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Roval Debut Smashes Up The Cup Playoffs Field

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 1 2018

Kyle Larson actually finished Sunday’s debut Charlotte Roval race in this destroyed race car. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – Clint Bowyer, third-place finisher in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, strode into the media center, sat down at the interview desk, took a deep breath and remarked: “God almighty!”

Bowyer’s two words aptly described Charlotte Motor Speedway’s inaugural Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road course race, which overflowed with drama in the final six laps.

During that time, a 15-car pileup in Turn 1 on a restart eliminated at least three victory contenders. After a 14-minute 27-second red flag, two NASCAR champions battled intensely for the lead over the final three laps while another two drivers nursed wounded race cars to the finish, desperately trying to gain the finishing positions needed to advance into the playoffs’ second round.

On the final lap, Jimmie Johnson shot to the inside of leader Martin Truex Jr. in one last-ditch effort to snap his agonizing 52-race winless streak. He bobbled, the two cars touched and then Johnson spun. His spin collected Truex, who spun as well.

It was then that 24-year-old Ryan Blaney carefully maneuvered by them to snap his 50-race winless streak. It was his first Cup victory this year and the second of his young career.

“I almost wrecked trying to get through the chicane as fast as I could just because you’re trying to make up time and try to seize the moment,” Blaney said calmly.

How crazy was Sunday’s Roval 400? Three extremely good drivers – Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch – drove straight into a wall on a late-race restart. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

“You’re kind of shocked that something like that happens and that you’re lucky to be in that spot.”

Blaney said it was the first time in his racing career that he’s ever won with the scenario that unfolded Sunday. 

“Any race I’ve ever been in — quarter midgets, late models, legends cars –I’ve never been running third and the two cars wreck each other and I win the race,” Blaney said. “That’s kind of a weird feeling. You try to enjoy it.  You try to be as humble as you can about it because you know you weren’t the best car today. I think being humble is a very big part of it, but at the same time, celebrate because you’ve got to take them how you can get them.”

An angry Truex hit Johnson’s Chevrolet and spun him on the cool-down lap.

“He (Johnson) wasn’t ever going to make it through that corner whether I was there or not,” said Truex, who finished 14th. “Just desperation on his part and pretty stupid really, if you think about it, because he was locked into the next round and now he’s out.”

Elimination from the playoffs was the information Johnson received while stoically standing on pit road with his crew that left him “shell-shocked.”

“I thought I was making a good, clean racing move to give myself a chance to win and unfortunately, I made a mistake and lost it,” Johnson said. “I feel terrible that it took me out, it took Martin out and it certainly took us out of the championship.”

Johnson said his two best areas throughout the race were the backstretch and frontstretch chicanes.

“I had passed the whole field there (frontstretch) time-after-time, so I was hopeful

Jimmie Johnson took himself out of the playoffs with an aggressive move on Martin Truex Jr. on the final turn of Sunday’s race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

I could get it done,” Johnson said. “I didn’t enter the corner thinking I was going to take Martin (Truex) out. I really thought I could get in there and race him for it. If I didn’t think I was better than him in that area, I wouldn’t have taken the chance, but I honestly felt like I had a shot at executing that pass. Unfortunately, I made a mistake. I locked the rear brakes and I spun out.”

When the 109-lap race ended Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Johnson were tied. Johnson finished eighth, Almirola 19th and Larson 25th. However, when the tie-breaker was applied, Almirola and Larson owned the best finishes in the opening round’s first three races.

Almirola fought adversity throughout the race.  Larson, who led twice for 47 laps, was one of those in the 15-car pileup. During the red flag, an in-car camera showed Larson sitting dejectedly in his Chevrolet as he thought his playoff hopes had ended. When the race restarted on lap 107, Almirola and Larson were both told by their crew chiefs the number of cars they needed to pass to advance in the playoffs.

“That last restart they told me I was minus six points and that I needed to go,” Almirola said. “I rifled it down into turn one and wheel-hopped and cleared a few of them out … got by, I think, three, and then we came back to the start-finish line and they told me I needed three more spots. Those last couple laps I was able to get those three spots. I told (crew chief) Johnny Klausmeier going into this weekend all I really cared about was leaving here plus one, and it turns out plus zero is good enough.”

Larson’s reprieve came on the final lap when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun out of the frontstretch chicane. Larson’s battered Chevrolet limped towards the finish line as the 26-year-old hoped Earnhardt wouldn’t reach the checkered flag before him.

“I couldn’t even drive my car it was so bad destroyed,” an exhausted Larson said. “We had … so much camber and tow in our car they said if I ran fast I would blow a right front.”

But Larson knew he had to go no matter what if he wanted to keep his championship hopes alive.

“I ran hard through (the oval’s turns 1 and 2) and through the Bus Stop (backstretch chicane) … then blew a right front center of (the oval’s turns) three and four and plowed the wall. I was like, crap! I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get down to make the chicane, but luckily it came down off the banking and I could turn right OK.

“I got through the 16th corner, and then (in) 17 I hit the wall again on the frontstretch, and the 96 (Earnhardt) was stalled the whole time.  I think they told me the 96 was stalled when I was at the backstretch, and he wasn’t able to get his car re-fired. He was like 100 feet from the start-finish line.  I could start to see him creep in when I was getting to (turn) 16.  I was like, gosh, don’t go, don’t go, and we were able to make it. I was pretty lucky.”

When the playoffs’ second round begins next weekend at Dover, seven of the 12 cars are Fords. All of the Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske drivers advanced. The remaining five positions are filled with Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., and Chevrolet contenders Chase Elliott, Larson and Alex Bowman. In addition to Johnson, the other drivers eliminated from the playoffs Sunday were Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – ROVAL 400

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course

Concord, North Carolina

Sunday, September 30, 2018

  1. (9) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 109.
  2. (8) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 109.
  3. (7) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 109.
  4. (3) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 109.
  5. (1) Kurt Busch (P), Ford, 109.
  6. (4) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 109.
  7. (2) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 109.
  8. (6) Jimmie Johnson (P), Chevrolet, 109.
  9. (19) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 109.
  10. (15) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 109.
  11. (29) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 109.
  12. (27) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 109.
  13. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 109.
  14. (13) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 109.
  15. (32) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 109.
  16. (30) David Ragan, Ford, 109.
  17. (10) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 109.
  18. (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, 109.
  19. (20) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 109.
  20. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 109.
  21. (17) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 109.
  22. (26) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 109.
  23. (11) * Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, 109.
  24. (35) * Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 109.
  25. (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 109.
  26. (37) * Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 109.
  27. (31) Justin Marks(i), Chevrolet, 108.
  28. (36) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 108.
  29. (38) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 108.
  30. (12) Erik Jones (P), Toyota, 108.
  31. (25) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, Accident, 103.
  32. (14) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Accident, 103.
  33. (22) Paul Menard, Ford, Accident, 103.
  34. (21) William Byron #, Chevrolet, Accident, 103.
  35. (16) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 103.
  36. (34) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, Accident, 103.
  37. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 100.
  38. (40) * Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Axle, 70.
  39. (24) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 64.
  40. (39) Stanton Barrett, Ford, Accident, 11.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  82.125 mph.

Time of Race:  03 Hrs, 01 Mins, 34 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.792 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 16 laps.

Lead Changes:  10 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   Kurt Busch (P) 1-6; K. Larson (P) 7-36; R. Blaney (P) 37-51; Kurt Busch (P) 52; K. Larson (P) 53-69; J. McMurray 70; R. Stenhouse Jr. 71-72; P. Menard 73-74; B. Keselowski (P) 75-103; M. Truex Jr. (P) 104-108; R. Blaney (P) 109;.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  K. Larson (P) 2 times for 47 laps; B. Keselowski (P) 1 time for 29 laps; R. Blaney (P) 2 times for 16 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 2 times for 7 laps; M. Truex Jr. (P) 1 time for 5 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 2 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 2 laps; J. McMurray 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,41,14,78,9,48,18,47,88,12

Stage #2 Top Ten: 12,48,41,22,14,9,3,88,42,8

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 1 2018
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