Listen to these comments, straight from the mouths of the men who will race in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
“The biggest challenge with the roval is going to be not crashing.”
“Nobody really knows what to expect.”
“There’s going to be a lot of hurt feelings at the end of the day.”
Now to each his own, but that’s about as telling a set of interviews as you could ask for. There are no niceties there. No, ‘Oh, we’ll figure it out,’ or any other fake optimism.
Those are three pros, three men with sponsors and families and fans and (literally) tons of dollars on the line, basically saying the same thing:
We don’t know what the we’re getting into, but whatever it is, it’ll be a complete mess.
Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway — or do we call it the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course now? — the NASCAR Cup Series will run the first race on CMS’s newest concoction: the Roval. It’s half road course, half oval hybrid track that will feature speeds as high as the 160’s and as low as the 40’s. There are blind turns, hills and valleys, half a classic NASCAR oval... and a lot of confusion about how all that coalesces.
And the fact that it’s a playoff eliminationrace?
Well, you couldn’t ask for a better spectacle as a fan. Or, for a worse draw as a driver.
Really, that’s the sympathy you’ll get all weekend from fans and drivers. A true dichotomy. The people in the stands, the ones wearing headphones and their T-shirts autographed, they want to see the chaos. They want madness. They want wrecks, and they want fights.
And, they’re going to get both.
As for the drivers, that’s the last thing they want, especially if you’re one of the few on the elimination bubble. You think Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion in peril of missing the second round, wants to rely on this course right now? Heck, he’d rather take on Daytona, Talladega... anything but this nonsense.
Only, that “nonsense” is exactly what NASCAR needs. This is a shakeup. It’s unpredictable, and in a sport in which that irregularity and spontaneity is rapidly being crushed by rulebooks and ruts, you can never have enough newness.
Maybe we’ll find that the Roval is a little too out there. If there’s no passing, or a wreck every lap, or it takes seven hours, maybe we scrap it and go back to the drawing board for innovation.
CMS has never been a shy institution as far as taking risks, and this race certainly qualifies as a big one. The smart people in charge there will know if this is a failure, and they won’t be too stubborn to change.
But I bet this won’t be a failure. A wreck-fest, perhaps. A nightmare for drivers? Yeah, I’d buy that, too.
I’d also buy a ticket, though, or tune in on the TV from home. Because for the first time in recent memory with NASCAR, and especially the Cup Series, there’s a true wild card with monumental consequences. Three drivers will be eliminated after this race, and they’re going to be angry about it. Being eliminated is one thing, but on a “kooky” track? They’ll be blowing more steam than their cars are.
Even Martin Truex Jr., who enters the weekend tops on the leader board, isn’t confident about what the Roval holds.
“We don’t know what to expect,” the reigning Cup Series champion said. “It’s going to be crazy. There’s a lot of question marks and the fact that it’s an elimination race, a lot of guys are nervous.”
They should be. I mean, who wouldn’t in their shoes?
And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why the Bank of America Roval 400 will be must-see TV. We know the drivers will hate it, even though they can only guess how it will turn out. The fans, for the same reasons, will adore it.
Everyone, no matter who they are or what they say, is in the same boat of not knowing a thing about what will happen.
And that chaos... well, that’s all we can really ask for.
This week’s NASCAR race: Roval at Charlotte: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400.
Distance: 109 laps, or 248.5 miles.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, a 2.28-mile asphalt hybrid oval-road course in Concord, North Carolina.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Also this week: Drive for the Cure 200 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Xfinity Series, Charlotte Motor Speedway, 3 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: The Roval is the first road course in NASCAR Cup Series playoff history.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Kyle Busch: His seventh win of the season at Richmond both guaranteed him a spot in the next round of the playoffs and pushed him to second on the leaderboard.
Kevin Harvick: All he needs to do is start the Roval race to advance to the Round of 12 in the playoffs — not bad.
Denny Hamlin: He’s in about as bad a spot as you could ask for entering an unknown new track: last of all the playoff drivers and needing to run well to even stay alive in the postseason.
Erik Jones: Jones still has a chance of climbing back into one of the Top 12 playoff spots, but if they ended today, he’d be on the outside looking in.