Podium Preview: Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte

Might we see some interesting happenings in Sunday's Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte? (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

Might we see some interesting happenings in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte? (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

For the past three years, the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte delivers frantic, dramatic action. This 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course combines familiar intermediate track racing with gritty, short track elements.

Following a riveting but rain shortened race at Talladega, there’s no telling how much excitement this cutoff race will produce. Regardless, at least eight drivers will be thrilled while four more will leave the ROVAL with disappointment.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley HobbsJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan SolomonTaylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly consider the wild card factor of the ROVAL and the historical significance of Bubba Wallace’s victory at Talladega!

Podium Preview: Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte
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Question 1
Turn 8 of the Charlotte ROVAL produces frantic moments. (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

Turn 8 of the Charlotte ROVAL produces frantic moments. (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

While the Charlotte ROVAL layout has been a part of the schedule since 2018, why does it remain one of the biggest wild cards of the NASCAR Playoffs and season?

Lambeth :  While the Charlotte ROVAL is a road course, it races just like a Saturday night short track. We should definitely expect a lot of drama and contact because this layout is asking for argy bargy. The unpredictability heading into this cutoff race is unreal, so we should not be surprised if sparks fly and jaws are dropped after the checkered flag. You need to have a bullring mentality to succeed at the ROVAL. However, the drivers have to take care of their car and save enough for a late race dogfight. The chicane on the frontstretch could lead to another memorable finish, similar to Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.’s final lap drama in the inaugural event.

Solomon : The Charlotte ROVAL is a road course, but it has a much different feel from the other road courses on the NASCAR schedule. The ROVAL is a narrow, low speed road course, while most other road courses NASCAR races at are a bit wider and a lot faster. Since it’s also the shortest road course we race at (2.28 miles), it also gives a bit of a short track feel, especially on the infield portion of the track. And, much like any other road course, anyone has a chance to win with a little bit of strategy and a few big moves. Some may say that the ROVAL is too much of a wild card, but I feel that it is the perfect way to end the Round of 12.

Hobbs : Simple – it is a road course. Gone are the days where the “road course ringers” who could come in and be propelled to the top for a team. NASCAR drivers today have become much more adaptable to the different track types and have improved their road course racing game. However, it does not mean it is their favorite type of racing by any means. The precision and technical abilities that come with a road course are different from the typical oval these guys race on each week. There are more turns, more chances to pass, and more chances to wreck; and that is what makes the Charlotte ROVAL a wildcard.

Jones : This track is so unpredictable. I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect in year one of the Roval, but immediately, it did not disappoint. It has been so fun to watch drivers, and engineers, have to tackle the technical aspects of both the road course and the oval. Not only that, we’ve seen it all! Last lap (and turn passes), drivers wreck and still win, and, in general, there is just so much uncertainty. 

Sisoler : There are a couple of reasons for it being a wild-card race. Number one, it’s a road course, but more in the vein of the Daytona road course, not a “normal” one like COTA, Road America, Sonoma or Watkins Glen, that is amplified due to Charlotte’s design. It’s a 1.5-mile oval, not Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval, and that smaller space inside the oval does make a difference. It is an extremely unforgiving layout that has no room for error on this road course hemmed into the track’s infield, whereas if you make a mistake at the four “normal” RCs, or even Daytona’s road course at certain points, you may not be in trouble.

The second reason is the fact that it is a cut-off race, meaning that depending on your position in the standings, you might be willing to be more aggressive to try and go for the win late. It means a driver in a desperate, must-win situation going for what would already be considered a high-risk maneuver to go for a victory to lock themselves into the next round gets amplified because of the nature of the Charlotte roval configuration. Just ask Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. for proof of that.

Kitchen  :  I believe the unpredictability of this race is based on where it is placed in the schedule and the number of drivers that can successfully complete a road course race. The ROVAL race is one of my favorites that has many memorable and shocking moments (I am looking at you 2018 ROVAL race!).

Also, this race is perfectly placed in the schedule as a cut-off race going into the round of 8. That alone will cause a good amount of chaos and shock.

Question 2
Bubba Wallace celebrates his historical first Cup win at Talladega. (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace celebrates his historical first Cup win at Talladega. (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace earned his first ever NASCAR Cup Series win on Oct. 4 at Talladega Superspeedway. How important and special was Wallace’s moment in terms of NASCAR’s diversity movement and for Wallace’s career?

Tiongson :  Bubba Wallace perfectly stated the importance and significance of his victory when I asked him about this topic in a post race Zoom. In this case, Wallace said, “I still continue to say without that deal back in 2010, 2011, I don’t know if I would be here. I don’t know if I would be in the top three levels of our sport without that deal. Just got to keep on going, continue to watch the talent come up through.”

Seeing the diversity movement succeed is huge for NASCAR and motorsports. A stock car does not know who is driving it but the people within the series recognize the individual behind the wheel and the pit crew who deliver on the money stops. This moment was huge considering the historical context of Wallace and African American races before him who’ve competed in NASCAR.

We still have such a long way to go. However, Wallace made headlines and history in ways that should benefit NASCAR and motorsports for the long run. As a Filipino American, it reassures me that minorities can succeed with hard work and determination in a welcoming environment. I certainly hope Wallace’s win builds bridges in which it’s a more complete, inclusive world for all.

Raynor :  That win was great for the sport because it shows if you work hard regardless of your race that you can accomplish anything. It’s huge for the fans that look up to Bubba because they see how possible it is to not only race in the big leagues but to also put yourself in a position to go out and win a race. When Daniel Suarez won the Xfinity Championship that was a huge stepping stone for diversity in the sport and procedures that if you are talented, good and work hard then you can be a race car driver. It opens many doors for the sport. 

Shoppe :  We all hope we can see a day where a black driver winning in cup is no big deal(because it won’t be that rare of an occurrence). This win Monday however, is a big deal. Hopefully this is just the start of things to come in the future! 

Aside from the monumental racial impact of this win, new and potential owners can see hope that they too can come into nascar and have a chance for success early on if the right pieces are put together!

We also must give credit to McDonald’s for staying loyal to nascar teams throughout their 27 year “curse”! 

Torres :  There’s a lot of takeaways from Wallace scoring his maiden Cup win. People who’ve followed the sport well enough will know it was the end of three droughts. Of course, the first black racer to win a Cup since Wendell Scott in 1963. The other ones being the No. 23 car’s first points paid Cup win since Al Keller in 1954 and “The McDonald’s Curse” being over after the sponsor last saw a points win 27 years ago with Jimmy Spencer.

The grandest picture is indeed Wallace winning at the site where so much backlash happened to him last summer. To win at his home track and state where the culture has yet to fully embrace made it even sweeter. This is the kind of momentum the sport needs all across the board where it doesn’t matter the color of your skin or even gender, if you can wheel a car and prove your worth, it’ll pay off.

As a Hispanic, I’m still hopeful Daniel Suarez can get it done too. That to me would be as important, but the outpour of support Wallace got from his win was deserving. It’ll certainly outweigh the negative comments that reporters want to bring up to him. I get it, that’ll be attached to Wallace’s legacy but let’s talk about the impact of his win and how he got there!

This wasn’t a fluke victory, Wallace did what he had to do to be out front and when rain and lightning kicked in, he was leading. He’s been good at the superspeedways since moving to Cup in 2018.

Besides, the poor weather arrived when the race was already under caution for a multi-car crash in Turn 3. Wallace was well ahead of the pack by then. With the Next Gen machines coming out this year, Wallace being the man who won the last superspeedway race under the Gen6 cars makes this even more significant.

As Adam Fennewick said on Twitter, the No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry belongs to a museum.

Sharpe :  Words cannot even describe the enormous impact this moment has made within the sport.  The last African American NASCAR driver that excited me growing up was Bill Lester. There’s a commercial that Toyota and Bubba recorded this past year that really stuck with me. It dealt with a young African American girl racing karts and how she viewed Wallace as a beacon. A beacon that helped this racer push past her struggles.

It was crazy to see Bubba win a truck race. I never would have guessed that he would go to be on a team by basketball legend, Michael Jordan,  which alone is incredible to see. They’ve proven they’re willing to fight to be the best and it has finally shown.

It proves that NASCAR is opening up, ripping off its old southern, often racist ties, and they’re ready for the next generation of racers to hit. These actions ripple out, inviting fans from all aspects of life to come and enjoy what this sport has to offer. It brings me hope and happiness, that I can only hope is how my other racing fans feel.

As one of my friends has said before, “Patience, never give up.”

Two laps around a dry, challenging Charlotte ROVAL proves quite fun even after all these years. Now, let’s consider the race and points reports from last Monday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega!
Solomon and Raynor were rather pleased with themselves.

Solomon and Raynor were rather pleased with themselves.

Meanwhile, the points race tightens up a lot.

Meanwhile, the points race tightens up a lot.

Next, we consider Ashley Hobbs’ trends or the numbers she crunched for Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte.
First, let's consider how your favorite team fares in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte.

First, let’s consider how your favorite team fares in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte.

Since 2018, the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte race winner has an average starting spot of 10th, led an average of 26 laps, started within the top five 33.33% of the time and started within the top 10 66.67% of the time.

Since 2018, the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte race winner has an average starting spot of 10th, led an average of 26 laps, started within the top five 33.33% of the time and started within the top 10 66.67% of the time.

Stats don't lie.

Stats don’t lie.

Consider the trends of the past three Bank of America ROVAL 400 races.

Consider the trends of the past three Bank of America ROVAL 400 races.

My, my, my, my machine.

My, my, my, my machine.

We’ll feature the top 10 starters with an updated preview before race time. In the meantime, here’s the top 10 starters by name
Row 1

Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski

Row 2

Joey Logano and Christopher Bell

Row 3

Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney

Row 4

Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott

Row 5

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson

Without further ado, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte!
Pick six for the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte.

Pick six for the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte.

Jones : I chose Chase Elliott because I will be in attendance and he has won every time I’ve been there. But seriously, he seems to have this quirky layout figured out and is no doubt ready to lock into the Round of 8.

Kitchen : If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Chase Elliott will be the winner at the ROVAL.

Lambeth : In three races held at the Charlotte ROVAL so far, Chase Elliott has won two of them. He is looking for his third consecutive win here. On Sunday afternoon, he will get the job done once again at a road course. Elliott has earned the title as NASCAR’s road course king. It is hard to bet against the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet at these tracks!

Raynor : Chase Elliott is great at the ROVAL and he has not won in a while. Despite this, they seem to thrive during this time.

Hobbs : I’m not sure about you, but this seems like the “easiest” decision to make in the Playoffs. With two victories and three top-10 finishes in this race, and given how amazing he is at road courses, Chase Elliott will go back-to-back-to-back this weekend.

Shoppe : As Chase Elliott closes in on the record number of road course wins held by his part owner and former HMS driver Jeff Gordon, why not pick him again here? The winner of the last two Bank of America ROVAL races, Elliott has even crashed and come back to win here! Sure this race will have plenty of unpredictable twists to it, but based on strength going into this event, Chase Elliott is the guy!

Torres : William Byron has been in this spot before — trying to make the next round during the cutoff race. He got the job done at Bristol and the ROVAL so happens to be the upcoming cutoff race. Right now, the only way Byron can make the Round of 8 is by winning the race. His track record on road racing has been pretty good, highlighted with two straight 6th place finishes at the ROVAL. I can see Byron finally getting that elusive road course win and showcase the No. 24 team won’t quit. Just like he did at the Bristol Night Race.

Sharpe : The No. 24 HMS car is the underdog within the team this year. Knowing William Byron, he’s spent plenty of hours behind the sim prepping. I think that commitment will pay off.

Tiongson : At some point, the winning streak ends for Chase Elliott at the ROVAL. He will be in the mix like he was at Watkins Glen earlier this year. However, I cannot dismiss the potential of AJ Allmendinger and his No. 16 Kaulig Racing team replicating their Indianapolis magic on Sunday afternoon. He’s won a few times at the ROVAL in the XFINITY Series and I look for more of the same in the Cup car.

Solomon : Martin Truex Jr. has shown he can win at any type of racetrack, and his road course skills are an underrated aspect of his skill set. Truex Jr. hasn’t won a road course since Sonoma in 2019, so I believe he’ll be back on top on Sunday.

TPF Stats: He’s the only driver not named Chase Elliott to win at the ROVAL. And since The Machine chose the predicted winner already, we tag Ryan Blaney to go back to victory lane!

Sisoler : After last week’s Talladega disaster with William Byron, I need to pick up points, fast. So I’m going with another one of his teammates who has history at the Charlotte ROVAL, and is a proven road course winner, and no, it’s, not Chase Elliott. Kyle Larson has been a nice surprise on road courses with Hendrick equipment this year, and a win in the boss’ backyard to lock him into the next round would be a statement for the driver of the No. 5 Camaro. Expect “Yung Money” to cash in and win on Sunday from the 10th starting spot.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Take the shot to save your life and others! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.

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Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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