Two elimination races are set for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series this weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
For the Cup Series it will mark just second road course event of the season due to the adjustment of the schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Charlotte Roval, which debuted in 2018, will follow the series’ debut at the Daytona road course in August.
Chase Elliott comes into Sunday’s Bank of America 400 as the hottest driver when it comes to road courses. Elliott has won the last three road course races dating back to last season at Watkins Glen. He is the defending race winner and won at Daytona after leading 34 of the 65 laps.
"I don’t know why the road courses have been good to us thus far," Elliott said. "I came from short-track racing. I did a little bit of road-course racing in go karts, but I don’t know how much that translates.
"I do think a lot of the credit should go to Jeff (Gordon). Jeff was a fantastic road racer, as we all know. I really think he and Alan (Gustafson) had a very good understanding of what was important at road races and what they really wanted in the cars and what mattered."
Along with Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. is the only other multiple winner in the last 10 races at road courses. Truex has finished seventh or better in his last four road course starts dating back to his win at Sonoma last season.
"I feel good going into this weekend," Truex Jr. said. "We’re confident that we can go there and have a shot to win, so that’s what we’ll try to do. The road courses have been a strong point for us the past few years, so it’s a place we feel like we can capitalize on and hopefully move on to the next round."
Kyle Busch, who has yet to visit Victory Lane this season, finds himself the first driver below the cutline, 21 points behind Joey Logano. Busch has four career road course wins, but has a 34.5 average finish in his two starts at the Roval due to unfortunate circumstances. He was running up front at the Daytona Road Course, but had to pit after flat spotting the tires early in the race and then had brake issues and spun with five laps to go when a tire went down .
"We did have some optimism where we ran better with a different setup package at the Daytona road course back in August," Busch said. "We think some of those setup notes and some of the things we learned there hopefully translate to some better results at the roval in Charlotte with our M&M’S Camry. Obviously, we had the issue late in the race, but we had a strong car and would have been in contention if we wouldn’t have had our problem. "
Joining Busch on the outside looking in are Austin Dillon (-21), Clint Bowyer (-38) and Aric Almirola (-48). Bowyer has a 3.5 average finish in two starts at the Roval and enters the weekend fresh off his announcement that he will be moving to Fox Sports in 2021.
"I hate to say it, but I like being scared,"Bowyer said. "It’s almost healthy for me. I didn’t realize it until I’ve been doing this a long time and usually when you’re on that bubble or something like that we’ve been able, for the most part, to prevail because you’re back is up against the wall and you’re out of options and there are no excuses or anything else. You just got to go out and get the job done. That’s always kind of been a healthy environment for me."
To go along with the challenges of the 17-turn track, a new wrinkle could be added to the mix with the potential for rain.
"I like things that are different, whether it’s going to new race tracks or new things," said Alex Bowman, who is 22 above the cutline and leads all drivers with a 3.0 average finish at the Roval. "The rain would be pretty different, so maybe I’ll like it (laughs). It’s going to be interesting. It’s definitely a difficult thing to adapt to and a challenge."
Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 will mark the first elimination race for this year’s Xfinity Series Playoffs and the fourth of the season at a Road Course.
Chase Briscoe and Justin Haley are locked in with their wins in the first two races of the opening round at Las Vegas and Talladega, respectively.
Briscoe, winner of the inaugural race at the Roval in 2018, and Austin Cindric combined to win the three road course races this season with Cindric taking the last two at Road America and Daytona.
"The Roval, Daytona, none of those really run like an actual road course, I don’t feel like, and, for me, what I like about them is the Roval I think is the perfect scenario where you have the infield and you have to be really smooth, finesse — overdriving doesn’t make you go any faster, but then you go on the big track and enter that final chicane and it’s elbow up, who is the bravest guy," Briscoe said. "You just have those two totally different types of driving styles that go into that one track and that’s just what I like about it is it seems like these Rovals all kind of run that way."
Cindric has four career Xfinity road course wins and comes into this weekend’s race 50 points above the cutline. He joins Noah Gragson and defending race winner AJ Allmendinger as the only drivers that finished in the top 10 in all three road courses this season.
"I enjoy road-course racing and have had success at road courses but the only thing I haven’t done yet is win at one in the Xfinity Series," said Gragson, who is 47 points above the cutline. "That is the goal for this weekend to advance us into the Round of 8 and to give us a few extra playoff points along the way to help us further down the road."
Harrison Burton is the first driver on the outside looking in and trails Ross Chastain by seven points for the final transfer spot.
See Also: Burton on the Outside Looking in
Like the Cup Series, drivers could be faced with the possibilty of racing with Goodyear’s wet weather tires if the conditions warrant.
"The only experience I have is earlier this year Road America," Burton said. "Some at the Daytona road course but that was kind of a damp situation, which was way different than completely wet.
"My confidence level I need to say yeah, it’s gonna be awesome and fun if it rains, right? Because it looks like it’s probably gonna rain, but my experience level is pretty low. My competitors experience level happens to be low, I think as well, to which kind of helps some but it’s a challenge for sure."