Roval 400 Preview: The Inaugural Race on the Roval

Roval 400 Preview: The Inaugural Race on the Roval

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We've reached the cut for the first round in the Chase for the Cup. This weekend's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is race number three of 10 in the playoff format which crowns the Monster Energy Cup Series champion, and signals the beginning of the end of the Round of 16 as four drivers will be eliminated from the field of 16 after this race. For this very crucial race NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway offer a first-ever road course race at the North Carolina oval. The track has constructed a 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course that incorporates most of the 1.5-mile oval and additional twists and turns on the infield for what the track calls a "roval" course. The configuration and type is very similar to the road course that Daytona International Speedway uses for some of its racing series such as IMSA. The roval features This new wrinkle in the Chase lineup of tracks will be a real curveball for the drivers this weekend, as most are out of their comfort zone on a road course as opposed to a true oval. The fact that this roval is brand new and there are several unknowns also adds additional complexity. When we add the newness of this event and course with the fact that it's a "cut race" in the Chase, the pressure will be enormous. Those drivers that don't find bad luck, or crack under the pressure will move on in the playoffs.

Since this is a completely new

We've reached the cut for the first round in the Chase for the Cup. This weekend's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is race number three of 10 in the playoff format which crowns the Monster Energy Cup Series champion, and signals the beginning of the end of the Round of 16 as four drivers will be eliminated from the field of 16 after this race. For this very crucial race NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway offer a first-ever road course race at the North Carolina oval. The track has constructed a 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course that incorporates most of the 1.5-mile oval and additional twists and turns on the infield for what the track calls a "roval" course. The configuration and type is very similar to the road course that Daytona International Speedway uses for some of its racing series such as IMSA. The roval features This new wrinkle in the Chase lineup of tracks will be a real curveball for the drivers this weekend, as most are out of their comfort zone on a road course as opposed to a true oval. The fact that this roval is brand new and there are several unknowns also adds additional complexity. When we add the newness of this event and course with the fact that it's a "cut race" in the Chase, the pressure will be enormous. Those drivers that don't find bad luck, or crack under the pressure will move on in the playoffs.

Since this is a completely new race, at a completely new course, we have no historical loop stats to examine this weekend. That does put us at a bit of a disadvantage. However, we're not completely unarmed with numbers. For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our Monster Energy Cup Series drivers have accumulated the past two seasons on the road circuits of Sonoma and Watkins Glen. It's the only real measure of which drivers tend to thrive on winding circuits. The data will be over the past two seasons, or four races, so it will be fresh statistics. In the table below are the driver's standard stats at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International over the past two seasons, sorted by average finish.

DRIVERAVG FINISHWINSTOP 5sTOP 10sLAPS LEDAVG START
Kyle Busch5.0034554.0
Clint Bowyer5.2033015.5
Chase Elliott6.5123614.5
Kurt Busch7.0004123.5
Kevin Harvick7.51235913.2
Denny Hamlin7.80231711.8
Daniel Suarez9.50221413.2
Martin Truex Jr.10.22331153.0
Alex Bowman11.5001019.5
Erik Jones11.8013116.2
Brad Keselowski12.00113714.5
Chris Buescher15.5000417.8
Ryan Blaney15.8002211.2
Michael McDowell16.2000016.0
William Byron16.5001012.0
Jamie McMurray17.000217.2
Aric Almirola17.0001020.0
Matt Kenseth 17.0011026.3
Kyle Larson17.2001112.2
Kasey Kahne20.2000019.0

Since we're running our first-ever race on the roval, throw out the history books. There are no history books. The road course at Charlotte will begin carving out its reputation and history this weekend. However, there are handful of NASCAR regulars who turned hot laps on the roval during the trial period, while the course was getting the tweaks that resulted in its final configuration. The most recent test session was held in July and included names such as: Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Jimmy Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Daniel Suarez and several more. These drivers got a valuable look and feel of the new facility. Certainly these drivers should have a bit of an edge on the rest of the field going into Sunday's battle. However, with three practice sessions, and qualifying all the teams should get enough track time to plan their attack of this new and unusual facility.

For our fantasy picks this week, we're going to rely heavily on recent history among the NASCAR ranks on road courses. This is really the most important data we can examine for this race. With so many unknowns, there are sure to be some surprises and even some bad days for some of the NASCAR stars. We won't be surprised by anything we see this Sunday in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for some excitement, as NASCAR throws a major curveball at the competitors for this third race of the Chase. The following are our picks for fantasy racing success at the Charlotte Roval.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch - After last week's statement win at Richmond, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is pointed toward advancing in the playoffs and challenging for his second-career championship. This race is not a must-win for Busch this point, but that may be the lack of pressure to put the driver of the No. 18 Toyota a bit more at ease, and less susceptible to press and make a mistake on this very technical course. Busch is a two-time winner at each of the other Monster Energy Cup Series road courses (Sonoma & Watkins Glen), and his 10-career Top-5 finishes on those circuits works out to a strong 36-percent rate. His last victories on these two courses were 2015 and 2013 respectively, so it's been a little while since Busch last hoisted a trophy at a road course. However, we don't believe that diminishes his value this weekend. Busch should be viewed as the top contender to win.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Truex limped into the postseason, but he's found a new high gear since the Chase began. With a pair of third-place finishes in two strong outings at Las Vegas and Richmond, the No. 78 Toyota team comes riding high into the Roval. Truex has been a recent ace on the road course circuits. Two Sonoma victories (including this season's Toyota/Save Mart 350) and one win at the Watkins Glen circuit, all since the 2013 season, show the excellent road racing skills of this veteran driver. In addition, Truex looked like he had this season's Watkins Glen race well in hand before Chase Elliott ran him down in the closing laps and stole that win. Truex would go onto finish runner-up in that race. All-in-all the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team have represented themselves very well on the winding circuits the last few seasons.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick is not in a must win situation this weekend. After his runner-up finish at Richmond this past weekend, he's in very good shape to advance in the Chase on points. However, it would be very nice to snatch a win for Stewart Haas Racing. Harvick is a fierce competitor and would love nothing more than to put the very first Bank of America Roval 400 trophy on his trophy shelf. The driver of the No. 4 SHR Ford owns two-career victories on the NASCAR road courses, so he's not a top winner at these facilities, but he's been there and done that. His first- and second-place finishes the last two seasons at Sonoma Raceway attest to this fact. While the Charlotte Roval will race more like the Watkins Glen circuit, and less like Sonoma, that should be of little concern. Harvick should adapt quickly to the new Roval in this weekend's three practice sessions, and we guarantee he'll be turning top lap times.

Chase Elliott -
Our last and most recent road course victor comes in the final spot of the contenders list this week. Who can forget Elliott's emotional first-ever win at Watkins Glen during the summer? That incredible performance is still fresh in our memory. He ran down one of the best in the business, Martin Truex Jr., and took that win in a thrilling and dominant performance. That one race is not the total of Elliott's experience on these winding circuits. Between Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in six-career starts. His average finish between those two facilities resides somewhere around 10.0, and that's pretty impressive for the young driver. Those numbers place Elliott among the elite in the series on road circuits the last three years.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kyle Larson - The Chip Ganassi racer has been fast on the road courses over the years, but the finishes have not always necessarily followed. Larson's qualifying efforts over the last four Sonoma and Watkins Glen races have netted two poles, one outside pole and one fifth-place starting spot. That's only translated into one Top-10 and two Top-15 finishes, but the upside is difficult to ignore. Laron's last start on one of these winding circuits yielded a strong sixth-place finish at the Glen in August. That performance is still fresh in our memory. The higher speeds of the Glen may best model the style of racing we'll see this Sunday at the Roval. Since most of the oval is used in this configuration, with a couple bus stops to slow the action.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has been one of the top road course performers for years in NASCAR's top division. Busch is a one-time Sonoma winner (2011), and he cracks the Top 10 at better than a 50-percent rate at these two facilities. That level puts the driver of the No. 41 Ford at an elite level for road course performance. With an average finish of 14.9 between the two tracks, the road courses are easily his best tracks in the schedule. Busch is one of only two drivers to be a perfect four-for-four in Top 10s in the last four starts between Sonoma and the Glen. You can plug this veteran driver into your fantasy lineup with confidence in this inaugural event on the new Roval.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star should up his game this weekend. The No. 2 Penske Racing Ford team has been on fire for the last month, and has collected wins in three of the last four races. That surging performance should carry over into the Roval. While we don't expect Keselowski to win this race, he should be one of the faces among the Top 10 at the end of the day. The Roval may best compare with the Watkins Glen course because of the high speeds and incorporation of the oval. That will play to Keselowski's strengths. The Glen has been the better of the two road circuits for the Penske Racing veteran. Keselowski cracks the Top 10 there at a healthy 56-percent rate.

Clint Bowyer -
The prowess of this driver is well documented on the road circuits. Bowyer is a one-time winner (Sonoma) and sports 10 Top-5 (38-percent) and 15 Top-10 (58-percent) finishes in his combined starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford has been impeccable in his last four road course efforts. Finishes of second-, fifth-, third- and 11th-place have been his recent body of work. That comes out to a stellar 5.2 average finish. That makes Bowyer a sure lock for a Top-10 finish at the new Roval, and a good sleeper candidate to upset the bigger stars and steal the victory.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Charlotte who can provide a solid finish

Denny Hamlin - The Joe Gibbs Racing star has had some tough times of late, so we've had to slip him into the sleepers list this week. However, his road course upside makes for an intriguing fantasy racing selection this weekend. Hamlin is a one-time road course winner (Watkins Glen) and he has 11 Top-10 finishes combined between Sonoma and the Glen. The average finish checks in somewhere around a respectable 17.5. More recently, three of his last four starts on the winding circuits have yielded Top-10 finishes. Hamlin grabbed the pole and showed incredible speed the last time the series raced on a road course at the Glen in August. For these reasons we believe the driver of the No. 11 Toyota has a very high ceiling and good potential this weekend.

Erik Jones -
The surging Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has been a force all season on various tracks, and the road circuits have been no exception. In fact, the last two seasons have been very good for the driver of the No. 20 Toyota on the winding circuits. Three of his last four starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen have yielded Top-10 finishes. Seventh- and fifth-place finishes this season at both were no accident. Jones has the tools to succeed on these technically difficult tracks. The Charlotte Roval will present some new challenges for Jones, but he should adapt quickly during the three practice sessions.

A.J. Allmendinger -
The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran participated in most of the Charlotte Roval testing sessions, including the very first. Allmendinger's feedback was instrumental in tweaking the new course into its final configuration for this race. He's always been known for his road racing prowess. Allmendinger's Watkins Glen victory of 2014 is still fresh in our memory. He's chalked up six Top-10 finishes in 10 starts at that track alone. The veteran driver also has a pair of Top 10s at the Sonoma road circuit. Allmendinger's 16.9 average finish between the two make these facilities his best tracks on the circuit. His extensive testing of the Roval and general road course skill make him a good fantasy racing play in this inaugural event.

Jamie McMurray -
Sonoma and Watkins Glen have yielded good results for the veteran driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet over the years. Three poles, three Top 5s and seven Top 10s have been his net results. More recently McMurray has been even better. He has two Top 10s and three Top 15s in his last four starts at these two technical and difficult tracks. McMurray finished an impressive seventh in August at the Glen. These results point to good potential this weekend at the Charlotte Roval. McMurray should get good feedback from the practice sessions and make good decisions during the race. This inaugural event could be one that favors veteran drivers, and few come with as much experience at McMurray.

Ryan Blaney -
With the next round of the Chase hanging in the balance, Blaney should be racing with a real purpose this weekend at the Charlotte Roval. He's currently safe on points as far as advancing in the playoffs, but Blaney can't afford a bad outing Sunday. That should be the perfect motivation. Road courses have been good facilities for the young driver. Blaney has two Top 10s in six-career starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen, and an average finish at a respectable 17.5 mark. His most recent outing came in August at the Glen. Blaney qualified 11th- and finished 12th-place in the Go Bowling at the Glen. We don't believe the driver of the No. 12 Ford will crack under the pressure this weekend, we believe he'll respond.

Daniel Suarez -
Suarez may be on his way out of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 next season, but he's in audition mode right now, which means he'll be racing hard over these final eight races of 2018. Suarez has a background of road circuit racing, which he did in Mexico before coming to NASCAR. That experience has benefitted him well in the handful of road course starts he's made while in the United States. Two of his four Cup Series starts on the road courses have netted Top-10 finishes, including his most recent start at the Glen (fourth-place). Suarez has had equal road course success in the Xfinity Series. Two of his six starts in that division have netted Top 10s and a respectable 13.5 average finish.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Jimmie Johnson - Last week Johnson was a fantasy racing asset at Richmond, and he rewarded players with an eighth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond. It was one of only nine Top 10s this season for the No. 48 team, and snapped a three-race Top-10 drought for Johnson. This week the Hendrick Motorsports star flips back to the other side of the coin. Road courses have been far from Johnson's best facilities in recent years. The seven-time champion does have a career 50-percent Top-10 rate between Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but much of that good racing happened earlier in his career. Johnson's last four starts have netted no Top-10 finishes and an average around 20.8. This is a week to keep the 17-season veteran on bench.

David Ragan -
While Ragan presents a lot of fantasy racing value on the superspeedways, and even some minor value on the intermediate ovals, the road courses have been like a no-go zone for most of his Monster Energy Cup Series career. The driver of the No. 38 Ford has never cracked the Top 10 in 24 starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. His average finish on those circuits is a whopping 27.9. That's a full 6.5 positions worse than his best tracks, the superspeedways with an average of 21.6. Ragan's last four road course starts have netted no Top-20 finishes and one finish outside the Top 30 for an average of 26.5. That's only slightly better than his career average. The Charlotte Roval is going to present many challenges to this road-course challenged driver.

Trevor Bayne -
Bayne steps back into the No. 6 Ford of Roush Fenway Racing this weekend. While that's generally good news for the young driver, the fact that we're racing on a road circuit isn't necessarily the best news for this driver and team. Bayne has only one Top 10 in seven combined starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The average finish checks in at 24.0, making the winding circuits his worst tracks in the series. Bayne seems to have confirmed that with his last three efforts between the two tracks. Finishes of 27th-, 35th- and 27th-place have been his last three performances. Bayne hasn't been getting the seat time in 2018 required to remain sharp, couple that with a brand new road course, and the outcome should be pretty predictable.

Joey Logano -
While Logano has been a strong and consistent performer leading up to and into the Chase, we have to recommend benching him this week. The Penske Racing star has a mixed bag of results on the series' road courses. While Logano has one win (Watkins Glen) and nine Top 10s in 20 starts, he's fallen on hard times of late in recent visits to the winding circuits. Logano has just one Top-15 finish in his last four starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. During that span he has two finishes outside the Top 20. The most recent was a crash and DNF at the Glen during the summer. The Penske Racing star has the skill to prove us wrong this weekend, but his luck and lack of performance on the road circuits the last two seasons give us major pause heading into Sunday's Bank of America Roval 400.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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