By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – There are numerous adjectives that can be used to describe this weekend’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course: unpredictable, volatile, treacherous, chaotic, etc.
One thing is for sure, Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 is going to be a hell of a ride, with four drivers getting cut from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs when the checkered flag waves.
In an effort to spice things up back in 2018, Charlotte officials elected to switch from running another race on the 1.5-mile oval to creating what they call the ROVAL, incorporating both the high banks of the oval with the track’s infield road course.
What emerged is a 2.28-mile, 17-turn behemoth that has been pushing drivers to their limits ever since as they battle to conquer the track and punch their ticket into the next round of the Playoffs.
Coming off last week’s wild card race at Talladega and straight into another at Charlotte, just one spot in the Round of 8 has been decided, with Chase Elliott staking his claim with his trip to Victory Lane seven days ago. That leaves seven spots up for grabs among 11 drivers.
From second to eighth in the standings, those drivers hold double-digit points advantages over the cut-off line, but even that might not be enough when it comes to the chaotic nature of Cup Series road course racing.
Ryan Blaney is in the best position of those drivers, carrying a 32-point surplus into next week, followed by Ross Chastain (+28), Denny Hamlin (+21), Joey Logano (+18), Kyle Larson (+18), William Byron (+14), and Daniel Suarez (+12).
Byron started the week at a points deficit, which was a result of his points penalty for his run-in with Hamlin at Texas, but on Thursday, an appeals panel reversed part of Byron’s penalty, handing him back the 25 points that were previously taken in the penalty, which moved him from 11 points down to 14 points up.
The points swing now leaves Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric as the first two drivers on the outside looking in, 12 points in arears of the cut-off line. Before the penalty reversal, both drivers were tied for the eighth and final transfer spot.
Christopher Bell comes into Charlotte in a must-win position, having to climb out of a 45-point hole if he is to keep his title hopes alive after this weekend.
The 12th and final spot in the Playoffs belongs to Alex Bowman, who has seen his chances at staying in the fight taken away for something not of his own doing.
For the second week in a row, Bowman will have to watch from the sidelines while he recovers from concussion-like symptoms stemming from a wreck at Texas to kick off this three-race stretch of the post season, eliminating him from Playoff contention.
Following Talladega, Hendrick Motorsports officials seemed optimistic that Bowman would be able to return this weekend at Charlotte, but news came down earlier this week that he would have to miss Sunday’s race. Noah Gragson will once again pilot the No. 48 Chevrolet.
By the Numbers
What: Bank of America ROVAL 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 32 of 36
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway – Concord, North Carolina
When: Sunday, October 9
TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course
Banking: 24 degrees in oval turns, five degrees on oval straightaways
Race Length: 109 laps, 252.88 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 25 laps each – Final stage: 59 laps
2021 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started 10th, eight laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – 1 minute, 16.805 seconds/106.868 mph – September 2018
Top-10 Highest Driver Rating at Charlotte:
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 113.9
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 112.6
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 109.9
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 101.1
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 97.6
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 97.5
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 96.9
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 92.7
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 88.5
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 86.3
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
From the Driver’s Seat
“At the ROVAL™, you have zero time to rest,” said Austin Cindric. “I am grabbing upshifts going through the banking. Even when I’m going through the banking, that’s still a large toll on the driver. From the time you accelerate out of Turn 8 through NASCAR 1 and 2, you’re grabbing gears then you’re slamming on the brakes. You go through NASCAR 3 and 4, the car handles terrible. You’re hitting all these bumps. The cars are bobbing out. You then hit on the brakes at the end of the banking.
“You have no time to rest. I think that’s what makes it challenging. You’re having to grab upshifts that you aren’t normally having to do. I’m always doing something the entire time.”
Last Time at the Charlotte Roval
Even a bad battery and alternator belt couldn’t keep Kyle Larson from Victory Lane at Charlotte last October.
After the voltage dropped on Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet early in the race, a quick change by his pit crew kept him on the lead lap and in the running for the championship – which he claimed four weeks later in Phoenix.
Following the repair to get him back in the game, Larson did what Larson does and climbed back through the field, taking over the lead for the final time with eight laps to go and held off all comers to take the checkered flag.
Tyler Reddick finished in second, followed by Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin.
“I didn’t even real feel that good early. Started changing some things up there, doing a good job letting me know what to do inside the cockpit to get better,” Larson said.
“About that time, I noticed my battery was going low. I was getting stressed out. Man, I’m not going to get knocked out of the Playoffs like that. It wasn’t looking too good.
“Thankfully everybody on our 5 car did a great job of staying calm. Cliff, as always, did a great job communicating with me what was going on. Getting the battery changed, alternator, whatever it takes to get it changed to get our battery staying running.
“Man, my HendrickCars.com Chevy was really good. William was obviously really good. Bummer to see that not work out for him. The 9 ended up making it. Heck, that was some great perseverance by that team, too.
“Just awesome day for Hendrick Motorsports. Glad to get another win. Looking forward to the next round a lot.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, October 8
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (12:05 pm – USA Network – Coverage begins at 12:30)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (1:05 pm – USA Network)
- Sunday, October 9
- Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte (2:00 pm – 109 laps, 252.88 miles – NBC)