CONCORD, North Carolina — P&Q is now done to set the field for Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Here are the 5 things I’m watching for the Round of 12 elimination race.
History shows that we can expect some sort of chaos during Sunday’s race. We’ve seen it happen in all 4 years so far. On the final lap of the inaugural race, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. made contact with one another on the final lap, in the final corner, while running 1-2. It allowed 3rd place Ryan Blaney to sneak by and pull the upset victory.
A year later, it was Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman having a confrontation on track and after the race as well. Last year it was the Kevin Harvick vs. Chase Elliott feud here.
What happens this time around in the 5th edition?
I don’t necessarily think chaos has to occur for playoff driver on playoff driver crime either. I mean there’s a very real chance that the final spot into the next round could come down to a position or 2 on track. If you’re that driver needing to gain a few spots and there’s a couple of cars within striking distance in front, don’t you get the sense that you move them out of your way now and apologize later?
That’s why I feel like we can see some drivers ruffling feathers on Sunday.
Also, Elliott stuffed it into the tire barriers and came back to win in 2019. He came back via a pit penalty in 2020 to win again. Kyle Larson dealt with an early power steering belt last year but rebounded to win. What happens this time around…
If the 5 road races this season are any indication, the race winner won’t score stage points in the opening stage. Just one of the winners have even led a lap in that stage. 3 of the last 4 didn’t lead a lap until the final stage.
However, this week may look different. How do you run this race?
There’s plenty of drivers on the cut line needing stage points including a tie for the final spot right now. But are you punting on a win and a guaranteed spot into the Round of 8 by doing so? It’s becoming increasingly clear that you don’t want stage points in the opening stage, but do on Stage 2.
In Stage 2, the eventual race winners finished: 8th (COTA), 4th (Sonoma), 10th (Road America), no points (Indy) and 8th (Watkins Glen). The 4 years this race has occurred, the winner finished in the top 2 in 3 of the 4 second stages. Ryan Blaney won the second stage in 2018, Elliott won it in 2019 and he was second in 2020 while Kyle Larson was 6th last year.
Also, 3 of the 5 races saw the winner not only take over the lead in the final stage, but they dominated it enough to lead the most laps for the race in it.
So it’s all about positioning yourself for that final stage track position and speed. Are you giving up too many points while doing so?
Which is why I have my eyes on who scores stages points and who doesn’t? For drivers like Ryan Blaney (+32), Ross Chastain (+28) and Denny Hamlin (+21) they likely want to score as many stage points as possible in Stage 1 because it could almost certainly clinch them spots into the Round of 8.
Then you have drivers like Joey Logano (+18), Kyle Larson (+18), William Byron (+14), Daniel Suarez (+12), Chase Briscoe (-12) and Austin Cindric (-12). They likely want stage points in both stages.
Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell (-45) are in a different scenario. Bell isn’t focusing on points. He just needs to win. Elliott will likely only do what’s best to position him for either A. a stage win and an additional playoff point and B. a race win. He’s racing for playoff points on Sunday.
Which is why I’m mainly watching the end of these stages to see if any of these drivers punt on stage points for track position after the stage break or not focus long term and instead take the points while they can get them.
What’s wild is, Bell starts 8th and needs a win. Elliott is focusing on just a win and starts 9th. Logano, Byron and Suarez have 3 of the 4 spots above the cutline and starts 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Cindric is 12 points out and starts 5th…
Chevrolet has won each of the 5 road course races this season and the final 6 of 2021 for 11 straight wins on these tracks. Factor in the 2019 race at Watkins Glen (2 races in 2019) and the 2 races (Daytona, Charlotte) in 2020 and you get Chevy scoring 15 wins in the last 16 road course races in general.
Can they end up on top on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte?
On the flipside, the road courses have been dismal for the Toyota camp. However, there wasn’t a lot of time between June and August for them to get things turned around. We were racing every week at that point and had 4 of the 6 road courses run between the end of June and the middle of August. We’ve now had 2 months away from road courses. Was that enough time for Toyota to get their cars better on them?
They better hope so. They knew the importance of the next road course on the schedule was in being the Round of 12 cut race.
The thing is, it’s not like their 2022 road course results can get much worse.
Martin Truex Jr. has finished 7th, 26th, 13th, 21st and 23rd on them. Denny Hamlin was 18th, 31st, 17th, 14th and 20th. Kyle Busch 28th, 30th, 29th, 11th and 32nd. Christopher Bell being 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th and 8th. Bubba Wallace was 38th, 36th, 35th, 5th and 35th. The 45 ride which is now the 23 was 32nd, 18th, 23rd, 17th and 16th between Kurt Busch and Ty Gibbs.
Bell won the Daytona ROVAL a year ago, and on the Charlotte ROVAL, he was eighth. Truex Jr. should have won the inaugural race here, was 7th in the two races after that but 29th a year ago. Busch was 32nd, 37th, 30th and 4th here while Hamlin was 12th, 19th, 15th and 5th.
Trackhouse Racing was formed in 2020. They bought out Chip Ganassi Racing that summer and would take over the keys to the whole operation that Fall. Now, 2 years later, they’re on the verge of having potentially not just 1, but both drivers into the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
They also each made the final round of qualifying as well and have great starting spots for Sunday’s race.
Ross Chastain brought his No. 1 Chevrolet home 4th in last Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway while his teammate Daniel Suarez was 8th in his No. 99 Chevrolet. They now sit +28 and +12 above the cutline in the standings with 1 race left in the second round.
Chastain has 3 top 7 finishes in the last 4 weeks while Suarez has a pair of top 10’s in that span. But they’re doing what they have to do to survive. Suarez had 7 stage points in Sunday’s race and Chastain 5.
They’re finishing races and not making mistakes which is why they’re here with a chance to have 2 of the final 8 spots left eligible to win this year’s championship at this time next week.
To make matters better, we end the round on a road course. Trackhouse has won 2 of the 5 road course races run this season.
Suarez won Sonoma, led every lap of the 1st stage in COTA, was 5th in Road America and lined up 5th on the final restart in Indy and finished 5th in Watkins Glen. Chastain was 1st in COTA this year, 7th in Sonoma and 4th in Road America. He crossed the finish line 2nd at Indy before his penalty was levied and only 21st in Watkins Glen. I still like him on these tracks.
Who Advances On? Surprise Winner?
5 of the last 8 years have seen someone new bump their ways back in on the final race of the second round. It didn’t happen however the last 2 years though. Will it on Sunday? It’s going to take a win out of Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe/Austin Cindric are each going to have to make up 12 or more points on the 8 drivers in front..
2014: Heading to Talladega (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2014, Matt Kenseth was ranked ninth in the Playoff standings, one point back from the Round of 8 cutoff and Brad Keselowski was ranked 10th in the Playoff standings, 19 points behind the Round of 8 cutoff. Brad Keselowski won the race at Talladega and automatically advanced to the next round. Matt Kenseth finished second at Talladega and advanced on points to the Round of 8 knocking Kasey Kahne (12th-place finish at Talladega) and Kyle Busch (40th-place finish at Talladega) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Kyle Busch was second in the Playoff standings 26 points above the cutline and Kasey Kahne was eighth in the Playoff standings just one point above the Round of 8 cutoff.
2015: Heading to Talladega (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2015, Kyle Busch was ranked ninth in the Playoff standings just six points back from the Round of 8 cutoff. Kyle Busch finished 11th at Talladega and advanced on points knocking his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (37th-place finish at Talladega due to an incident) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Denny Hamlin was second in the Playoff standings, 18 points above the Round of 8 cutoff.
2016: Heading to Talladega (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2016, Denny Hamlin was ranked 10th in the Playoff standings, six points back from the Round of 8 cutoff. Hamlin went on to finish third at Talladega and advanced on points knocking Martin Truex Jr. (40th-place finish at Talladega due to an engine failure) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Martin Truex Jr. was sixth in the Playoff standings, 13 points above the Round of 8 cutoff.
2017: Heading to Kansas (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2017, Kyle Busch was ranked ninth in the Playoff standings, seven points back from the Round of 8 cutoff. Busch went on to finish 10th at Kansas and advanced on points knocking Kyle Larson (39th-place finish at Kansas due to an engine failure) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Kyle Larson was third in the Playoff standings, 29 points above the Round of 8 cutoff.
2018: The four drivers below the Round of 8 cutline heading into the sixth race of the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Kansas Speedway – Brad Keselowski (-1 point from cutoff), Ryan Blaney (-5), Kyle Larson (-19) and Alex Bowman (-51) – all failed to advance to the Round of 8 and were eliminated from the Playoffs following the Kansas race. At Kansas, Larson finished third, Keselowski finished sixth, Blaney finished seventh and Bowman finished ninth.
2019: Heading to Kansas Speedway (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2019, Chase Elliott was ranked 10th in the Playoff standings, 15 points back from the Round of 8 cutoff. Elliott went on to finish second at Kansas and advanced on points knocking Brad Keselowski (19th-place finish at Kansas) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Keselowski was fifth in the Playoff standings, nine points above the Round of 8 cutoff.
2020: Heading to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (sixth race of the Playoffs) in 2020, Kurt Busch was ranked 10th in the Playoff standings, five points back from the Round of 8 cutoff. Kurt Busch went on to finish fourth in the Charlotte Road Course race and advanced on points knocking Austin Dillon (19th-place finish at the Charlotte ROVAL) out of the Playoffs. Heading into the elimination race, Dillon was eighth in the Playoff standings tied with Kyle Busch (ninth) on points (3,053 each) along the Round of 8 cutline.
2021: The four drivers below the Round of 8 cutline heading into the sixth race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course – Kevin Harvick (-9 points from cutoff), Christopher Bell (-28), William Byron (-44) and Alex Bowman (-52) – all failed to advance to the Round of 8 and were eliminated from the Playoffs following the Charlotte ROVAL race. At the Charlotte Road Course, Harvick finished 33rd, Bell finished eighth, Byron finished 11th and Bowman finished 10th.
The largest margin someone made up without winning though was 19 points. 2 of the 4 drivers below the cutline are within that margin with Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are both -12.
Bell (-45) would be historic if he could get in.
Kevin Harvick was -9 last year but didn’t advance on.
The other factor is, we very well could see a non-playoff winner. Trends say it won’t happen as just three non-Playoff drivers have won the sixth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs:
- Jeff Gordon (2005) won the Playoff race at Martinsville Speedway he was ranked 15th in the series standings at the time of the win.
- Clint Bowyer (2011) won the Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway he was ranked 13th in the series standings at the time of the win.
- Jamie McMurray (2013) won the Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway he was ranked 14th in the series standings at the time of the win.
As you can see, it hasn’t happened since the new format was adopted in 2014 and none of the previous four were at Charlotte on the ROVAL. So, does that likely means the winner on Sunday will be among the 12 drivers left in the playoff field?
4 of the 5 races run so far in the postseason haven’t been won by a championship eligible either.
Also, look at what the drivers not in the playoff field have done on road courses this season too.
AJ Allmendinger won Indy last year, was in the top 3 on the final lap in COTA, was in the top 10 late in the race at Sonoma, finished 9th in Road America, 7th at Indy again in July and runner-up at Watkins Glen. On top of that, he has 3 straight Xfinity Series wins on this track as well.
Chris Buescher’s last 4 road course finishes read: 2nd (Sonoma), 6th (Road America), 10th (Indianapolis) and 9th (Watkins Glen). He was 3rd here last year.
Michael McDowell is a road racer by nature and has 4 top 10’s on them this season including a 3rd in Sonoma and 6th the last time out in Watkins Glen. He’s finished in the top 11 in 5 of the last 7 weeks including a 3rd place run last Sunday.
Then you have Tyler Reddick who has won 2 of the last 3 road course races run this season as well as being runner-up here last year too.
As far as the drivers still in the playoffs, you have to look at the Chevrolet cars as the favorites among them. Chevy is a perfect 5-for-5 this season on road courses and have won 11 straight races on them.
Kyle Larson has 2 top 4 finishes in his last 3 road course starts on the season including a Watkins Glen victory. He’s the defending race winner here.
Chase Elliott lined up on the front row in each of the last 2 road course races on the final restart as well as finishing 2nd in the one prior at Road America. He’s won 2 of the last 3 ROVAL races.
William Byron was sixth, sixth and 11th in his last three ROVAL starts. The only thing is, he’s not had a top 5 in any of the five road course races this season with a best result of 9th. So while he can be solid, no top 5’s here and no top 5’s on road courses in general in 2022 leave him on a fade list for the win but I can see him advancing on however.
Daniel Suarez won at Sonoma led every lap of the 1st stage in COTA, was 5th in Road America and lined up 5th on the final restart in Indy and finished 5th in Watkins Glen.
Ross Chastain won at COTA, was 7th in Sonoma and 4th in Road America. He also crossed the finish line 2nd at Indy before his penalty was levied and only 21st in Watkins Glen. I still like him on these tracks.
The Fords are the next best.
Austin Cindric was 8th, 5th, 7th, 2nd and 13th on 5 road courses in 2022. Ryan Blaney is a previous winner here and has finished 8th, 5th and 9th respectively since. Blaney also has a pair of 6th place finished on road courses this season as well. Joey Logano has had a top 10 in all four ROVAL starts including a runner-up in 2020. He was 6th in Indy and 3rd in Watkins Glen too.
Chase Briscoe hasn’t had great stats on road courses this season but he’s a good road racer.
The Toyota’s have work to do.
Denny Hamlin was 18th, 31st, 17th, 14th and 20th on road races this season. Christopher Bell was 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th and 8th in the same races himself.
Bell won the Daytona ROVAL a year ago, and on the Charlotte ROVAL, he was eighth while Hamlin was 12th, 19th, 15th and 5th in his 4 ROVAL races.
Six-times the winner of the sixth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has gone on to win the championship later that same season – once at Kansas Speedway, three-times at Martinsville Speedway and twice at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course:
- In 2006, Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville Speedway, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series title later that season.
- In 2007, Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title later that season.
- In 2008, Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title later that season.
- In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas Speedway, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series title later that season.
- In 2020, Chase Elliott won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series title later that season. It was the first of his three wins during the 2020 postseason run.
- In 2021, Kyle Larson won at the Charlotte Road Course, then the sixth race in the Playoffs, and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series title later that season. It was the second of his record tying five Playoff wins during the 2021 postseason.