Posted: 2:08 pm Friday, September 28th, 2018
By Doug "Fireball" Turnbull
At the time of this writing, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has practiced once on the new Charlotte Roval, the Xfinity Series has logged two Thursday test sessions and is in midst of practice one, and rain has popped up on and off both days. The cars with speed are becoming apparent (Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, and Ryan Preece for NXS and Kyle Busch and Erik Jones in MENCS). But how these races will play out absolutely is not certain.
A handful of NXS cars got varying degrees of wreck damage Thursday, with Turn 5 being the most common crash pad. The opening MENCS practice saw a bevy of drivers spin, Denny Hamlin get significant right-front damage on one of the metal rumble strips, and Austin Dillon with even worse left-front wounds after tagging the tire barrier on the exit of Turn 12, which is the exit of the backstretch inner loop. Dillon said that mishap was simply because he was gaining confidence and trying to find the edge – and he went over it.
As you can see in the picture, drivers will use almost all of the original Charlotte track surface. Drivers cut a hard left turn into the infield via the new Turn 1, just after the start-finish line. The infield road course turns are shaped like a big mushroom, with an almost squared-off top and a big elevation change that makes the move from Turn 5 to Turn 6 a blind hill. And the cars re-enter the main track surface after a hard left in Turn 8. Turns 9, 10, 13, and 14 are the old Turns 1-4, but drivers will be entering them with much lower speeds than they did on the original layout in May.
Turns 11 and 12 at the end of the back straightaway comprise an inner loop that they will enter at nearly full speed. Joey Logano told the media Friday morning that this is the part of the track that he is most wary of, because the cars as so fast and there is only one lane. Martin Truex Jr. said that the tire barrier at the Turn 12 exit wasn’t there during their past tests and they were racing a full car-length to the left before from what they have to now. That tire barrier has bitten several cars through the day. Dillon said that is technically the most simple part of the track, but a place that could cause a lot of problems (as he learned the hard way).
NASCAR has granted teams rain tires this weekend and teams have discretion whether to use them or not. But they cannot put on the rain tires until NASCAR actually throws a caution for rain. They will do that, so everyone has an equal chance to make that adjustment. NASCAR did tell us in a Friday meeting that they had trouble drying the frontstretch chicane (Turns 15-17) and Turn 8.
Restarts will be very interesting, as the field will bypass the front-straight chicane, since some cars would still be in that tri-turn corner when the leaders would speed up for the restart. That difference in speed would likely cause havoc, so NASCAR is eliminating that chicane, coming to green.
Drivers that miss the front or back stretch chicanes during green flag runs will get pass-thru pit road penalties. If they miss those chicanes on the last laps of the stages or the race, NASCAR assesses a 30-second penalty.
NXS director Wayne Auton said that drivers improved their running times by 22 seconds from the beginning to the end of Thursday’s test sessions for that series. The MENCS first practice saw a seven-second gap between leader Kyle Busch and 40th-place Landon Cassill. That’s a 10 mph difference. That speed differential could come into play Saturday and Sunday, as slower cars and less-experienced drivers will struggle and will likely be very hard for leaders to negotiate on the narrow racing surface.
With this Bank of America Roval 400K being an elimination playoff race and so many drivers so close in the standings, this race shapes up to being a wildcard with or without a large array of wrecks.
Join us on the Performance Racing Network for live coverage of Cup qualifying (4:30 p.m. today), the Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 300 pressended Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (2:30 p.m. Saturday), and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400K (Sunday at 1 p.m.). I get to call Turns 6,7, and 8. You won’t want to miss this groundbreaking event. Check us out at GoPRN.com, the PRN App, or your local radio affiliate.