Cup Drivers Getting Straight On ROVAL Curves

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 11 2018

Martin Truex Jr. takes on one of the ‘challenges’ facing drivers at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL during testing this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

“Challenging” and “survival” could easily become the operative words describing Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course and the Bank of America ROVAL 400 scheduled for Sept. 30.

The two words first surfaced when Goodyear began tire testing on the course that incorporates part of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval with a winding track through the infield. Sixteen drivers, including five NASCAR Cup champions, didn’t alter their description of the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course during Tuesday’s test. One driver even declined comment on it.

“(The challenges) are just getting used to it (the track), working your braking zones, shifting points, getting the right transmission ratios and keeping it on the race track,” Ryan Newman said. “There are a lot of off-camber corners that we aren’t used to and blind corners, like coming over the top of turn two. Things like that are just new to us. I think it will be a challenge for everybody, but in the end, it’s a race and we all have an opportunity to win.”

There has never been a road course like Charlotte’s on the NASCAR Cup schedule in the sport’s modern era that began in 1972. It’s one that breeds frustration and part of that could be because it’s in the playoffs. In fact, it is the first round’s cutoff race. With it being a wildcard event, the odds are it will produce the unexpected, whether it be a surprise winner or knock out a championship favorite. For those who have mastered the 1.5-mile speedway, the first road course in the playoffs has left them bitter.

Based on a concept used for decades by Daytona for its 24-hour race, turn one is

A number of twists and turns have been added to the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

the turn that takes the cars off the oval and onto the road course. A driver must then negotiate six turns before returning to the oval, which has two chicanes – one on the backstretch and one on the frontstretch. The eighth turn on the course returns the cars to the oval.

Both chicanes provide unique challenges. However, it wasn’t long after Tuesday’s practice began that it became evident a change was needed to the one on the backstretch. The competitors were driving through it. It took nearly two hours for the changes to be made. A tire wall and speed bumps were added to the existing rumble strips. Newman said the changes were made to “keep everybody honest, to keep everybody on the racing line that was defined.”

Prior to the change, Bubba Wallace recorded the only test’s crash, slamming a tire barrier as he entered turn one. His team didn’t have another car, so they left. The other drivers soldiered on in 90-degree temperatures with some even blistering tires.

Many didn’t see where pit road merges onto the track as an issue, but the frontstretch chicane immediately off turn four will be a problem area that will provide interesting action during the race. Daniel Suarez called it tricky because there were “some bumps there” and it’s hard to slow the car. Newman called it the “most challenging” part of the track.  

In regards to passing, look for turn four to play a key role. After slowing as they enter turn three, it will be the driver who can remain on the inside through turn four that will be able to scoot under his adversaries and gain a position.

While several drivers appeared to be acquiring a feel for the track by the end of Tuesday’s test, they certainly will face a different scenario with a field of 40 cars, especially on the first lap. There could easily be a multi-car crash on the first lap; therefore, obtaining a good starting position will be critical. And with NASCAR’s time restrictions on cars needing repairs during a race, the field could be depleted quickly, just as in a restrictor-plate race.

Of course, unlike Sonoma and Watkins Glen, fans will be able to watch the entire race from the grandstand without having to constantly resort to a large TV screen. So while the anticipated action-filled race should possess fan appeal, there are some drivers who will never be happy with the new track.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 11 2018
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