The inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ended bittersweet for some.
With all the hype leading to this historic race weekend, the action displayed on the track was what fans were expecting. This elimination race had many wondering how it was going to turn out, especially how it was the first time running on that track.
Kurt Busch officially led the first lap at the ROVAL but lost the lead early on to Kyle Larson where he went on to lead 47 laps and win stage one. The winner of the event Ryan Blaney captured stage two.
Despite Stanton Barrett’s head-on collision with the wall on Lap 13, the racing was quiet, and it seemed like we were poised to witness a calm ending to the round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
But the event took a turn of events that had fans screaming and shouting until the checkered flag.
During the final stage, Brad Keselowski was leading the field in front of Larson as he would catch him and lose ground to him. A caution with under 10 laps to go for an incident involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led to a restart where the carnage began.
Keselowski ran into the wall going into turn one which collected a few drivers including Larson, who was now on the edge of being eliminated after having one of the best cars in the field.
“I was going to struggle to make the corner and then the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski), he just went head on into the wall,” Larson said. “I was hoping I would have enough room to squeak by him, but I got into him and destroyed the right-front of our car. So, I mean I still don’t really know if we are in or not, but we had a great Clover by First Data Chevy today, led a bunch of laps, would have liked it to have played out there and just run to the end there. I was saving fuel and it sounded like the No. 2 was really short on fuel. I felt like I could have won, but the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) ended up spinning out and the caution came out.”
After pitting when the caution finally came back out, the No. 42 team did all they could to repair the damages on his race car.
But the challenging work paid off for Larson as they received the relieving news after the race that they got passed the elimination.
“I had kind of given up there the last lap,” Larson added. “I saw the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) made a couple of passes and that’s who it sounded like we were in the points battle with. I knew I was screwed. And then they said they were all crashing and it had to have been 45 seconds by the time I got back over there. I ran really hard through (Turns) 1 and 2. We had a lot of right-front damage and we kind of knew the right front would blow if I ran hard. But, I ran hard through (Turns) 3 and 4 and blew a right front and got into the fence. I could see the No. 96 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) and I knew I needed that point to get to the tie-breaker and hit the wall again. Thankfully, we got the tie-breaker. At the same time, I’m happy to make it to the next round.”
Aric Almirola was the other driver that won the tie-breaker as he goes on to the round of 12 for the first time in his career. He was one of the drivers that received damage from the wreck on the restart with less than 10 laps to go.
“That crash, getting into turn one, really – actually the caution before that, when we were on a fuel strategy we were gonna be fine,” Almirola said. “It was all gonna work out fine and then the 17 buried it in the tire barriers or something and caused a caution and that really changed everything, jumbled up the strategy and just put us in a really vulnerable spot. I’m so proud of these guys. We’re moving on to the round of 12 and we’ll go get ‘em in Dover.”
After all the mayhem and the conclusion of the race, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was one of the drivers that did not advance to the next round.
Johnson ran down Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap for the lead but wheel-hopped into final chicane, spinning and collecting Truex in the process.
Ultimately, a second-place finish would have been enough for Johnson to continue running for a championship, but a costly mistake basically put his season to an end.
“Yeah, I was more worried about the win than anything else. I hate that I started wheel-hopping and took Martin (Truex, Jr.) and me out.” Johnson said. “That’s the last thing I wanted to do. I put pressure on him into Turn 3. He washed up and I thought I was going to be in the prime braking zone going into that final turn and have a shot at it. I’m on to the brakes and started locking the rears and wheel-hopping and then, I didn’t think I hit him at first. I knew I was spinning, obviously, but I guess I collected him in my spin. I certainly regret doing that. And then, ultimately, we were in a transfer position and didn’t get it. I was just going for the win. Wins are so important. And the veteran could have taken a safe route and didn’t, and unfortunately took us out of the Playoffs and took out the No. 78 (Truex, Jr.)”
As we go onto Dover International Speedway, we can say that the ROVAL was a success.
We witnessed one of the most exciting elimination races in Playoff history. But was today the start of a ROVAL revolution for NASCAR? Whether or not NASCAR decides to add more courses like this to the schedule, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL passed the test and should be here to stay for seasons to come.
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