Race Weekend Central

Drivers Have Mixed Feelings About Final Charlotte Oval Playoff Race

Sunday’s Bank of America 500 will be the final use of the oval track in the playoffs at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the foreseeable future. What’s next for NASCAR home track? A roval, a combination of practically the entire 1.5-mile oval surface with the use of the infield road course inside.

While it’s a fairly popular move among fans, who have hammered the sanctioning body for years to add more road racing to the already jam-packed NASCAR calendars, drivers are a little double-sided.

And that’s important to mention, since these are the people using the course come fall 2018.

Kyle Larson has placed himself as one of the top intermediate track racers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, also scoring poles and/or top fives at road courses Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway. Larson is on the fence about the unique change.

“I don’t know if it will be a good race, bad race, embarrassing race,” Larson said. “But it’s going to be exciting nonetheless.”

Though he isn’t sure of the practicality of the course, Larson is sure that it will be a hit with the fans.

“I think the fans will enjoy,” he said. “I don’t know how the drivers will enjoy it until they actually get to make some laps. Charlotte and NASCAR are trying to make things more exciting down here, and this is one way to do it.”

Another driver optimistic at this point of the process is XFINITY Series driver Brendan Gaughan, who has kept his passion for road racing — and rightly named tracks — as obvious as possible.

“I love road courses, I just hate the name ‘roval.’ I think that’s an awful name,” said Gaughan, who scored his first XFINITY win at Road America in 2014. “I love my road racing, we all know that. We have been running speedway road courses for years. Hell, Daytona’s been doing it for 55 years or something now. It’s nothing new. I’ve been fortunate enough to have run that a few times.”

Gaughan said he believes mixing NASCAR’s home track and some fans’ most popular form of racing will be a hit.

“What an opportunity to come to NASCAR’s home and come into a place in the playoffs now with a road course,” he said. “Fans have been asking for that for years. The last style of racing we have is road racing, so to put it in the playoffs is awesome.”

Just when you think everyone’s happy, a 180-degree switch was offered by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The plate racing ace is simply not looking forward to the move to right-hand turns — and for good reason; the Roush Fenway Racing driver has finished better than 20th only once in his 10 Cup Series road races.

“This weekend, I’m glad we’re on the oval,” Stenhouse said. “I’m not looking forward to running a road course here. I’m definitely glad we’re on the oval still.”

With mixed reviews this weekend from both XFINITY and Cup drivers, some questions will be answered with teams return to Charlotte for a Goodyear tire test on the roval surface. Among the teams: Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr.

“We’ll know more then,” Truex said. “I’ve heard rumbles about us doing it. We typically don’t like to test, we haven’t tested all year. There’s no telling how this one will stack up against the other two [road courses]. I feel I’ve been good at those, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be good here.”

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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Rule of thumb: Generally if the drivers like a track, the fans hate it and vice versa.

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