Ross Chastain as the team’s second driver starting in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season alongside Daniel Suárez. Chastain currently drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, who was bought by Trackhouse in June. The purchase opened the door for Trackhouse to add a second driver to the team.

“Ross is a young, aggressive driver that we believe has the talent to win races at the Cup Series level,” says Founder and Owner Justin Marks. “We think his personality and work ethic will fit perfectly with Daniel as we build our organization for the 2022 season and beyond.”

In 101 Cup races, Chastain has driven for Premium Motorsports, Spire Motorsports, and Roush Fenway Racing before he was signed to a full-time ride driving the No. 42 Camaro with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021. In 22 races this season, driving what is considered the best ride so far in his young career, Chastain has posted two top-five finishes, including a runner-up finish at Nashville Superspeedway and seven top 10 finishes.

“This is another dream come true for me,” says Chastain. “Trackhouse is one of the most interesting organizations in the garage. The enthusiasm they bring off the track and the program they are building on the track is exciting. Working with Daniel and Justin, however I can, is my number one priority. I know that I can help build our Chevrolets to be as strong as possible.”

Trackhouse Racing, a division of Trackhouse Entertainment Group, was founded in 2020 by Marks. In October of 2020, Trackhouse announced it would field the No. 99 in the NASCAR Cup Series with Suárez behind the wheel. Trackhouse Racing formed an operational alliance with legendary Richard Childress Racing operating out of Welcome, North Carolina. In January of 2021, Trackhouse announced musical artist Pitbull as a co-owner and transcendent ambassador.

“I am very happy with the selection of Ross as a teammate next year,” says Suárez. “He brings a lot to the table. I am looking forward to start working with him and making our two Trackhouse cars as fast as possible. I know we are going to win races.”

Suárez will continue to drive the No. 99 in 2022 while Chastain will take over the No. 1 that has visited victory lane 22 times in Cup racing history.

Big Machine Debuts Borchetta Bourbon Ahead Of Music City Grand Prix

On the heels of IndyCar’s return to Nashville for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, Big Machine Distillery is paying homage to Nashville’s earliest known IndyCar race with the debut of Borchetta Bourbon, a limited release, cask-strength, single barrel bourbon.

Big Machine Distillery, owned by music mogul Scott Borchetta and operated by his brother Mark Borchetta, have a decades-long passion for motorsports. After Nashville-based mega-brand Big Machine was announced as the title sponsor of the Music City Grand Prix earlier this year, launching a limited-edition cask strength bourbon was the perfect way for the Borchetta family to commemorate the sport’s return to the city.

“The initial idea and vision for Big Machine Distillery was based on the desire to have a proper Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey, as all things Big Machine have been born in Tennessee,” says Scott Borchetta. “Today that vision is realized with Borchetta Bourbon. It honors our family name, it was distilled at our central distillery in Lynnville, Tennessee, and it highlights the genius of our master distiller Clayton Cutler. Mark has gone to great lengths and personally picked one-of-a-kind barrels that are exclusive to this release. For fans of extraordinary brown spirits, this limited run is not to be missed.”

The bourbon’s uniquely designed bottle is adorned with a photo of one of Nashville’s earliest known open-wheel races held at Tennessee State Fairgrounds Speedway in 1911. Topping each hand-numbered bottle is a bronze collectible replica of the Marmon Wasp, the winning car from the very first 500-mile race held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway held that same year.

The extremely limited allocation of Borchetta Bourbon will be available to Big Machine Music City Grand Prix suite holders and sold in select stores throughout Middle Tennessee ahead of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, as well as in Indiana for the Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Oak Ridge Boys To Headline Show After Big Machine Music City Grand Prix

The Oak Ridge Boys. Photo: Chris Hollo

Country Music Hall of Fame inductees The Oak Ridge Boys are set to headline the Grand Ole Prix show following the NTT IndyCar Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Sunday, Aug. 8. Alan Jackson was originally set to headline the show but had to dropout due to tour-related travel logistics.

“We are honored and, to be quite honest, very excited about performing in Nashville after the Grand Prix,” says The Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall. “Thank you Grand Ole Opry for inviting us to take part in this historical event. Let’s go racing, Nashville!”

The Nashville-based Opry has rarely in its history taken its iconic show outside its home venue and is proud to include The Oak Ridge Boys in such a special night. Danielle Bradbery, Callista Clark, Riley Green, and Justin Moore are also scheduled to perform. The Opry show at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will close out the three-day festival, where fans and attendees will get a chance to experience the true heart of Nashville, as the Opry has been home to country music for 95 years.

Sunday night’s show will start at 7:00 p.m. and will take place on the Main Stage, adjacent to the Fan Zone and sponsor display area near the pedestrian bridge. All concerts are included with individual tickets and three-day passes. Limited single-day grandstand tickets, general admission tickets, and festival add-ons can still be bought on the Grand Prix’s website.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ new album Front Porch Singin’ is available now from Lightning Rod/Thirty Tigers. This is the group’s fourth collaboration with Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb. The Oak Ridge Boys also recently released the music video for their single “Love, Light, and Healing” from their new album which premiered on CMT and was directed by Brandon Wood of IndieBling.

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Preview: Drivers To Watch

This NTT IndyCar Series season has been an exciting one with many young and veteran drivers fighting for the top spot. The inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will add to this season’s excitement as it will level the playing field since no one has driven on the newly designed Nashville course.

Before heading to the race, fans should know which drivers to look out for and which drivers may put on the best show.

The top drivers this season are Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, and Nashville native Josef Newgarden. Along with the top drivers in the standings, fans will get a chance to watch four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2021 winner Hélio Castroneves race in the streets of Nashville. Fans of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive will also recognize fan favorite and former Haas driver Romain Grosjean in his rookie season in IndyCar. Additionally, NASCAR fans will be familiar with the No. 48 driver as seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson who will also be driving in the inaugural Grand Prix.

Now, let’s take a look at each driver, what to know about them, and how good their chances are to take the win.

Dixon is one of the most successful drivers in IndyCar history, winning 51 races, six championships, and one Indy 500. He is the reigning IndyCar champion and is currently sitting at third place in the standings with 328 points. A New Zealand native, he is in his 20th season in IndyCar and currently has the most wins among all active drivers. Since his win at the third race of the season at Texas’ Genesy’s 300, he’s finished in the top 10 six times, three of which were top five. As the most experienced and most successful driver in the series, he will likely race well in qualifiers, attempting to put himself in a great position to win.

In only his second IndyCar season, Palou, a native of Barcelona, is currently sitting in first place in the standings with 384 points. He has two wins this season–the first at Grand Prix of Alabama and the second at the REV Group Grand Prix–and finished second at the Indy 500. The 24-year-old started his racing career in Europe Formula 3 and made his open-wheel racing debut in the Euroformula Open Championship in 2014. Palou went on to win the Super Formula Championship race in 2019, and finished third in the Honda Indy 200 Mid-Ohio on July 4. He will be looking for his third win of the season in Nashville to help create some separation between him and the rest of the pack in the standings.

Josef Newgarden wins at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 4, 2021. Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media

The driver set to get the most support from fans will most likely be Newgarden, a Nashville native and two-time IndyCar champion. Newgarden won the series championship in 2017 and 2019–his first year with Team Penske. He is a graduate of the Road to Indy, and he won the 2011 Indy Lights championship with five race victories. He’s won 19 races over his career and won his first race of the season on July 4 at the Mid-Ohio. He is currently sitting in fourth place in the standings with 315 points and will have the edge in the Grand Prix after coming off of a win and having the support and attention of his hometown crowd.

Hélio Castroneves after winning the Indy 500 on May 30, 2021. Photo Courtesy of IndyCar.

One of the most exciting drivers to watch will be Castroneves who has officially paved his way to racing immortality, winning the Indy 500 for his fourth win. The Brazilian has won 31 wins in his IndyCar career and is one of the most experienced drivers in the series alongside Dixon. Castroneves is sitting at 22nd in the standings, but he is the reigning Indy 500 winner so you can’t count him out just yet. With the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix being the most anticipated race of the year, he will be an exciting driver to watch on this newly designed track.

In his first season in IndyCar, Swiss born Grosjean has put up some great performances, picking up his first IndyCar pole in May at the Indianapolis Road Course. So far this season, he has had four top 10 finishes, including a podium at the GMR Grand prix where he finished second. Grosjean spent 10 years in Formula 1, five of them with Haas F1 team where he saw success and struggles. In his last year in F1, Grosjean suffered severe burns to his hands and feet after a devastating accident in the Bahrain Grand Prix where his car crashed into the dividers, split in half, and was engulfed in flames. He has had some success this season, but is due for another podium and even a win.

One name that will definitely stand out to NASCAR fans in this IndyCar season is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has solidified himself as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever, winning seven cup championships–the most ever tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. He is in his first year in IndyCar after retiring from NASCAR in 2020, and is driving only road courses. Johnson has only one top 20 finish so far this season, finishing 19th at the Grand Prix of Alabama. He hasn’t had the most impressive rookie season, but he will be welcomed with a warm embrace in Nashville as a NASCAR legend.

IndyCar Driver Josef Newgarden To Host Celebrity Pong Pong Challenge

IndyCar champion and Hendersonville, Tennessee native Josef Newgarden is hosting his third annual Celebrity Ping Pong Challenge on Aug. 5 and, for the first time, the event will be open to the public.

Newgarden is a two-time IndyCar Series Champion coming off of his most recent win at Road America in Ohio. He and the rest of the series will be heading to Nashville for the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix from Aug. 6-8, but not before the driver gets his shot to compete in the ping pong action. One-hundred percent of ticket proceeds from the ping pong challenge will be donated to SeriousFun Children’s Network.

In 2019’s event, Newgarden was joined alongside other IndyCar stars and celebrities like Hélio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Kyle Kaiser, Colton Herta, Matheus Leist, Spencer Pigot, Charlie Kimball, Jack Harvey and special guest the then Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. At the 2019 ping pong challenge, Newgarden raised a total of $85,000 in donations from sponsors, including Shell, Firestone, DEEM/CSC, MillerCoors and Big Machine Vodka.

Fans can purchase tickets to watch the celebrity ping pong challenge between the stars of the NTT IndyCar Series and the NFL, NASCAR, and more in a doubles ping-pong tournament. It will take place at Pins Mechanical Co. at 1102 Grundy Street in Nashville. The event will take place on Aug. 5 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. CT.

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Announces Exclusive Sponsorships

The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has announced a group of exclusive and official sponsors for the inaugural event, including Big Machine Vodka as the exclusive Vodka partner and Coca-Cola providing carbonated beverages and bottled water along with Anheuser-Busch, the cross-category beer partner.

The weekend of music and racing will also be sponsored by Chevrolet as the official automotive partner putting pure power on display with the mid-engine Corvette Stingray slated to pace the inaugural NTT IndyCar Series event. Firestone is onboard as the exclusive tire partner of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix and is the sole supplier of the NTT IndyCar Series. Exclusive emergency medical and on-track services will be provided by Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s LifeFlight. As previously announced, Wesley Financial Group serves as the sponsor of the Freedom Friday initiatives and Tribute Concert while Pinnacle Financial Partners will be the official retail banking partner.

Additional official sponsors include: Action 247, Brand Visual Group, Comcast/Xfinity, Flight Solutions, Grand Hyatt Nashville, Grand Ole Opry, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Middle Tennessee State University, NTT DATA, NetJets, Nurtec, Oak Grove Racing Gaming and Hotel, RJ Young, South College, Tennessee Highway Safety Office, ThompsonCAT / CAT Rental Store, Twice Daily, Visit Music City, Zaxby’s, and Zyn.

The race will will be staged on a temporary 2.17-mile grand prix circuit in Nashville and around the Nissan Stadium campus. The course will cross the Cumberland River via the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, making the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix the only current event in motorsports to cross over a major body of water. For more information, click here.