By David Morgan, Associate Editor
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. Especially with wet weather in the forecast and the issues that racing in the rain brings to the table.
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 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Coming off last week’s wild card race at Talladega and straight into another at Charlotte, two spots in the Round of 8 have been decided, with Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin staking their claim with wins at Las Vegas and Talladega, respectively. That leaves six spots up for grabs among 10 drivers.
Kevin Harvick has all but locked up his spot in the next round, sitting 68 points above the cut-off line, with the remainder of the top-eight in a good position to advance. Chase Elliott leads that group with a 44-point advantage, followed by Brad Keselowski (+41), Martin Truex, Jr. (+32), Alex Bowman (+22), and Joey Logano (+21).
The four remaining drivers have got their work cut out for them in the Queen City, with double digit points deficits to erase if they are to advance.
Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch is the first on the chopping block, sitting 21 points in arears of the cut-off line, with Austin Dillon (-21), Clint Bowyer (-37), and Aric Almirola (-48) all in danger of getting the axe when the checkered flag flies.
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 11
TV/Radio: NBC, 2:30 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, 248.52 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 25 laps each – Final stage: 59 laps
2019 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started 19th, 35 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 Chevrolet – 122.0
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 111.7
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 105.0
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 103.5
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 101.3
- William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet – 98.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 97.6
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 96.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 85.9
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 85.9
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
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From the Driver’s Seat
“I’d buy a good ticket or get in front of a television and get that popcorn and whatever else out, because I expect those final laps Sunday are going to be some of the most memorable of the season,” said Clint Bowyer. “It’s probably going to be really calm for a while, but there will be a few late cautions, and then it will be chaos. We hardly ever see anything like we are about to see. Like the last two years on the Roval, nobody has any idea what to expect.”
Last Time at the Charlotte Roval
After establishing himself as the car to beat through the first two stages, Chase Elliott nearly threw it all away at the start of the final stage, locking up his brakes entering Turn 1 and plowing into the tire barrier at the aptly named “Heartburn Turn.”
Luckily for Elliott, the damage to his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wasn’t too severe and he was able to bring it to the attention of his crew on pit road, where they got him patched up and back out on track.
Despite being back in the running, Elliott had his work cut out for him, restarting in 37th, but thanks to some timely cautions, he was able to weave his way back through the field.
Elliott would dispatch Martin Truex, Jr. for second place and Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 104, going the distance the rest of the race to take home the victory. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman would cross the line in second.
After taking the checkers, Elliott revisited the scene of the crime, doing a burnout into the wall at Turn 1 before climbing onto the door of his car and riding it backwards while gesturing to the screaming fans in the grandstands.
“Holy moly! Did you like that (fans applaud & cheer),” Elliott said while celebrating his victory. “Oh my gosh. What a mistake. Holy moly. You talk about messing something up, right here. Don’t do that. What a day. We had such a fast NAPA Camaro ZL1 and honestly, that was the only reason we were able to get back in. I pretty well blew it; and got the cautions at the right time, and brought it home.
“What a day; I was about as tired as I think I’ve ever been after an event. So, I just appreciate the effort. The guys just didn’t quit. It was unbelievable, they fixed the thing the right away. A lot of times, you can make mistakes fixing these things and sometimes you can even make it worse. They made sure they did it the right way and got us a win.”