It took a while, but boy did we ever get that Roval wreck-fest we were promised.
The inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was hailed as one of the more unpredictable, chaotic races in recent NASCAR Cup Series history, and for good reason.
The half-oval, half-road course track, with all its tight turns and blind corners and narrow lanes, was something unlike anything else these drivers will face all season, especially unlike anything else they’ll face in the playoffs.
But for the first 103 of 109 laps, that wasn’t how the race played out.
Coming off a late restart, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski had only been managing their fuel mileage and trying to outlast one another to the end.
Keselowski’s brakes failed him in Turn 1, and as he went careening into the wall, Larson went with him. From there, it was like a metal wall plopped down in the middle of a narrow road — and nobody was getting through.
Seemingly every car sustained damage or was destroyed completely in the mess, not to mention the wall itself, prompting NASCAR to drop the red flag and stop the race.
When the racing finally resumed, Keselowski was unable to finish, leaving Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson left in a six-lap shootout for the first Roval win.
Ultimately Johnson tried to pass Truex in the last trip through the front-stretch chicane, spinning out both, and leaving Ryan Blaney wide open to cruise in to win his first race this season.
Meanwhile, in the first playoff cutdown race, the only real playoff drama was for the last spot. Austin Dillon crashed out relatively early and knocked himself out of the playoffs, and Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin were too far back without a victory to have a chance at advancing.
Larson, with a severely damaged race car, limped to the finish, passing the crashed car of Jeffrey Earnhardt just short of the start-finish line. That put him into a three-way tiebreaker for two spots with Aric Almirola and Johnson.
A seven-time NASCAR champion, Johnson lost out, seeing his hopes for an eighth title end for this season.
Stage 1: It didn’t take Larson long to pass Kurt Busch on the pole, doing so masterfully by undercutting Busch in the frontstretch chicane. He went on to win the first stage by a wide margin, with Busch and Clint Bowyer the next-closest on his heels. And somehow, for all the worrying pre-race, there was only one caution in Stage 1.
Stage 2: Larson pitted midway through the stage and ultimately could only get himself back into 9th, as Blaney assumed his lead and carried it through the duration of Stage 2. Meanwhile, with two laps to go in the stage, Keselowski spun in the frontstretch chicane and took Truex with him, costing both a significant amount of track position.
Stage 3: Finally we got “The Big One” we’d been waiting on, as on Lap 103 Keselowski and Larson got tangled near the Turn 1 wall and took out nearly ever substantial competitor. Johnson and Truex were then competing for the victory, only to get into one another and spin out on the final trip through the frontstretch chicane. Instead, neither won the race and Blaney got his first Cup Series victory this season.
Three who mattered
Ryan Blaney: Blaney was in the right place at the right time, as he was able to take advantage of Truex and Johnson’s chaos to somehow win his first Cup Series race this season and second ever.
Kyle Larson: He jumped out to the race lead in the first 10 laps, and while he ultimately relinquished the lead when he needed to pit, he was very much in contention when the major wreck hit late in the race. Unfortunately for Larson, it was more of the bad luck he’s had this season — he ended up just lucky enough to win a tiebreaker and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Brad Keselowski: He spun midway through the race, but smartly avoided a penalty to keep his chances of a fourth win in five races alive. But he plowed straight into the wall and completely mangled his car, ending up with a DNF instead.
▪ An endearing moment during the pace lap, as Truex got right up behind his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex — Sunday’s pace car driver — and bumped the back of her car. Truex’s No. 78 car was painted teal this weekend to honor Pollex’s ongoing fight with ovarian cancer. He ultimately finished 14th.
▪ Free advertising for Echo Park, an automobile shop, when Chris Buescher spun into the wall and a piece of their billboard got caught in the rear of his car. Same thing for JJ Yeley, who went into the wall and came out with a Bojangles’ placard across the front of his car.
▪ Clint Bowyer, Johnson, Erik Jones, and Denny Hamlin entered Sunday’s race on the outside of the playoff cut line and desperately needing help to stave off elimination. With Austin Dillon’s early exit, he instead failed to advance, as did Jones, Hamlin, and by virtue of a tiebreaker, Johnson.
They said it
“The whole field went down into Turn 1 and it looked like we all went straight.” – Keselowski on what happened to cause the late wreck.