The last chance for the 16 playoffs drivers to secure their spot in the Round of 12 is already here. Wow, that went by quickly. The “Roval” course at Charlotte Motor Speedway is a wild card race. Teams have a lot more information to go off of then they did coming into this race last year, but most teams are still trying to figure out the half-road course / half-oval track. This should be one of the more wild races of the season. The Bank of America Roval 400 can be seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
NASCAR will be back to a normal schedule this week. There will be one practice Friday (12 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Teams will use this practice to dial in their cars for qualifying which takes place Friday evening at 4:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The teams will have two practices Saturday to get their cars ready for the race. The 2nd practice will be at 11 a.m. ET Saturday (TV-TBD) and final practice at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The cars will have the 550 HP engines with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts this week. This is different from what the teams had at the two previous road course races this season (Sonoma and Watkins Glen). The cars had the 750 HP aero package in those races and that is what was used in the Roval race last year. The lower HP package will only affect the cars and oval part of the track so I do not expect much change from what we saw at this track last year.
Kurt Busch won the pole for the inaugural race at the Charlotte Roval but Kyle Larson took the lead from him on lap 8. Larson went on to lead a race high 47 laps but followed Brad Keselowski into the Tums Heartburn Turn and had damage to his car. Martin Truex Jr. took the lead with 6 laps left and it looked like it was going to be another road course win for Truex but Jimmie Johnson decided to race him for the win instead of taking the points to advance in the playoffs. Both cars spun out and Ryan Blaney sneaked his way into Victory Lane.
Race Rewind at Charlotte Roval: Bank of America Roval 400 (2018)
Here are my picks for Charlotte…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Martin Truex Jr. (4): Truex has been a beast on the road courses. He finished 2nd, 1st, 14th, 2nd, 1st and 1st in his last 6 road course races. His 14th place finish was at the Charlotte Roval last year when he was leading on the last lap and got spun out by Jimmie Johnson. If Truex would have won that race his average finishing position in his last 6 road courses races would have been 1.1. Does it get any better than that? To say Truex has a good chance to sweep the races in Round 1 of the Playoffs is an understatement.
Chase Elliott (7): Elliott has been the 2nd-best driver on the road courses behind Martin Truex Jr. Elliott won the last 2 races at Watkins Glen, finished 6th at the Charlotte Roval last year and 4th at Sonoma in 2018. He currently sits 35 points above the cut line for the playoffs so the No. 9 team simply needs a good point’s day. I expect Elliott to spend a lot of time in the top 10, score a lot of Stage points and finish in the top 5 Sunday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Martin Truex Jr. 2) Chase Elliott 3) Kyle Busch 4) Kyle Larson 5) Brad Keselowski 6) Kevin Harvick 7) Joey Logano
Driver Group Game B Picks
I would love to use Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch or Clint Bowyer in this race but I am low on allocations with these four drivers. I am saving them for some tracks where they have had more success at than at the Charlotte Roval. If I had 3 or more allocations with any of these drivers I would use them over Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman.
Ryan Blaney (3): Blaney won the inaugural Charlotte Roval race. That has to have him fired up to show that his trip to Victory Lane last year was not a fluke. Blaney has been good on the road courses this year. He finished 3rd at Sonoma and 5th at Watkins Glen. That gives Blaney a 3rd-place average finishing position in the last three road course races. Blaney is only 6 points above the cutoff line for the playoffs, while his teammates are almost locked into the Round of 12. I expect Team Penske Racing to give Blaney the best car they have so he can finish up front Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson (3): There is something about Charlotte Motor Speedway that brings the best out of Johnson. Maybe he just likes sleeping in his own bed and traveling to the track, but they could turn this track into a boat race and Johnson would still finish in the top 10. Johnson finished 8th in the Charlotte Roval race last year. He was running down Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap and decided to race him aggressively for the win, instead of taking the points to advance to round 2. Both cars spun out and Johnson finished outside the top 5. He said he wants to win a race before the end of the 2019 season. This is his best chance to get back to Victory Lane.
Alex Bowman (5): Bowman has not been great on the road courses but he is the best choice if we are fading Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. Bowman qualified 3rd, scored Stage points in both Stages and finished 4th at the Charlotte Roval last year. Bowman currently sits 2 points below the cutoff line for the playoffs so he must have a top 10 finish Sunday. Bowman is one of the best drivers at using the simulator to produce up-front finishes in the race. I expect him to spend a lot of time at Hendrick Motorsports this week trying to figure out an advantage at this tricky track Sunday.
Erik Jones (2): The No. 20 car failed inspection last week so Jones did not receive any points for the race at Richmond. That leaves the No. 20 team in a huge hole. Jones is 45 points below the cut line for the playoffs so he is in a must win situation. Jones finished 4 of his last 5 races on the road courses in the top 10 so he knows how to run up front. If he has a lot speed in practice I will use him in the race.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Denny Hamlin 2) Ryan Blaney 3) Kurt Busch 4) Clint Bowyer 5) Jimmie Johnson 6) Alex Bowman 7) Erik Jones 8) Aric Almirola 9) Daniel Suarez 10) William Byron
Driver Group Game C Picks
Chris Buescher is a good road course driver but I need to save my allocations with the No. 37 car for the larger tracks. It will be OK to use Buescher with Matt DiBenedetto if you have 3 or more allocations with him.
Matt DiBenedetto (3): DiBenedetto is the best pick in Group C. He has the 3rd-best average finishing position on the road courses this year and the 8th-best Driver Rating. DiBenedetto finished 4th at Sonoma and 6th at Watkins Glen. He also finished 13th in the Charlotte Roval race last year and that was in a GO FAS RACING Ford. I am sure his Leavine Family Racing Toyota will have a lot more speed and give DiBenedetto a chance to win the race Sunday.
Michael McDowell (5): It is time to get McDowell into our lineups whenever the MENCS competes on the road course tracks. He grew up racing in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series on road courses. That experience has translated into some success on the road courses in the Cup Series. McDowell has not been anywhere close to Matt DiBenedetto but he does have a 19th-place average finishing position in his last 4 road course races. That is not bad for him. I doubt I will use McDowell this week, but he is a good backup driver to have on your team.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Matt DiBenedetto 2) Chris Buescher 3) Michael McDowell 4) Daniel Hemric 5) David Ragan
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Martin Truex Jr. (4), Chase Elliott (7)
Group B: Ryan Blaney (3), Jimmie Johnson (3), Alex Bowman (5), Erik Jones (2)
Group C: Matt DiBenedetto (3), Michael McDowell (5)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game Saturday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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