By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Let’s face the obvious, the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course known as “The Roval” delivered. It fit their bill as being one of the most chaotic weekends in NASCAR history.
It didn’t matter how experienced a driver was on road racing because the Roval was a game of survival.
Some flat out struggled like Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace, who appeared to have wrecked every car they’ve competed, which has to be annoying for both young competitors, but they’re not alone.
Even the best road racers struggled adapting as they couldn’t escape the drama, such as Austin Cindric and Martin Truex, Jr., who had their share of issues.
With this in mind, there will be long work hours ahead for the boys and girls at the race shop.
For some teams, specifically Rod Sieg’s three-car operation, it’ll hurt their team’s pockets, as Ryan Sieg and J.J. Yeley had tremendous damages on their cars.
Yeley’s right front tire caved inside the No. 38 Chevrolet during practice. Ryan’s No. 39 car looked like it was ready to compete in the Whelen Modified Series after crashing in the final stage, but that’s the early claimed nature the Roval. Drama-free was inescapable after both ran their inaugural weekends.
The “Turtle” curbs that lined the chicane on the backstretch proved to be miserable for a lot of competitors. Dillon, Wallace and Denny Hamlin couldn’t get through them without either trying to avoid turning their cars over or hitting the tire barriers on repeat.
If anything, EchoPark Automotive got a lot of TV time courtesy of Chris Buescher dragging their banner around the track and I would expect a boost on their sales.
Due to Wallace’s crash on Saturday, they moved the tire barrier at the exit of the chicane further away, which was an excellent call by NASCAR, and I applaud them for making impromptu changes. They saw the location of the barriers at the end of the chicane weren’t looking good.
It was in the way and I still think they need to improve the chicane because it’s just a mess.
Nothing new with that area as IMSA, American Le Mans Series and the SPEED World Challenge had their races turned into a crap shoot because of the borderline designed chicane. NASCAR’s experience was no different, and hope they find better solutions now that they have a race weekend under their belts.
Honestly, those paled in comparison because pit strategies, such as fuel conservation and tire grip to get a preferred line going, were my biggest takeaway from the Roval.
Look no further than the 15-car crash on Lap 104 that brought out the 12th red flag of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Race leader Brad Keselowski locked up the brakes and slammed into the tire barriers at the near-90 degree first corner, coincidentally known as, the TUMS Heartburn Turn. As soon as he crashed, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Paul Menard, and others piled in.
Keselowski couldn’t figure out as to why this occurred as people made jokes of the accident, including comments referring it as a game remote being disconnected.
“I got in the corner. I didn’t feel like I got in it, I got in hard, but not like ridiculously hard and it just locked up,” said Keselowski. “I couldn’t get the tire to unlock, so I felt really, really dumb when I hit the wall and then I got back in the care center and saw the replay and saw everybody kind of did the same thing. I don’t know. It’s frustrating.”
Busch said the accident was indeed lack of grip on older tires which Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 didn’t have many restart opportunities to figure out if old tires is the way, which it wasn’t.
“I guess just comes down to us all being on old tires and not really knowing what to expect or how much grip these tires would actually have,” said Busch. “Just not having anything better to do than drive it off into a 90-degree corner and into a wall. That’s about all that happened – we all over-drove the corner and that’s all there is to it.”
The fascinating thing about the wreck was that people knew it was going to happened, but they didn’t get it until the very end of the race. Most felt it was going to happen on the opening lap.
In fact, it wasn’t until Lap 15 when the first caution came out for the returning Stanton Barrett, who crashed in Turn 1. The Xfinity Series competitors lasted 34 laps without a major crash, so compared to the modern day restrictor plate races, I was impressed of how they made it through without immediate attrition.
Before Keselowski crashed, Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 was going to come down to saving fuel which crew chief Paul Wolffe told him to save, but a wreck by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. axed those talks. Keselowski’s teammate Ryan Blaney scored his first win of the season after Truex and Jimmie Johnson were involved in a wreck on the frontstretch chicane, ultimately eliminating Johnson out of the playoffs.
Fun fact, it’s not the first time a Blaney won under wacky circumstances on the final turn at Charlotte. His father, Dave Blaney, won his only Xfinity (then known as Busch) Series race in 2006 after Matt Kenseth’s car snapped and spun around in the final corner.
Blaney’s win was the icing on the cake of a chaotic weekend as he wasn’t even considered to be a true contender because he has been inconsistent all season. Even in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 200, Chase Briscoe wasn’t considered to be a pure contender as it was expected to be Cindric, Justin Allgaier, and Justin Marks as the guys to beat, but an error on Cindric’s part became the turning point of the short 55-lap race and he later wound up in third.
How Briscoe got to where he was because of excellent conservation and driving. He last pitted on lap 26 and was able to finish the final 29 laps and scored his first career Xfinity Series win, beating Allgaier and leading a race-high 33 laps. A superb and career saving run for the winner of the this year’s Eldora Dirt Derby, which he stated that there are some dirt track characteristics he used in the race, again due to tires.
“I don’t think any of the crew chiefs or anybody expected tires to be such a big deal and as a driver I never expected to be that much loss of forward drive,” said Briscoe. “Once I felt that, I just tried to make sure the rear tires never spun no matter what I did and I may have gave up a little bit of time coming off the corner, but I’d make it back up down the straightaway and I felt like that was why I was always better at the end of the run. It was just big.
“Honestly, running Eldora this year helped quite a bit because it did relate on corner exit. It’s pretty special to be the first winner at the Roval and it was just big personally for me. I told (crew chief, Richard) Boswell earlier I almost came over the radio just when I led a lap. I couldn’t believe I finally led a lap on a road course because it’s been such a struggle for me, so to be able to win when everybody was on an equal playing field coming into the weekend this meant a lot.”
Overall, it was a thrill seeing fresh faces in victory lane, and certainly pit strategy was key. Those moments helped made the Roval weekend memorable because it had its thrills and spills that’ll cater every racing fan in some shape or form.
The purist in me would like to see original road courses, but I’m not going to deny the Roval has added a huge buzz. The circuit has garnered an identity that’s been missing on the NASCAR calendar.
For right or wrong reasons, I’d consider it a success and anyone that denies it might have to reconsider or have a solid explanation as to why it didn’t.