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, 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 Denny Hamlin staking his claim with a win at Las Vegas. That leaves seven spots up for grabs among 11 drivers.
Though not safe from the chaos, regular season champion Kyle Larson is in the best position, with a 22-point advantage over the cut off line. Despite a 37th place finish at Talladega, the war chest of points that Larson brought into the Playoffs is paying dividends with elimination right around the corner.
Joining Larson with a double-digit points advantage after Talladega is the Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski at +21 and +20, respectively after their top-three finishes Monday. Martin Truex, Jr. is tied with Keselowski at 20 points above the cut-off, with the third Team Penske driver, Ryan Blaney, holding a 15-point advantage.
From seventh-place in points on back, anything goes, with either single digit point spreads separating those on the good side of the line to those on the outside looking in. Then there are those who will likely have to win on Sunday to keep their championship hopes alive.
Chase Elliott, defending Cup champion and winner of the last two ROVAL races, sits just nine points above the cut-off line, with Kyle Busch holding the eighth and final transfer spot, also having a nine-point advantage.
Kevin Harvick is the first driver on the outside looking in, sitting nine points back, followed by Christopher Bell (-28), William Byron (-44), and Alex Bowman (-52).
When the green flag waves on Sunday, Hamlin will lead the field straight toward Heartburn Turn, with Keselowski starting alongside. The remainder of the top-10 starters include Logano, Bell, Truex, Blaney, Harvick, Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Larson.
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 10
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, 248.52 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 25 laps each – Final stage: 59 laps
2020 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started second, 27 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 – 124.5
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 110.1
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 105.2
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.0
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 102.3
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 100.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 98.1
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 95.5
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 94.2
- Alex Bowman – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 87.8
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s a very unique track,” said Chase Elliott. “Very different. It’s a road course in an area that wasn’t necessarily meant for a road course, really, for kind of what we do. But it’s turned out to be an entertaining event. And I think the reason it’s entertaining is because the track is in a very confined area. And when you have something in a confined area, you don’t have a lot of runoff room for mistakes or there’s just nowhere to go. And at a lot of road courses, there are.
“Think about Turn 1 at Charlotte versus Turn 1 at Watkins Glen, right. You overshoot Turn 1 at Watkins Glen, and you have a football field there to figure out your problem and correct it and go on down the road. Whereas at Charlotte, you’re going to hit something that’s really just the bottom line. And that’s really the case for the entire track. There’s really nowhere to go. And the grassy areas typically are in turns and they lead to walls and it’s just a very unforgiving place and has created a lot of entertainment.”
Last Time at the Charlotte Roval
Chase Elliott has made the Charlotte Roval his personal playground over the past two seasons, making a comeback for the win in both 2019 and 2020.
In the 2020 edition of the Bank of America ROVAL 400, a loose wheel dropped Elliott to the back of the pack midway through the race, but he drove back to the front over the course of the last 25 laps following a late race caution.
After dispatching Erik Jones and Kyle Busch for the lead, Elliott took over the top spot for good with 18 laps remaining, eventually pulling away to a 3.895 second win over Joey Logano.
Jones crossed the finish line in third, followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Cole Custer, and Clint Bowyer.
Along with going back-to-back at the Charlotte Roval, the win gave Elliott his fourth straight road course win, propelling him into the next round of the Playoffs and eventually on to the championship.
“We definitely don’t show up just expecting to be good,” Elliott said. “We show up trying to be better than we were last time. I thought we did that today.”
“I thought our car was better than it was here last year. I thought I was better than I was last year. Didn’t pile drive the barriers this time. That was good. Was able to finish it off the right way, which is always encouraging.”