“Not crashing might be the biggest challenge.”
Not my words. That’s what Joey Logano said after this week’s test at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval” — the new 2.28-mile course that incorporates roughly three-quarters of the track’s oval and its infield road course. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Roval on Sept. 30 for the first time.
And it’s going to be a first-class cluster.
While Logano followed up that above statement with some nice words about the whole thing being a lot of fun and a good show for fans, the latter is going to be incredibly true for fans who like to see wadded up racecars and pissed off racecar drivers.
Since testing began, we have seen Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and William Byron (spectacularly) spin or run into something. The track had to do some minor reconfiguring after last week’s testing to prevent drivers from cheating a chicane designed to slow the cars down. Not exactly reassuring about how this whole thing is going to go down.
Look, I’m excited about the race and glad the speedway and NASCAR took a chance on the Roval and doing something extremely different in the face of waning interest and attendance. You may can chalk up the difficulties that drivers have experienced in qualifying to the fact that they are all young drivers with limited road course experience.
But when asked about the Roval, one veteran driver led with one word: sketchy.
“It’s just sketchy,” Clint Bowyer said. “I’m talking from the time you get on the racetrack to the time you get off of it, you’re just tiptoeing; there’s no room for error at all. The grip level, if you get to sliding a little bit, like in three getting in there and your looking over at them tires and there’s no room. If that comes out from underneath you, you’re in the fence hard. There’s no limping away from it; you’re not going to finish the race.
“When we come back here, there are going to be a lot of cars that are doing that (bobbling),” he added. “You just hope they aren’t in front of you because there are going to be a lot of wadded up cars.”
See, sounds hopeful.
Some drivers had more positive things to say. But they were tempered.
“Overall I think the race track is fun,” said Logano on Tuesday. “It’s different than any other race track we go to, which I don’t think is a bad thing in any way. There are definitely some spots on the racetrack that are pretty treacherous.
“Honestly, the biggest challenge is probably going to be just getting through the race. You may see some fast cars get torn up. Finishing this thing is priority one. If you do that, you’ll probably have a pretty good shot at winning it.”
“There’s going to be a lot of contact,” said AJ Allmendinger, one of NASCAR’s best road races. “Through the infield, it’s fairly narrow. There’s going to be contact. It’s short track racing in the infield … There’s a uniqueness to it because we’re still running at high speeds on the oval. If you take off a fender, it’s going to be a big deal to your race car.”
The Charlotte race is in the playoffs and I think we are going to see if break a few guys in the first round.
I have this feeling that there are going to be about 20 cars running at the end — not unlike a restrictor-plate race — and it is a total wild card. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it adds a new wrinkle to the whole season.
After 600 words it occurred to me that NASCAR is actually getting exactly what they want.
The race is about six weeks away and I am up late at night writing about it.
Well played, NASCAR. You may have a s#!+show on your hands, but at least it will be entertaining.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @andy_cagle.