Roval 400 Preview: Playoff Road Race

Roval 400 Preview: Playoff Road Race

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 three of 10 in the playoff format that crowns the Monster Energy Cup Series champion.  This event signals the end of the Round of 16 as four drivers will be eliminated from the field of 16 playoff drivers after this race.  

For this very crucial race, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway offer the second annual road course race at the North Carolina oval.  Last year the folks at CMS 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.  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 most of the field raced on the Roval last season will help with some familiarity, but it's still a major departure from the weekly NASCAR oval.  For this season, CMS widened the back straightaway chicane.  That will also help as several drivers smashed into the temporary barriers at that part of the course last year.  When we add the newness of this event and

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 three of 10 in the playoff format that crowns the Monster Energy Cup Series champion.  This event signals the end of the Round of 16 as four drivers will be eliminated from the field of 16 playoff drivers after this race.  

For this very crucial race, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway offer the second annual road course race at the North Carolina oval.  Last year the folks at CMS 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.  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 most of the field raced on the Roval last season will help with some familiarity, but it's still a major departure from the weekly NASCAR oval.  For this season, CMS widened the back straightaway chicane.  That will also help as several drivers smashed into the temporary barriers at that part of the course last year.  When we add the newness of this event and course with the fact that it's a "cut race" in the Chase, the pressure to finish well will be enormous.  Those drivers that don't find bad luck, or don't crack under the pressure will move on in the playoffs.

Since this is just the second race at a completely new course, we have very little in the way of historical data to examine.  That does put us at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, we're not completely unarmed with numbers.  We do have the loop data from last season's inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval.  Those numbers along with the historically strong road course drivers will form the backbone of our fantasy racing picks this weekend.  In the table below are the driver's loop stats from last year's Bank of America Roval 400, sorted by driver rating.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Larson25.013314794123.6
Jimmie Johnson8.0413095107.0
Kurt Busch5.0327795105.2
Chase Elliott6.0254093104.7
Ryan Blaney1.01721672104.2
Martin Truex Jr.14.02413593102.3
Clint Bowyer3.022505995.7
Kevin Harvick9.021109493.7
Kyle Busch32.017109392.9
Brad Keselowski31.0158295390.1
Alex Bowman4.017505588.9
Paul Menard33.013126886.0
Joey Logano10.012006882.8
William Byron34.021006074.3
Denny Hamlin12.015106471.4
Daniel Hemric23.014004567.8
Michael McDowell18.013002967.4
Austin Dillon39.013002667.2
Aric Almirola19.013001365.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.37.012123262.8

Since we're running just our second-ever race on the Roval, we're going to be very light on historical records this weekend.  We have one race to lean on, and that data while helpful can't be the entirety of our analysis.  The road course at Charlotte will continue carving out its reputation and history this weekend.  If we look back on last season's inaugural race, we saw a very wild finish that came down to luck and good fortunes in the last couple turns leading up to the finish.  What looked like a sure Martin Truex Jr. victory was robbed at the last second by Jimmie Johnson's overdrive and crash into the final turns 16-17 combo.  His spin and crash took out Truex within a stone's throw of the finish line.  Instead that day it would be the fortunate Ryan Blaney that would seize the moment and jump from third to first in those final yards of race track for the win.  We could be in for another unpredictable wild finish again on this tricky course.

In addition to last season's Bank of America Roval 400, we're going to rely very heavily on the road course ringers.  Those drivers who specialize at tracks like Sonoma and Watkins Glen are going to have the skills and talents to succeed on the Charlotte Roval.  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 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

Martin Truex Jr. Truex muddled his way into the postseason, but he's found a new high gear since the Chase began.  With a pair of victories at Las Vegas and Richmond, the No. 19 Toyota team comes riding high into the Roval.  Truex has been nothing less than an ace on the road course circuits.  Two-straight Sonoma victories, one win and two runner-up finishes at the Watkins Glen circuit, all since the 2017 season, show the excellent road racing skills of this veteran driver.  In addition, Truex looked like he had the inaugural Roval race well in hand last year before Jimmie Johnson's mishap in the final turns took him out.  This Joe Gibbs Racing star is a mandatory fantasy racing start this weekend.

Chase Elliott Our last and most recent road course victor comes in the next slot of the contenders list this week.  Who can forget Elliott's dominant second-straight victory at Watkins Glen during the summer?  That incredible performance is still fresh in our memory.  For the second-straight season he bested Martin Truex Jr. in a two-driver duel to the finish at the Glen.  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 wins and three Top-5 finishes in his last four starts at those tracks.  In the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400, Elliott peddled the No. 9 Chevrolet to an impressive sixth-place finish.  With the urgency of advancing in the playoffs at stake, we believe he'll be even sharper this time around. 

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 three seasons have netted three poles, one outside pole and seven Top-5 starting spots.  That's only translated into three Top-10 finishes, but the upside is difficult to ignore.  Laron's start on the Charlotte Roval last season was pretty impressive.  He piloted the No. 42 Chevrolet to 47 laps led (race high), but a late-race multi-car accident would roll him up and result in a 25th-place finish.  He deserved much better for the speed and skill he displayed that afternoon.  Larson is racing pretty well right now, and he's had a good year on the road circuits.  He could be the surprise winner of this third race of the Chase.   

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star has been razor sharp the last several weeks.  The No. 2 Penske Racing Ford team has grabbed four Top-5 finishes in the last five events, and are coming off a strong fourth-place finish at Richmond.  That surging performance should carry over into the Roval this Sunday.  Keselowski has a slugger's chance to win this race, and he should be one of the faces among the Top 5 at the end of the day.  In this race one year ago, the veteran driver led 29 laps during the late portions of stage 3.  He looked to be a factor in the win, but much like Kyle Larson he succumbed to the 14-car accident on lap 105.  Keselowski has the momentum and experience to be a high-ceiling driver for this Bank of America Roval 400.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Kyle Busch After last week's strong performance and runner-up finish at Richmond, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is pointed towards advancing in the playoffs and challenging for his second-career championship.  This race is not a must-win for Busch, and 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 11-career Top-5 finishes on those circuits works out to a strong 37-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 a Top-5 threat for this race.

Kevin Harvick Harvick is not in a must win situation this weekend.  After his seventh-place 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 a Charlotte Roval trophy on his shelf.  The driver of the No. 4 SHR Ford owns two-career victories on the NASCAR road courses, so he's not a top contender at these facilities, but he's been there and done that.  His second- and sixth-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 has had a good season on the road courses with sixth- and seventh-place efforts at Sonoma and the Glen. 

Denny Hamlin The Joe Gibbs Racing star is coming off an impressive third-place effort at Richmond.  That momentum is great, and in addition 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 13 Top-10 finishes combined between Sonoma and the Glen.  The average finish checks in somewhere around a respectable 17.0.  More recently, five of his last seven starts on the winding circuits have yielded Top-10 finishes.  Hamlin has grabbed a pair of Top 5's (fifth- and third-place) at Sonoma and the Glen this season.  For these reasons we believe the driver of the No. 11 Toyota has a very high ceiling and good potential this weekend.

Clint Bowyer The skill and excellence of this veteran driver is well documented on the road circuits.  Bowyer is a one-time winner (Sonoma) and sports 10 Top-5 (36-percent) and 15 Top-10 (54-percent) finishes in his combined starts between Sonoma and Watkins Glen.  The driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford raced to a brilliant third-place finish in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400.  That experience will not likely be lost on this driver and team.  Considering that Bowyer is riding a string of four Top 10's in the last five races, he's a hot hand coming to North Carolina this weekend.  That makes Bowyer a sure lock for a Top-10 finish at the Roval, and a good upset candidate to upstage the bigger stars and steal the victory.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Charlotte & solid upside

Ryan BlaneyWith 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.  As last year's Bank of America Roval 400 winner, a lot of focus will be on this young driver.  Blaney may not make it back to victory lane, but his road racing stats of the last three seasons suggest he won't be far off.  Since winning at the Roval last September, he's racked up third- and fifth-place finishes this season at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.  That gives Blaney five Top 10's in his last seven road course starts (71-percent).  You don't reach that level of excellence on these very technical tracks by accident.     

Kurt Busch The Chip Ganassi 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 both Sonoma and the Glen.  That level puts the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet at an elite level for road course performance.  With an average finish of 14.8 between those two tracks, the road courses are easily his best tracks in the schedule.  Busch won the pole for this inaugural event last season, and led 7 total laps before finishing a very respectable fifth-place at the Charlotte Roval.  He brings that upside to the table in this event.  The veteran driver knows how to execute on technical circuits and it shows in his stellar 86-percent Top-10 rate in road course racing over the last three seasons.   

Jimmie Johnson – Last week Johnson was a fantasy racing asset at Richmond, and he rewarded players with a 10th-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond.  It was one of only nine Top 10's this season for the No. 48 team, and snapped a nine-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 mediocre this season for the seven-time champion.  However, the outlier was last year's Bank of America Roval 400.  Johnson started sixth on the grid and raced for the win in the closing laps, but couldn't get around Martin Truex Jr. for the win and finished eighth after his spin.  That experience will come in valuable for Johnson this Sunday afternoon.

Matt DiBenedetto DiBenedetto had quite a July and August hot streak.  He nabbed five Top-10 finishes in an eight-race span during that time.  He's cooled a bit the last three races, but he's generally been around the Top 15 each week.  The Leavine Family Racing driver gets another chance to impress us this week at the Charlotte Roval.  He raced in this event one year ago and peddled Go FAS Racing's No. 32 Ford to a respectable 13th-place finish.  DiBenedetto is with a better equipped team for this Bank of America Roval 400.  His road racing stats this season are impeccable.  A brilliant fourth-place finish at Sonoma in June was followed by an equally impressive sixth-place finish at Watkins Glen in the late summer.  DiBenedetto is a "wheel man" and he'll prove it in this Charlotte Roval.   

Alex Bowman Since taking over the No. 88 Chevrolet, Bowman has proven his skill on the road circuits the last two seasons.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver has racked up two Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes between Sonoma, the Glen and the Charlotte Roval.  The best finish among those five starts was his brilliant fourth-place finish last season in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400.  The finish was no fluke as Bowman qualified third on the grid and registered a whopping 72 green-flag passes en route to the impressive Top-5 finish.  This young driver has the added incentive of advancing in the Chase for the Cup also working for him.  The urgency to advance into round 2 of the Chase will motivate the No. 88 team to a good finish this weekend.  

Aric Almirola In some respects the 2019 season has been disappointing for the Stewart Haas Racing veteran.  Almirola is not on pace to match his career 2018 campaign, but he's still alive in the Chase.  His ability to advance is going to be completely dependent on how he performs this Sunday in Charlotte.  The road courses have not been bad for Almirola this season.  The veteran SHR driver racked up a surprising ninth-place finish at Sonoma in June, and he followed it with a respectable 12th-place finish at Watkins Glen in August.  He's been able to maintain the lead lap in those races, and race around the back end of the Top 10.  That's likely all it will take for him to advance to round 2 of the Chase, and a good measuring stick of what to expect in terms of fantasy racing performance.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

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 10's in 22 starts, he's fallen on hard times of late in recent visits to the winding circuits.  Logano has just one Top-10 finish in his last seven starts between Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.  During that span he has four finishes outside the Top 20, with two of those coming this season alone.  The most recent was a subpar 23rd-place finish 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 three seasons give us major pause heading into Sunday's Bank of America Roval 400. 

Erik Jones The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has hit an incredible string of bad luck the last three events.  Jones has three-straight finishes outside the Top 30, with the latest wound being his disqualification this past week at Richmond that negated a Top-5 finish and hung him with 38th-place due to a rules infraction.  Everything in NASCAR seems to run in streaks, whether good or bad so that's something to pay attention to coming to the Roval.  In this inaugural event one year ago, Jones struggled to a 30th-place finish.  That's not an encouraging stat heading into this Sunday.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has been very good the last three seasons on road circuits, but he's so radioactive right now, it's best to keep clear for the time being.    

Darrell Wallace Jr. Despite coming off a respectable 12th-place finish at Richmond this past week, we have to recommend against deploying the No. 43 Chevrolet team this week.  Wallace struggled at the Roval last season.  He qualified poorly, and finished poorly (36th-place) after getting rolled up in a late-race crash.  Road courses have been this young driver's nemesis the last two seasons.  All five of Wallace's starts have resulted in finishes outside the Top 25, and an average finish across the span of 28.8.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has his moments from time to time, but this weekend at the Charlotte Roval won't be one of them.

Austin Dillon With a string of one Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in the last four events, some may be convinced to deploy Dillon in fantasy racing leagues this week.  We believe that would be a mistake.  The Charlotte Roval is completely different than our recent schedule of short tracks and intermediate ovals.  His start in this race one year ago resulted in Dillon crashing out mid-race as he miscalculated the entrance to the tricky turn 1 at the Roval.  The RCR driver's last three seasons of road course action has only netted two Top-20 finishes in seven starts, and four finishes outside the Top 25.  The average finish across that span is 25.9, and it clearly illustrates that Dillon is challenged to perform on these technical courses.

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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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