Even after the relative calm of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race yesterday on the ROVAL, anticipation remains at a fever pitch for today’s Cup race. Or it may be more appropriate to say trepidation is high going into the event. At least as far as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are concerned.
Yes, you can run 2 wide in most places around the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But, it is hard to pass on the narrow track. Expect to see more cars moved out of the way today. That means more off-track ventures where the walls are very close. The higher horsepower Cup cars can run deep into the corners. Can they out-brake the car next to them to take the spot? That is what everyone is coming to see.
Yesterday’s restarts were crazy, stay tuned, we expect nothing less today. Stages for the Cup cars on the Roval are 25, 25, and 59 laps. The track is 2.28 miles long. The 109 laps are equal to 248.52 miles or 399.954 kilometers.
Sherry Pollex, Martin Truex Jr. ‘s longtime girlfriend, is driving the pace car for the start of the Bank of America ROVAL 400. Pollex is an ovarian cancer survivor. Prior to the race she spoke in the media center about her struggles with the disease. Sherry’s charity sherrystrong.org helps other women dealing with the challenges of ovarian cancer.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, thus Sherry’s invitation to be the honorary pace car driver. The teal paint scheme on Martin Truex Jr.’s(78) car honors ovarian cancer survivors.
During the pace laps, Truex Jr. ran up side-by-side with the pace car to wave at his girl. A couple of taps to the rear bumper reminded Sherry the drivers were anxious to get the race underway.
The Green Flag
Diving down into Turn 1 of the ROVAL for the first time, everyone was on their best behavior. Kyle Larson(42) showed how important it is to be aggressive on restarts. He drove from his 5th place starting position into 2nd by the time they exited Turn 2. Pole sitter Kurt Busch(41) led the first 6 laps. Larson, clearly the fastest car, drove past him and into the lead on Lap 7.
Larson drove away from the field to win Stage 1 and add a Playoff Point to his season total.
Stage 1 Results
Getting a good jump when the green flag waves for the restart is vitally important. Especially at the front of the pack. The outside line is at a big disadvantage. If you are starting to the right of the leader you must be door-to-door exiting Turn 1 or you are likely to lose the position and drop further back in the pack.
Truex Jr. showed how it’s done, when he restarted next to the leader Larson, to begin Stage 2. He held his position and ducked in behind the 42 car exiting Turn 2. Larson, who did not pit at the end of Stage 1, again began stretching the lead.
Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch(18), like Larson, did not pit during the Stage ending caution. They pitted on Lap 35. Larson followed them into the pits on Lap 36. Ryan Blaney(12) inherited the lead after the top 3 made stops.
Trouble Breeds Trouble
William Byron(24) suffered a tire failure but had trouble trying to get on pit road. Going slow through the front stretch, Aric Almirola(10) swerved to avoid Byron and scrapped the wall. Byron, not wanting to drive another lap on a flat tire entered the pits through the Legend’s course on the front tri-oval. That move incurred a drive-through penalty for missing the commitment cone at the entry of pit road. The forced drive-through on pit road was still less time than Byron would have used running the ROVAL on a flat tire.
Almirola had to pit so his crew could check for damage from the incident. An uncontrolled tire on his stop incurred a drive-through penalty for the Stewart-Hass driver. Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski(2) had trouble in the front chicane causing both cars to spin and miss the turn. The penalty for driving through the barrier is a stop and go on track in front of the flag stand.
Blaney took the Stage 2 win amid all the chaos on the ROVAL.
Stage 2 Results
The Final Stage
As pit stops cycled through Larson returned to the front of the field. Scrambling for positions during the restart further shuffled the pack. On Lap 58 Austin Dillon(3) slammed the wall trying to avoid slower traffic on the oval. Bringing out another yellow flag. Drivers have said that visibility at some points is an issue. Especially as they transition through elevation changes on the track.
On the restart, after the Dillon caution, Kyle Busch lined up to the outside of Larson. Even with Kyle’s incredible skills on restarts, he had trouble staying with Larson. In the same manner that Truex displayed earlier, Busch drove through the corner hard and maintained the second spot.
As the field battled for positions, Austin Dillon again hit the wall out of the front chicane. This time the damage sent him to the garage. Eliminating him from the playoffs. The first car/driver certain to not move on to Round 2.
As expected, once you have a yellow the likelihood of having another one increases. With the cars bunched up, individual position battles result in cars running off the track. Aric Almirola spun after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17). The spin collected Chris Buscher, bringing out the caution. Buscher backed into the wall and lodged one of the advertising signs lining the track onto his bumper. Much to the delight of the crowd, he carried it all the way around the track to his pit where a crewman removed the poster.
Most of the contenders pitted for the final time. However, a few drivers opted to remain on the track to improve their position. Including Paul Menard(21) and Keselowski.
The biggest incident yet occurred on the restart from the Almirola / Buscher incident. A huge jumble of cars trying to squeeze into Turn 1 caused Kyle Busch to go off course to avoid them. He cut the corner going into the turn. NASCAR ruled he was legal in doing that to avoid an accident. Officially, if you cut the course to gain an advantage then a penalty is assessed.
Erik Jones made contact with another car while trying to jockey for position in the middle of the turn. The impact cut a tire and Jones had to limp around the course to get back to pit road. He spun on the oval and ended up losing more time. After finally getting back to his pit Jones had gone a lap down. Needing a win to advance, his playoff chances looked slim.
Menard held the lead after the messy restart, but it did not take long for Keselowski to move past him. Larson, the fastest off pit road, began cutting the interval of the leader.
With his lead on Larson shrinking Keselowski picked up the lap times. He over-drove one of the turns and damaged the splitter on the front of the car. Larson, smelling blood, closed quickly and passed going into Turn 1. Keselowski refused to give up on the top spot and the two drove side-by-side swapping the lead through the infield portion of the course. When they exited Turn 8 onto the oval Keselowski had regained the lead.
Laps Winding Down
At 15 laps to go the top 5 were Keselowski, Larson, Kyle Busch, Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson(48). The battle for the final playoff spot involved Alex Bowman(88) and Clint Bowyer(14). Bowyer held a two-point advantage with 10 laps to go. Ryan Blaney(12) held the position between the 2 drivers on the track.
Just 9 laps from the finish Stenhouse spun in Turn 1, slamming into the wall, and bringing out the 7th caution of the day. On the restart, Keselowski, Larson, Kyle Busch, and Menard led the rush into Turn One. Several drivers locked up their front wheels trying to win the race to the 1st turn. Keselowski failed to control his slide and plowed directly into the wall, Larson followed. Kyle Busch, Menard, and Byron joined the melee.
The huge pile-up left the remainder of the field trying to negotiate through the turn littered with broken car parts. Several race cars picked up some extra body damage in the mess. Including Ryan Blaney, who just squeezed past Menard and Larson. By the time the leaders reached the backstretch of the oval, the red flag had been displayed.
After the red flag, Martin Truex brought the field to green for a 3 lap sprint to the finish. Johnson, Elliott, Jamie McMurray(1), and Bowman make up the top 5 at the restart. Back through the pack individual battles for positions are determining the points outcome that will send drivers through to the second round. Bowman and Bowyer have made up enough positions they have moved off the bubble. Aric Almirola is in real danger of falling below the cut line.
For the lead its a 2-car race as the laps ticked off. Johnson trying to end a 58-race winless streak and Truex Jr. trying to add to his Playoff points total. It all came down to the final corner of the final lap with the checkered flag waving in the air. Johnson pushes too hard into the front chicane and is unable to make the corner. He slides through the grass spinning and just clips Truex Jr. who also spins around. While they try and straighten their cars out Blaney drives between the pair and across the finish line to take the win.
Furious, Truex Jr. rams the back of Johnson’s car after crossing the finish line to show his displeasure. Truex is already through to the next round, Johnson started the day below the cut line. He needed a strong finish to move forward.
Denny Hamlin(11), Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon are eliminated. One more driver will fail to move on.
Ryan Blaney started the day on the bubble, just 4 points above the cut line. His win automatically advanced him to the next round.
Jimmie Johnson sat 6 points below Blaney. He earned 5 points in Stage 1, 9 in Stage 2, and 29 points for an 8th place finish in the race. The question was would his 2097 points be enough to advance him?
Kyle Larson was involved in the big wreck in Turn 1. The front suspension of his car was badly damaged. He started the day 17 points above the cut line and if he could not continue was in danger of not advancing. His crew managed to patch the car together. Could he maintain the minimum speed to be allowed to stay on the track?
Things began to come apart on Larson’s car during the final lap. His crew radioed that he needed to make it to the finish as Jeffrey Earnhardt(96) had just spun and stalled short of the checkered flag. If Larson could pass him that would be one more point he could pick up.
With his car having trouble turning left he bounced off the wall on the front stretch. Somehow making it through the chicane, he once more slammed the wall. Passing Earnhardt as they both limped to the finish line. Larson’s point total 2097, tied with Johnson.
Lasco Press Photo
Aric Almirola began the day 23 points above the cut line with 2079 points. He had a bad day. It seemed Aric got shuffled off into the grass more than any other driver during the afternoon. Needing points he put a fender to Daniel Suarez(19) a lap from the finish and came home in 19th place. Earning 18 points for a total of 2097, a three-way tie with Larson and Johnson.
Three Drivers, Two Spots Open, Breaking the Tie
NASCAR’s tiebreaker for a playoff spot is determined by the driver with the best finish in that round of the playoffs. Larson finished 2nd in the first race at Las Vegas. Almirola finished 5th at Richmond. Johnson’s best finish in the 3 races? He placed 8th at Richmond and Charlotte.
The seven-time Champion will not get a chance at number 8 this year, for the sake of a single point. How do you like Stage racing now? Yes, every point matters. That’s a marketing term sure to get more attention in the aftermath of the ROVAL.
Had Johnson just followed Truex Jr. across the finish line, he would be racing for the Championship next week instead of Almirola. If Larson’s car had failed to make it to the finish before having to be towed off. His chances of advancing to Miami would have been gone away in a mass of twisted metal.
Johnson will have three and a half months to ponder the what-ifs before next season. He said he was concentrating on the win. Makes you wonder what Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick would have liked him to have considered. But, that’s why Johnson has won 83 Cup races. Today’s error in judgment may be why he fails to win another Championship in the waning years of his career.
Playoff Standings Heading Into Round Two
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||3038||-17||38||4|
In a strong performance for the Blue Oval drivers, Ford owns 7 of the 12 positions as Round 2 kicks off next week at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile has all the potential to mix up the standings. Four more drivers will be eliminated from Championship contention after the next 3 races. Dover, Talladega, and Kansas.
The ROVAL a Success
Charlotte Motor Speedway sold more tickets for this event than any of their Fall races in the last 10 years. Marcus Smith was all smiles after the race. Everyone claiming it was a huge success. The perfect finish with multiple storylines. They will be talking about this one until next year’s race.
NASCAR needed a shot in the arm and they got one today. Dover and Talladega will likely have their share of crashes that the fans like to see. Kansas promises to be another hot mess as drivers try to make the Round of 8.
Follow The Lasco Press as we bring you all the details and highlights on the path to Miami.
Results of the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
|14||78||Martin Truex Jr.||7.606||109|
|37||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-9||100|
Playoff Drivers – Drivers eliminated After Round 1