Bank of America Roval 400 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

The ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway is 50% road course, 50% oval.  Unfortunately, it was also 100% unknown.  As it turned out, not only did it live up to the hype, it exceeded expectations by providing some of the best racing NASCAR fans have seen all season.  As a matter of fact, some fans later commented that it’s highly possible The Roval will replace Talladega when it comes to thrills.

Bubba Wallace in the #43 crashes into the tire barrier at the end of the backstretch chicane

Based on an outpouring of social media comments since The Roval was first announced, it seemed the majority of race fans were unapproving of NASCAR’s decision to add such a wildcard track to the playoffs. Even worse, they had added it as an elimination race, meaning that when the checkered flag flew, 4 drivers would be out of contention for the championship. Needless to say, drivers were dreading this race, especially as testing throughout the year did not go particularly well. The fear was amplified even further when a handful of cars were wrecked in practice, with four drivers (Bubba Wallace, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, and Brad Keselowski) having to go to backup cars for the actual race. Three of those drivers wrecked their cars in the tire barrier at the end of the chicane on the back straightaway.  As a result, NASCAR moved the tire barrier back 4-feet so drivers could complete the chicane safely.

Ironically, however, despite all the negativity from fans and drivers alike, when the green flag waved, most everyone seemed to forget why they had been so concerned about the race and fans began to question what the hype was about. It was like watching Sonoma or Watkins Glen, with aggressive but clean racing. And, but for a few spins and wall scrapes here and there, it appeared The Roval wasn’t nearly as dangerous as everyone had first thought.

The first stage played out like any other road-course race, with only one caution in the first 25 laps for Stanton Barrett in the #51. Barrett shot into the Turn 1 wall and was out for the day. Twelve laps later, playoff driver Kyle Larson won the stage and was awarded 10 points. 

On Lap 45 of the second stage, William Byron, in the #24, blew the left-front tire and slowed in an effort to make it to pit road. Unfortunately, playoff driver Aric Almirola had to swerve towards the wall on the front stretch to avoid Byron and badly scraped the right side of his #10 Ford, causing him to come to pit road for repairs. NASCAR did not throw the caution as both drivers got on pit road without any more incidents.

Stage 2 Restart

Stage 2 also began clean and calm, but as laps wound down drivers turned up their aggression.  The change was palpable, almost like someone had flicked a switch.

With 2 laps to go in the second stage, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr entered the front chicane within a car length of each other. Kes was following Truex, almost using him as a marker for when to lift and break. Thus, when Truex overshot the exit turn of the chicane, so did Keselowski. Both cars spun while race leader Ryan Blaney won the stage. 

The final segment continued the aggression and amped it up.  It all started with a string of cautions, starting on Lap 59 for debris on the track after Austin Dillon scraped the wall in Turn 15. Just 7 laps later, the yellow flag came out yet again for Dillon after he slammed the wall a second time. This time, the wheels were bent and body damage was so severe that Dillon’s day was over and his playoff hopes came to an abrupt end. The race no sooner went back green when two accidents on opposite ends of the race track caused the caution flag to fly again. Chris Buescher lost grip in Turn 3 and spun, crashing into the billboards in the infield grass. Meanwhile, Aric Almirola was turned by Ricky Stenhouse Jr in the #17, and spun into a different section of grass. The two incidents combined caused NASCAR to throw the yellow flag.

Going into this race, spectators were skeptical about passing opportunities on track. Many said the ROVAL would be a “follow the leader” type of race. However, with approximately 25 laps to go, Kyle Larson and then-leader Brad Keselowski proved you could drive side-by-side for the majority of the course. It was a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle between the two playoff drivers for numerous laps. Larson’s crew radioed to say he was short on fuel and needed to slow his pace if he wanted to make it to the end. To that end, he conceded to Kes, who drove away to over a second lead.  With only 10 laps left to go, it appeared the race was going to finish in that manner. But, as all NASCAR fans know, Ricky Stenhouse Jr drives the #17, and even when he isn’t trying to drive through or wreck fellow competitors, it seems he’s doing something else to mess with everyone’s day. Why would the ROVAL be any different?

With 8 to go, Stenhouse slammed the wall in Turn 1 and forced the caution to come out. Kyle Larson instinctively knew the restart was about to change everything and was seen giving Stenhouse the finger as he drove by. 

With Keselowski and Larson making up the front row, the ill-fated restart took place with only 6 laps to go and the majority of front-running cars on old tires.  It was obvious it wasn’t going to end well. The green flag flew and they barrelled into Turn 1, only for the Top 5 drivers to completely overdrive the corner and pile nose first into the wall. Kes, Larson, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Paul Menard, and others were involved, with Busch and Keselowski incurring so much damage they were out for the day. Luckily, both drivers were locked into to the next round of the playoffs. Larson, on the other hand, needed to finish in order to advance, so the team did what they could to get the #42 back on track even if it meant he had to limp his way around. The race was briefly red-flagged as track crew removed the wrecked cars and did their best to clean up the wall and the oil-soaked track.

Ryan Blaney in the #12 wins after Martin Truex Jr (#78) and Jimmie Johnson (#48) wreck

The red flag was lifted with Martin Truex Jr in the lead and Jimmie Johnson in second. When NASCAR dropped the green flag for a 3-lap shootout, Truex got a good jump on Johnson and started to pull away. However, a few well-executed turns from the #48 put Johnson right at Truex’s rear bumper. Coming through the frontstretch chicane on the final lap, Johnson overdrove the corner, wheel-hopped, and fishtailed.  Just a few hundred feet from the finish line, Johnson’s spinout collected Truex Jr. who spun up the track and into the wall. Although third-place driver Ryan Blaney couldn’t see what was happening through the smoke, he hustled through the chicane and arrived at the finish, surprising everyone, including himself with an inaugural win at The Roval and advancement into the next round. 

Ironically, Johnson was points-racing with hopes of advancing into the Round of 12 and had he settled for second place behind Truex, the 7-time champion would have accomplished his goal.  Instead, by going for the win and wrecking, he finished 8th.  This put him into a tie-breaker situation with Aric Almirola, who held a better average finish in the 1st round of playoffs and, therefore, bumped Johnson.  This will be the first time in 12 years that Johnson hasn’t advanced.  The other three drivers eliminated were Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones.

Drivers now competing in the Round of 12 are Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski.

What did you think of the finish at the ROVAL? Are you #TeamTruex or #Team Johnson? Let us know in the comments.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series kicks off the Round of 12 at the Monster Mile. Get your tickets HERE for the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Raceway

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