Charlotte’s ‘roval’ May Host NASCAR’s Race of the Year
CONCORD, N.C. -- Charlotte Motor Speedway already has a win for the buzz it created by taking a bulldozer to its infield and building something new to NASCAR.
Charlotte’s “roval” will debut Sunday in a critical playoff race -- a track unlike anything used before in NASCAR. It isn’t an oval or a road course; rather, it’s a hybrid that uses Charlotte’s existing speedway along with a winding course through the infield.
Fans haven’t been this excited for a race, for a track, in forever. The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course has a 35-foot change in elevation and everything about it is a mystery even after a handful of test sessions.
It is a lurking monster on the schedule that has terrified teams trying to guess what to expect.
“You’re on pins and needles, afraid you’re going to bust your butt,” said Jimmie Johnson, an eight-time winner on Charlotte’s oval.
That is an unsettling feeling before an elimination race that will cut four drivers from the 16-driver field. Drivers didn’t like it when Talladega Superspeedway was an elimination race because the Alabama track can be so unpredictable.
At least they could formulate a plan of attack at Talladega.
For the roval, no blueprint exits.
Drivers figured out a shortcut during a test session in July when they used an artificial chicane to cut time rather than to slow their speeds. NASCAR and Charlotte officials have addressed that, but other quirks may pop up as soon as drivers hit the track this week.
The roval has the potential to be one of the most memorable NASCAR events in decades, but it also could be a disaster or a demolition derby that makes professional race car drivers look like comedic amateurs. Still, the outcome doesn’t matter -- well, it does for the four drivers who will be bounced from the playoffs -- because this is already a winning moment for NASCAR.
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, was willing to try something totally different. Racing at 1.5-mile speedways has lost a lot of its luster, and NASCAR has yet to hit on a rules package capable of creating white-knuckled racing. So SMI made a capital investment on its own property and came up with something unique to the sport of auto racing.
“I’m terrified,” said Martin Truex Jr. “I feel really bad for the guys that are going to go in there and have to do something. I think everybody is scared to death of that place.”