FOUR REASONS CHARLOTTE’S ROVAL WILL HELP SHAPE THE REMAINING SEVEN POST-SEASON RACES
This is the second feature/video vignette of a weekly series that will appear each Thursday that focuses on contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The series will run up to the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8, set for Sunday, Nov. 4, at Texas Motor Speedway.
FORT WORTH, Texas (September 27, 2018) – There’s no question that the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 4, at Texas Motor Speedway will help at least one driver take a giant leap toward his quest of becoming this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (1 p.m. CT, TV: NBC, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM), however, will put an end to at least four drivers’ chances at adding a first or another championship to their respective resumes.
And given the amount of uncertainty surrounding the race, there’s a good chance that at least one serious championship contender – if not two or three – will be on the outside looking in when the series arrives in Fort Worth, Texas in five weeks.
Here’s four reasons Sunday’s ROVAL is providing so much ambiguity … and angst:
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED – Only a few things are for certain heading into Sunday’s race. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. already have clinched a spot into the Round of 12. Kevin Harvick will become the fourth as soon as the green flag flies at the ROVAL as he only has to start the race to earn a berth in the next round by virtue of his championship points standing.
That’s it. Those are the only things that are certain. Everything else is literally a crapshoot.
Being good on a road course really doesn’t apply to the ROVAL given that the drivers have such little experience on it. The layout is a combination of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s oval and infield road course, and the drivers have had minimal testing time to figure out the intricacies.
It was tough on tires during test sessions, but what does that mean? They weren’t racing for position during the tests, so will that be a bigger factor on Sunday?
“That’s just it, you’ve really got to be prepared for everything from transmissions to tire wear and the engine. You’ve just got to roll with it and see what happens,” Kurt Busch said. “Braking is going to be important to not overshoot the corner and make simple mistakes. It’s going to be pretty wild.”
THERE’S NO FAVORITE — Unlike when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual stops in California and New York for road course races at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, respectively, the ROVAL provides no real favorite since they layout has no history. Zero. Zilch.
Sure, savvy road-course drivers such as A.J. Allmendinger, Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch might get the hang of the track a little quicker than others. But the reality is there’s no one going into the Bank of America ROVAL 400 with a clear advantage over anyone else.
“We don’t know what to expect. We’ve only been out there by ourselves. What happens when there’s a restart? It’s going to be crazy,” said Truex Jr., the defending series champion. “Seeing the whole track will be a great perspective for the fans. At other road courses, you sit in a turn and you see that part of the turn but here you can see everything, which is pretty unique.”
NO BLUEPRINT OR PREVIOUS GAME PLAN TO RELY ON – NASCAR crew chiefs are known for having notes upon notes upon notes about every track across the circuit. Moreover, their data looks at what each turn at those respective tracks is like depending on the time of day, how hot or cold it is, what the weather was like the day before, and even whether there was another race there that day or the day before – and how many.
To say that a crew chief in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is over-prepared is certainly an understatement. Which is why Sunday’s ROVAL scares them so much. There’s simply not enough data to compile a proper or even safe game plan.
“There’s going to be a lot of people (leaving) there disappointed next week,” said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, following last weekend’s win at Richmond International Raceway. “You know, it could be people that have a good car and wheel hop it one time or hit a curb one time too hard. The reasons to go down there and have a bad day, it’s pretty long … so we don’t really know what we’re up against.”
OVER FOR FOUR – What makes this race the most stressful is that it’s an elimination race, meaning four drivers will be going home when the checkered flag flies.
That would be the case no matter where the third race in the Round of 16 was run, but it’s anyone’s guess what those four drivers will do on Sunday. Does someone like seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson or Bowyer – both just a few points behind the final transfer spot – hang back and hope that a driver just above them bows out before them? Or do they get super aggressive – like Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones might have to be – and try to make some moves they might not normally make somewhere else to get to the front?
“I think it’ll be challenging, with a lot of wrecks,” said Chase Elliott, who currently sits in the ninth position. “I’m sure it’ll be exciting to watch. There’s going to be a lot of hurt feelings at the end of the day.”
The AAA Texas 500 highlights a NASCAR Playoffs tripleheader in November at Texas Motor Speedway. The JAG Metals 350 Camping World Truck Series Round of 6 playoff race will be held Friday, Nov. 2, and the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Xfinity Series Round of 8 playoff race is set for Saturday, Nov. 3. For more information on the AAA Texas 500 race weekend, please visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com.