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, two spots in the Round of 8 have been decided, with William Byron staking his claim with his trip to Victory Lane at Las Vegas and Ryan Blaney snagging a win at Talladega. That leaves six spots up for grabs among the 10 remaining drivers.
Denny Hamlin has the most breathing room with a 50-point advantage over the cut-off line, meaning he’s all but locked into the next round. He’s followed by Christopher Bell (+22), Chris Buescher (+19), Martin Truex Jr. (+17), and Kyle Larson (+15), all of whom have double-digit points buffers heading into Sunday
From eighth on back, it’s a free-for all.
Brad Keselowski is clinging to the final transfer spot with a narrow two-point lead over road course ace Tyler Reddick. Behind them, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain sit nine and 10 markers back, respectively. Leaving all of them well within striking distance.
Then there’s Kyle Busch, who has found himself in a streak of bad luck that has left him in a must-win position to be able to advance, as he is currently 26-points behind.
ROVAL Rule Changes
Heading into Charlotte, there have been a couple of procedural changes made that will affect Sunday’s race. The first is the re-implementation of stage breaks, which have been non-existent at road courses throughout the season, but will be back for Charlotte.
Also, as has been the case at other road courses as of late, the restart zone will be moved into the frontstretch chicane in an effort to lessen the chances of a pileup into Turn 1.
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 8
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
2022 Race Winner: Christopher Bell – No. 20 Toyota (Started eighth, two 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 – 112.5
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 106.3
- Tyler Reddick – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 103.6
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 100.4
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 98.3
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 94.3
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 93.3
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 90.5
- AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 90.1
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 89.2
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- William Byron (Locked into next round – Texas win)
- Ryan Blaney (Locked in – Talladega win)
- Denny Hamlin (+50 over cut-off line)
- Christopher Bell (+22)
- Chris Buescher (+19)
- Martin Truex Jr. (+17)
- Kyle Larson (+15)
- Brad Keselowski (+2)
- Tyler Reddick (-2 below cut-off)
- Bubba Wallace (-9)
- Ross Chastain (-10)
- Kyle Busch (-26)
From the Driver’s Seat
“The key to running well at the Roval is just staying out of trouble and trying to keep your momentum rolling all the way around the racetrack,” said Kyle Busch.
“There are some big braking zones where you can really attack and get a lot of slowing down done in a quick period of time but the infield section has such little grip and is so bumpy that you’re just trying to control the slip and not go too fast and crash. It’s about tiptoeing as much as you can with carrying the right amount of roll speed.”
Last Time at the Charlotte ROVAL
A wayward sign changed everything.
When a sign was blown off the wall and onto the track in the waning laps of last year’s race at the Charlotte ROVAL, causing a caution, Christopher Bell and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team saw their chance to strike and took it.
During the caution, Bell peeled off onto pit road for fresh tires, leaving him to fire off in 12th place for the ensuing restart, but that was no big deal for Bell, who picked his way through the field and found himself second to Kevin Harvick with two laps to go.
At that point, a crash in Turn 2 brought out another yellow, which forced the race into overtime.
It was on the overtime restart that Bell was able to power past Harvick and set sail, leading the final two laps of the day en route to a needed win to advance into the next round of the Playoffs.
“Man, you just got to be there at the end of these things,” Bell said. “I keep watching all these races where the fastest car doesn’t always win. No secret that road courses have not been our strength year. We were just there at the right time. We obviously weren’t in position to win, we rolled the dice, gambled, it paid off for us.”
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, A.J. Allmendinger, and Justin Haley rounded out the top-five finishers.
Chase Briscoe claimed the final transfer spot into the next round with his ninth-place finish, while Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric, and Alex Bowman were the four drivers eliminated from the Playoffs after the checkered flag fell.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, October 7
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (Noon – USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 pm)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (1:00 pm – USA Network)
- Sunday, October 8
- Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte (2:00 pm – 109 laps, 252.88 miles – NBC)