Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at the ROVAL: The Round of 8 Was Decided by a Sponsor Sign

What happened?

After a wild two overtime restarts, Christopher Bell got a walk-off win by storming to the front and locking himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Sunday, Oct. 9. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Haley completed the top five.

After some crazy late restart shenanigans, reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez joined the injured Alex Bowman in playoff elimination.

How did it happen?

With 10 laps to go, Bell and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team were just about ready to call it quits. They weren’t even in the top five.

Before Sunday, they were practically in a must-win situation, and they knew it. In the final few laps, they weren’t in any better position as Chase Elliott, who had led for a majority of the event and had an almost five-second lead over second place, appeared to be well on his way to winning his sixth race of 2022.

Then, with five laps to go, a piece of sponsor signage had found its way onto the racing surface. While it was out of the racing line, race control deemed it would still bring out the first non-stage caution of the race, and so it was.

Among a number of other drivers, Bell and the No. 20 team decided to pit for fresher tires than the rest of the field. Only thing was, a lot of other drivers had the same idea.

In fact, there were so many other cars that decided to pit, Bell restarted in the top 10 with two laps to go and seemingly in striking distance of the lead. All he needed was some chaos to mix things up a little.

And that he got.

When the smoke cleared, Bell had rallied up to second next to the No. 4 of Harvick. With two whole laps to use his fresher tires to his advantage, in a matter of minutes, the outlook on the playoffs became very optimistic.

In fact, Bell didn’t need a couple laps to take the lead on his way to his second win of the year and lock himself into the Round of 8. Rather, he only needed a couple turns.

Who stood out?

It’s been a heck of a week for Kaulig Racing.

Last weekend, Allmendinger won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. During the following week, the organization announced not one, not two, but three of its drivers for its lineups next season.

Allmendinger is returning to Cup Series racing full-time in 2023 in the No. 16, while current Camping World Truck Series playoff contender Chandler Smith will be promoted to the Xfinity Series team.

On top of that, on Sunday morning the team announced Daniel Hemric will return to his Xfinity ride under the Kaulig banner next year.

And that was after Saturday (Oct. 8) when Allmendinger won his fourth consecutive Xfinity race at the ROVAL.

They didn’t have much time to catch their breath. Allmendinger and Haley both climbed into their cars for Sunday’s Cup race and probably didn’t expect to both be in the top three by stage two, but that’s exactly what happened.

In common Allmendinger fashion, the No. 16 inherited the lead at a road course and kept it after staying out at the end of stage one. The move put the Californian in contention to win for the rest of the event.

In uncommon Haley fashion, the No. 31 was right behind his Kaulig teammate in third, split only by Tyler Reddick. For a while, both cars ran in the top three until they pitted before the end of stage two. After that, both Allmendinger and Haley occupied the top five and were real threats to win to the checkered.

In the end, the duo finished fourth and fifth, resulting in the team’s first ever Cup Series double top-five result.

Not a bad way to cap off what has been a very busy week for the young team.

Who fell flat?

While one young team had one of its best races of the year, another had one of its worst.

Sunday started off great for Trackhouse Racing Team, both drivers Ross Chastain and Suarez seemed to have a big enough cushion to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive into the Round of 8.

It wasn’t until the final stage that their luck turned sour.

Power steering has been an issue for the Next Gen car for some races this season, on Sunday it struck again for Suarez at what was probably the worst possible time.

With nearly 50 laps to go at a road course that features 17 turns for Suarez to wrestle an extremely tight racing wheel over while still trying to stay in playoff contention, one can see how it was a tall order for the young Mexican racer.

But if things weren’t grim enough for Trackhouse by then, they were to get much worse.

Only a few laps later, Suarez’s Floridian teammate Chastain started to suffer mechanical issues.

Chastain’s contact with the wall proved too severe for the No. 1 to continue, and the Watermelon farmer was forced to pull the car into the garage for repairs.

Ironically, it was Suarez who was eliminated from the playoffs rather than his teammate. The No. 99 limped and fought as much as it could until the end, but it just wasn’t enough, despite mechanical failures from other playoff drivers such as Larson.

Chastain’s cushion was large enough to stay above the cut line likely thanks to some misfortune of other drivers. Now the Trackhouse team heads into the Round of 8 at some tracks where it showed speed earlier this year such as Las Vegas Motor Speedway and if it can continue into the Championship 4, Phoenix Raceway.

Their performance at 1.5-milers this year has been optimal, which is good. They’re going to need the speed to stay in the hunt.

What did this race prove?

Bell has so many reasons to be thanking a piece of plastic now.

Look, before this goes deeper, it should be said that NASCAR did the right thing. There was a foreign object on the track that could maybe damage a race car even though it was minor sponsor signage.

Think of it this way too. If the yellow hadn’t flown, the argument would have still been the same: “Why wasn’t the caution thrown?”

But what is certainly clear is without it, the Round of 8 would look much different.

Without it, Bell would never have been able to pit for fresh tires. Briscoe wouldn’t have spun on a restart and been forced to pit before the overtime that ultimately gave him the chance to race his way back into the points. And Larson would have very likely been able to stay within the top eight and still have a chance to continue defending his title.

The ROVAL has had its share of loose signs in the past. But before they only found themselves attached to cars and became funny highlights for future use.

But it’s all fun and games, right? So, why throw the caution now?

Why even have the signs there at all? They’ve already proven to be a nuisance. Because they’re off to the side in the grass do we think the cars won’t hit them? Come on. This is NASCAR. Anything in the grass is fair game. Especially at a road course.

It’s amazing how many changes in points can occur in only a few laps, and it’s amazing how little it takes to make them.

In this case, it was only a piece of plastic.

Better than last time?

Let’s forget about lead changes for a second. Not that there were that many in the first place.

Last year was entertaining. Fans will likely remember the rivalry between Elliott and Harvick come to a climax when Harvick sent the No. 9 into the wall mid-race. Then, many will remember Harvick bottling his entry into turn 1 only moments before Elliott likely was to return the favor.

Of course, there was the t-shirt inspiring, “Merry Offseason, and happy Christmas” quote from the Hendrick Motorsports driver as well.

None of that happened this year.

In fact, if it weren’t for the events that occurred with five laps to go, this was originally going to be a dry article about how Elliott cruised his way to an easy win. That would have been disappointing too, though.

But after it was all settled, the Charlotte ROVAL was able to live up to its wild card expectations in the final moments of its race rather than during its overall run.

That was likely because of the biggest difference between the two years: the Next Gen car.

The new vehicle proved again to be difficult to pass with at a road course. There were only 10 lead changes on Sunday compared to 2021’s 16, and two of those changes occurred after the caution flag evaporated the five-second lead Elliott had built in the final stage.

This year’s race was entertaining, but the dullness of the Next Gen on the road course set it back in comparison to years past.

Paint scheme of the race

Among a field that displayed a sea of pink in support of breast cancer awareness, there was another bright-colored car in support of a certain cancer awareness.

On a personal note, Martin Truex Jr. has known the struggle of fighting ovarian cancer through his long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex, as she was diagnosed with stage three of the disease in 2014.

However, she has fought tooth and nail since then and remained strong through it all, and almost every year, Truex dedicates some of his paint schemes toward Pollex’s ovarian cancer awareness organization, Sherry Strong.

This year was no different.

It’s not the first one he’s run this year, but it is the first time he’s run the teal colors on top of the Bass Pro Shops scheme in 2022, and if you read last week’s edition of Thinkin’ Out Loud, you know how much the color teal stands out on a race car.

But this week it means more than just looking good. Among the sea of pink, there was a teal vessel sailing its own course.

What’s next?

The Round of 8 begins.

The Cup Series heads west again for the series’ second race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next weekend. Cup qualifying for the South Point 400 begins on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12:50 p.m. ET with the race televised live on NBC on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Bill B

I thought the race sucked overall. Seemed like single file with little passing most of the day. The fact that there were no cautions for on track issues, made it seem like the guys showed up and decided they weren’t willing to mix it up. Like everyone was in conservative mode.
I see on Jayski that there may have been some playoff shenanigans with Cole Custer losing a bunch of positions at the end of the race to help Chase Briscoe. It wouldn’t surprise me. This is much more prevalent than NASCAR wants to admit.

Jill P

It looked like there were playoff shenanigans going on in the Xfinity race too. Same late cautions to get drama.


Cole’s blatant blocking will land Larson in the final 8.


This race was awful. No one could pass. The greed of the sport and putting up cardboard signage that can be dislodged dictated the sport’s outcome for the year. But the worst part was the ‘hobby stock’ antics of make-believe professional race car drivers on the restarts and the sanctioning body’s random desire to encourage or penalize that behavior. I will continue to watch this (crap) because I have to in order to make a living. But there is no integrity amongst the drivers and to have the final 8 of your premier series being determined by who can spin out the most drivers in 2 laps is more than just a bad look, its an eventual death sentence.


Have to to make a living?

Carl D.

I didn’t enjoy the race much at all. Thank goodness for the FF button…


Curbing on real road courses and fake road courses should be removed. NA$CAR can’t find a way to keep them from breaking up and most cause damage to the underside of cars. Isn’t the idea to keep the cars on the pavement?

Blubber finished 7th after running in his usual 20s. The 8, 14. 3, 43, 11, 24, 19, 22, 9, 12, 5, 99 and 1 finished behind him.


I made it through the first 2 Stages of the XFinity race (because I was interested to see how Andretti would do), and once Marco crashed out I was done. I didn’t bother tuning in for the Cup race as I didn’t need to take a nap this Sunday.

My opinion: Stages / pre-planned stops are the dumbest thing ever for road/street courses. Totally takes away various tire/fuel/pit strategies on those courses and makes for a less interesting race.

Look for Cole/Haas to have the book thrown at them for daring to plot against the mighty Rick Hendrick and ending Larson’s season. Or will a “special exemption” be given to add Larson back to the Playoff farce?

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy
Kurt Smith

Once again, I am glad I didn’t watch.

I initially liked the idea of putting more road courses on the schedule if only just for some variety and to ensure that a driver had to have multiple skills to win a title (ha!).

But with drivers pitting before the end of a stage to have a chance to win, multiple crashes at the end of every event because the last restarts are the only occasion to pass, and single file racing throughout the rest of them, the road course races have become as bad as the pack racing events as far as winners being determined entirely by luck and attrition.

With just four races of 36 left to go, I’m asking the question again: Who is having a good year this year, NASCAR?

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