Who’s in the headline
The list of road course favorites was long going into the first ROVAL race, and it was a safe bet that Ryan Blaney wasn’t on most of those lists. However, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and Blaney was lucky to be in the right place at the right time when Jimmie Johnson wrecked with Martin Truex Jr. while going for the lead in the final turn of the race. It gave Blaney the win and it cost Johnson a berth in the second round of the playoffs. Blaney was far from a shocker as he won the second stage of the race as well. Kyle Larson took the first stage after starting fifth and making the first on-track pass for the lead.
It all started when Marcus Smith decided to upgrade the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway so that stock cars could race on it. Since then, the ROVAL has been the topic of discussion building up to Sunday’s race. In the end, the hype resulted in a whale of a race. Kurt Busch won the pole, led to start the race but lost the top spot to Larson on lap eight. Larson held onto the point for the remainder of the first stage to claim the points.
Stage two saw Larson stay out on the mandatory caution with Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Larson led on the restart but knew he had to pit during the stage. He ended up pitting on lap 36, surrendering the point to Blaney. At that point, it became his stage win to lose. Late in the stage, Brad Keselowski and Truex got into a spin in the front straight chicane that altered their race strategy. Blaney led the final 14 laps of the stage to grab the stage win. That put the first 50 laps of the race into the books with only one caution outside of the stage ends … but it was about to change.
The final stage started with Larson leading thanks to pitting during the second stage. Austin Dillon smacked the wall on lap 66 to bring out a caution. That resulted in Larson pitting for his second time of the race, followed by Jamie McMurray. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led for two laps before making a mistake and being overtaken by Paul Menard. Keselowski then reassumed the point from Menard and looked to be headed toward a fuel strategy victory.
On lap 103, Stenhouse spun into the tire barrier to bring out a quickie caution. Keselowski stayed out, meaning he was on well-worn tires along with several other drivers. On the lap 105 restart, Keselowski and no less than 13 other cars wadded them up into the tire barrier leading into the infield. After the red flag and clean-up from that disaster, Truex assumed the point. He led Johnson as they pulled away from the rest of the field.
Johnson stalked him and on the final corners of the final chicane of the event Johnson overdrove the entrance, spun out, and took Truex out with him. The result was Blaney strolling through the opening left and grabbing the victory amongst the smoke of the dueling spins.
Why you should care
The biggest story coming out of the race, despite the unrivaled success of the ROVAL, was Johnson not only failing to advance in the playoff but making a stupid decision that cost himself and Truex. Johnson is having a down year but one of the smartest drivers in the sport simply proved that, once the helmets go on, the brains turn off.
Stewart-Haas Racing advanced all four of its drivers to the next round which means it’s the only organization with four full-time drivers who all made the second round of the playoffs. The team is poised to have all of those drivers make the final eight. With Joe Gibbs Racing losing two, it is setting up to be a battle between Team Penske and Roush against SHR over the final seven races.
What your friends are talking about
The ROVAL might have been a big success but part of that was because no one knew what to expect. Restarts with old tires, sandbags holding signs, walls that needed to be moved and a myriad of other things were all learned by the track, fans and teams. It was a horrible decision to have an elimination race on a track that had never been raced before. The ROVAL is here to stay but next year might not be quite as exciting as this year.
Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric have both been announced as new Cup drivers for 2019. The youth movement in the sport continues as some more of the old guard is looking for work. Ryan Newman is moving on to Roush Fenway Racing, but AJ Allmendinger is looking for work at this point and will most likely end up in IMSA.
A bunch of fans were up in arms about Kyle Busch cutting the first corner and not being penalized. He did not advance his position so NASCAR did not penalize him. For some reason, no one gets upset about drivers dive bombing across the dogleg at Phoenix and that is the same thing. People need to decide what offends them and be consistent.
The 2019 rules package has been approved by the owners. The details have not been released yet, but it appears that a version of the All-Star package from 2018 could be used at most of the intermediate tracks in 2019. The difference is a tapered spacer rather than a restrictor plate. In reality, you say tomato, I say tomahto. The end result is that the top series in stock car racing is going to have approximately 540 horsepower.
Who is mad
The No. 48 team, owner and fans are all pissed about Johnson making the terrible move at the end of the race that caused his team to miss the playoffs. It is always easy to Monday morning quarterback but, when you are in second place and into the next round by seven or eight points, somebody needs to be screaming in the driver’s ear so that he doesn’t do something that hurts the driver or his team.
Keselowski was a big part of the show for the first 103 laps on Sunday until he led the field into the barriers in Turn 1. It looked remarkably like when a precision air team all flies into the ground because they are flying off of the wing of the lead pilot. In the end, whether it was a poor line of sight or poor decision making, the result was Keselowski put on a show Sunday but his finish didn’t reflect it.
Who is happy
There are a lot of people who would think that Bubba Wallace should be in the mad category. He had the worst time of any driver over the last month or so at the ROVAL. He tore up multiple cars and did a lot of spinning through the tests and the race. There isn’t a driver in the garage who is happier that the series isn’t coming back to Charlotte to run the ROVAL for 12 months.
Larson could not be happier that Johnson chose Sunday to have a full-on mental fart. Johnson has had some terrible luck lately and when he had a chance for a miracle advancement to the second round he foolishly pissed it away. That maneuver led to a wounded Larson limping to the finish and ultimately taking the tiebreaker between himself, Johnson and Aric Almirola.
When the checkered flag flew
Ryan Blaney won his second race of his career on Sunday in his 119th start.
It is Blaney’s first win of 2018.
Two career wins ranks Blaney in a tie with 25 other drivers for 102nd on the list.
Jamie McMurray came home in second place thanks to the late race carnage.
This is McMurray’s best finish of 2018.
McMurray has one career top two on the ROVAL.
For his career, McMurray has 13 second-place finishes which rank him 57th on the all-time list, tied with Donnie Allison, Morgan Shepherd and Curtis Turner.
Clint Bowyer rounded out the podium on Sunday. It is Bowyer’s sixth top-three run of 2018.
This is Bowyer’s 40th career podium finish.
On the all-time podium list, Bowyer is tied with Donnie Allison for 57th.
William Byron has had a strong year running for Rookie of the Year. Even on days he has failed to run well, Bubba Wallace has not been able to capitalize on it. This weekend Byron finished 34th while Wallace finished 36th when they were both in the giant wreck on lap 102.
For the year, Byron’s 19 awards are nine more than Darrell Wallace Jr’s 10.
Round two of the playoffs is upon us. 12 drivers are eligible to win the title but only eight will advance beyond this round. The playoff contenders are listed below with their associated points. The four drivers eliminated from title contention are listed because they are still eligible to finish as high as fifth. Race winners are bolded and will automatically advance to the next round.
1) Kyle Busch – 3055
2) Kevin Harvick – 3050
3) Martin Truex Jr. – 3038
4) Brad Keselowski – 3025
5) Clint Bowyer – 3015
6) Joey Logano – 3014
7) Kurt Busch – 3014
8) Ryan Blaney – 3013
9) Chase Elliott – 3008
10) Kyle Larson – 3006
11) Aric Almirola – 3001
12) Alex Bowman – 3000
13) Jimmie Johnson – 2097
14) Austin Dillon – 2066
15) Denny Hamlin – 2053
16) Erik Jones – 2041
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
There are about as many opinions as there are fans when it comes to the ROVAL. In the end, it cannot be denied that the old cliché of having a seat but only using the edge couldn’t have been truer. The race had everything that you could ask for. Four on-track passes for the lead, strategies all over the place, driving errors, a Talladegaesque Big One and final corner chaos with a third-place runner grabbing the win. While someone wasn’t upside down and on fire across the line, it was close enough. We’ll give this one five ice cold Red Hill Amber Ales from Cabarrus Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
Round two of the playoffs beings next week at Dover International Speedway. Coverage is available on NBCSN Sunday, Oct. 7 starting at 2 p.m. ET. You can also watch the coverage on the NBC Sports app. If you want to listen to coverage of the race, it is available on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.