The MENCS will compete for the first time on the Charlotte Roval. Most teams have feared this race since it was added to the schedule. The high speeds on the Charlotte track and the tight turns in the infield will cause a lot of stress on the cars this week. Brad Keselowski said, “This race will probably come down to the team who can build a car that can hold up for all 109 laps.” These are the best drivers in the world. If the cars can survive 400 miles, it should be a great race
The NASCAR drivers typically complain that they have too much practice time. That will not be the case this week. The drivers will need all the track time they can get in order to figure out the Roval. There will be one practice Friday (12pm ETNBCSN) and two practices Saturday (11am ET NBC Sports App and 1:30pm ET CNBC). Qualifying will be Friday evening at 4:45pm ET on NBCSN.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Charlotte…
The MENCS received 3 sets of tires for the three practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 7 sets for the race. The MENCS held tests at the Charlotte Roval in March and in July. Goodyear decided to bring the tires used at the March race. It is the same tire compound used at Watkins Glenn this year. Goodyear said the tire is built for speed but can handle the sharp turns. I sure hope so.
NASCAR will apply the PJ1 (Gripstrip) to the road course portion of the track to give the drivers some added grip. If you seen highlights of the test sessions at Charlotte you would have seen a lot of cars flying off the track. NASCAR is going to do their best to prevent that from happening in the race Sunday.
* AJ Allmendinger told MRN Radio, “This race is going to be a lot like the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race. The drivers who have had success in that race should be the contenders Sunday and that helps me out.” They asked him about Watkins Glen and Sonoma and he said, “The infield portion is similar to Sonoma but not much. I would stick to the Daytona road course drivers.” The drivers who have had success in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona include: AJ Allmendinger, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson. All of these drivers qualified in the top 8 so he may be on to something here.
The teams in the playoff have an * next to their names.
* Chase Elliott: The No. 9 team really improved on the road courses this year. Elliott finished 4th at Sonoma and won at Watkins Glenn. He currently sits 9th in the Playoff Standing s and 10 points above the cut line. Elliott will likely need a top-15 finish Sunday to advance to Round 2. He has run well enough on the road courses this season to make that happen. Elliott made some long runs and ran mostly in the top 5. He said the balance of his car was really good.
* Jimmie Johnson: 12 teams advance to Round 2 of the MENCS Playoffs and Johnson currently sits 14th in the rankings. He is 6 points behind Ryan Blaney so he needs at least a top-10 finish Sunday. Johnson finished 11th at Sonoma and 30th at Watkins Glen. The No. 48 team needs to step up their game or they are going home. Johnson said, “I am just playing it safe right now. I do not want to push it over the limit.” Chad Knaus replied, “You are P1 right now.”
* Alex Bowman: Bowman is not a good road course driver. His average finishing position in his 6 career races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen is 24.6 Bowman is 11th in the MENCS Playoff Standings and only 5 points above the cut line. He will need to race of his life to advance to Round 2 of the playoffs. Bowman made some long runs and said, “It is OK but I am afraid we are going to destroy the rear left tire if I keep running it like this.”
William Byron: Byron has been decent on the road courses this season. He finished 8th at Watkins Glen and 25th at Sonoma. He suffered one of the worst crashes on the Roval in the test session in July when his brakes failed. Hopefully that is not in his mind Sunday. Hendrick Motorsports brought down-force cars to the track while the other teams have road course setups. The HMS cars look faster than the competition. Byron made some long runs and was fastest on the speed chart.
* Kyle Larson: Larson posted some of the fastest laps at the Charlotte Roval in the test session. That is not surprising because he is one of the best drivers at adapting to a new track. He won the pole at Sonoma and finished 14th. He also finished 6th at Watkins Glen. Larson is 7th in the MENCS Point Standings and 17 points above the cut line. A top-15 finish Sunday should advance him to Round 2. Larson told his team, “I am working on my rhythm more than speed right now. I am getting closer to finding where my marks need to be.” He was 8th fastest at the time. The team made some adjustments and Larson went to the top of the speed chart.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has been good on the road courses in his career and Charlotte is his best 1.5-mile track. Maybe that will translate into success this week. McMurray was running up front at Sonoma when he had an oil pump go out. He followed it up with a 7th-place finish at Watkins Glen. If the car holds up, McMurray should be a good pick this week.
* Kevin Harvick: All Harvick has to do is start the race and he will clinch a spot in Round 2. I like the drivers who do not have any pressure this week. Harvick has finished 1st and 2nd in the last two races at Sonoma. He said he plans to take is easy for the first two Stages and then try to get into position to win the final Stage. This will limit Harvick’s chances of leading a lot of laps. This explains why he was so slow in practice.
* Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is a very good road course racer but he will have a lot of pressure on him this week. Bowyer currently sits 13th in the MENCS Playoff Standings and 4 points behind Ryan Blaney. He will need a top-10 finish at the least and most likely a top-5 finish to advance to Round 2. Bowyer made some pit road runs in practice and said, “This is horse sh*t! There is no way we can run pit road speed and make the turn to get onto the track. The entire field is going to get wadded up from one dips*t trying to make it happen.” Bowyer was having problems with the ignition box in morning practice.
* Kurt Busch: Busch is one of the most consistent drivers on the road courses. He has finished 12 consecutive races on the road courses in the top 11. Busch is 8th in the MENCS Playoff Standings and 15 points above the cut line. A finish between 15th – 20th place should allow him to advance to Round 2. Busch will start from the pole this week.
* Aric Almirola: Almirola has been one of the surprise drivers this season in the playoffs. Almirola finished 6th at Las Vegas and 5th at Richmond. He currently sits 6th in the MENCS Playoff Standings and 23 points ahead of the cut line. If he can just finish the race Sunday he should be able to advance to Round 2. Almirola crushed the front end of his car in Friday’s practice and the backend in Saturday’s practice. He is having a difficult time getting the car around the track without damage.
* Brad Keselowski: Keselowski said on RaceHub this week, “I think it is more about the car than the driver this week. These cars were not made to take the loads we will be putting on them. The driver who can manage their equipment the best will win the race.” Keselowski is the smartest driver in the garage. He may not be the fastest car on the track but sometimes a good strategy beats a fast car. The No. 2 car lost its power steering in qualifying so Keselowski will start 25th. Keselowski had the fastest speed in final practice and then he crashed. He will go to a backup car and start last but be scored from 25th.
* Joey Logano: Logano was on SiriusXm radio this week and he said, “Our strategy this week is not to wreck. There are going to be a number of cars who do not finish the race. We are 25 points above the cut line so if I can just finish the race we should be good.” I expect the No. 22 team to run a very conservative race Sunday. Logano was fighting a tight racecar in final practice.
* Ryan Blaney: Blaney is the driver who currently sits at the cut-line for advancing in the playoffs. The bad news for Blaney is that he has not been very good at the road courses in his career. His average finishing position in his 6 road course races is 17.5. He crashed had in the test session at the Charlotte Roval. He needs to keep his car on the track Sunday. Blaney hit the corner of the chicane on the frontstretch twice. Both times crushing in the front fender of his car.
Paul Menard: Menard is usually a good road course racer but that has not been the case this season with the Wood Brothers. Menard finished 26th at Sonoma and 28th at Watkins Glen. The good news is that he has nothing to race for so he can just relax and get what he can get Sunday. The No. 21 team changed everything in their car between practice sessions Saturday and Menard ran in the top 10 in final practice.
* Kyle Busch: Busch is my pick to win this week. The Charlotte Roval is the only track Busch has not won at. It is very important for him to check that box. Busch is already locked into Round 2 of the Playoffs so it will be checkers or wreckers for the No. 18 car. Busch was working on “hitting his marks” and the long-run speed in the No. 18 car. At the end of practice the team found that the car was leaking oil.
* Erik Jones: Jones has dug himself a hole in the MENCS Playoffs that he may not be able to climb out of. Jones is 15th in the point standings and 21 points behind Ryan Blaney for the transfer spot. Jones most likely will have to win the race or finish top 5. That is asking a lot from a driver who in only in his sophomore season. Jones hit the barrier in morning practice and totally destroyed his car. They will go to a backup and start in the back.
* Denny Hamlin: Hamlin will be a boom or bust fantasy pick this week. He currently sits 16th in the MENCS Playoff Standings and 29 points behind the transfer spot. He must win this race in order to advance to Round 2. I expect Hamlin to drive it like he stole it this week and that is dangerous because Hamlin usually makes mistakes when he is taking it easy. Hamlin ran over the “turtles” in the first practice and got damage to his front splitter. In qualifying he got into the turn 4 wall. They went to a backup car so he will go to the back Sunday and be scored from the 27th position. He was fighting a loose racecar in practice.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez is a great sleeper pick this week. He grew up driving go karts on road courses and has competed in many racecar races on road courses. Suarez has 4 races on the road courses in the MENCS and his average finishing position is 9.5. He is auditioning for a job next season so I expect him to run well this week. Suarez had a problem missing the chicane in final practice. The penalty for missing it is a stop and go penalty. He had two of them.
* Martin Truex Jr.: When you look at the stats on the road courses, Truex Jr. should be the pick to win. He has finished 1st, 1st and 2nd in his last 3 races and led at least 30% of the laps in 3 of the last 4 road course races. Truex is already locked into Round 2 of the MENCS Playoffs on points. He will be looking to add playoff points this week. Truex told his team, “Much better in race-trim. The only help I need is with the back breaks feel too tight. I will adjust it to see what it does.” He was P3 at the time. He made another long run and went to the top of the speed chart.
Ryan Newman: Newman said he has felt some relief after it was announced he will be leaving Richard Childress Racing and moving to Roush Fenway Racing next year. It is dangerous to put your fantasy team in the hands of a lame duck team but Newman is a competitor so he should still try to run well. Newman told his team, “I am lost. I cannot hit my marks at all. Each lap I screw up 2 or 3 turns. I just cannot find any rhythm here.” At the end of practice Newman had problems with his battery dyeing.
* Austin Dillon: Dillon currently sits 10th in the MENCS Playoff standings and only 10 points above the cut line. He will most likely need a top-10 finish or maybe a top-15 finish Sunday to advance. Dillon finished 27th at Watkins Glen and 16th at Sonoma this season. He will have to do better than that this week. The No. 3 team was playing it safe in practice. They told Dillon not to over-drive the car. That will be their strategy in the race Sunday. Simply try to stay out of trouble and let others make mistakes.
Ty Dillon: Running up front at the road courses is not something Dillon has ever done. He has competed in 4 road course races in the MENCS series and his best finish is 19th. I would not get too excited about the No. 13 car Sunday. Dillon said his car was too tight in practice but he was 20th on the speed chart which is not bad for him.
Regan Smith: Smith will once again be in the No. 95 car for Kasey Kahne. Smith has had some success on the road courses but most of it has been in the Xfinity Series. Leavine Family Racing has not announced who will be in the car next week so this could be an audition for Smith if he runs well this week. The No. 95 team blew their engine so they replaced it and will start from the back Sunday.
AJ Allmendinger: It was no secret there were problems between Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger expected faster cars and he team expected better results. Finally their marriage came to an end this week. Allmendinger is one of the best road course drivers but it will be interesting to see how the split affects them on the track.
Chris Buescher: Buescher is one of the most underrated drivers on the road courses. His average finishing position in his last 3 road course races is 14.3. He will be a good pick in salary cap games this week. Buescher made 2 long runs in final practice. He was 10th fastest on his first run and 13th on the second run.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: If you want to a fish out of water, watch Wallace compete on the road courses. He has never finished inside the top 25 and he crashed hard in the test session at the Charlotte Roval in July. Bubba spun out 6 times in practice and then demolished his car in the morning practice. He will go to a backup car and start last. I would be shocked if he finishes the race Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse will probably been very good on the oval part of the track and horrible on the road portion of the track. He has competed in 12 road course races in the MENCS and his average finishing position is 27.5. Stenhouse spun out 5 times in practice. He had a real hard time keeping his car on the track.
David Ragan: Regan is not very good on the road courses. He has competed in 24 MENCS races on the road courses and he only has 1 finish inside the top 20. Ragan said his car was so tight he could barely get it to turn through the chicane without hitting the wall.
Michael McDowell: McDowell will be one of the best cheap drivers in salary cap games this week. McDowell grew up driving sports cars on road courses so this track should fit his driving style perfectly. McDowell made some long runs and said, “Rear grip is good. Drive off is decent. Just need to cut the corner a little better.” He liked his car.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski (Going to a backup Car), Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger
Good Sleeper Picks: Daniel Suarez, Chris Buescher, Daniel Hemric, Michael McDowell and Paul Menard
Click here for MENCS Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
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