NASCAR’s decision to change the playoff race in Charlotte from a boring 1-1/2 mile oval race into a ROVAL (part oval and part road course) was a huge success for the fans. When the announcement for the ROVAL was made months ago, it upped the excitement for the playoffs. Since no one had raced on the track set-up, no one knew what it would bring. Everyone got more than they could have hoped for.
Changes were made for the track set-up right up to the day before the race. A tire barrier in one of the chicanes caused a lot of carnage for many cars during practice and qualifying, causing many teams to go to back-up cars. NASCAR shortened the barrier by six feet, ending that problem.
Once the race started, you never knew what would happen lap-by-lap. There were 10 lead changes in 109 laps - one more than this year’s 400-lap, Coca-Cola 600. Driver skill, pit strategy, luck and bonehead decisions were all wrapped up into one race.
Going into the race, there was a long list of road-course favorites, and it was a safe bet that Ryan Blaney was not on most of them. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and Blaney had the luck and skill to stay out of trouble and be in the right position at the end of the race. The win moves Blaney into the second round of the playoffs.
Kyle Larson won the first stage. Larson, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on old tires, knowing they would have to pit during the second stage. When they pitted, Blaney took over the lead to win Stage 2. Brad Keselowski and Truex got into a spin late in the stage that altered their race strategy. That was the only on-track caution during the first 50 laps . . . but it was about to change.
Larson started the final segment on the lead thanks to his pit strategy. He pitted for only the second time when a caution came out on lap 66. Keselowski took the lead and seemed on his way for a fuel-strategy victory. With six laps to go, a Ricky Stenhouse spin brought out another caution. Keselowski and others stayed out on old tires and when the race restarted on lap 105, Keselowski and no less than 13 others drove straight into the tire barrier in turn 1. After a red flag and clean-up, Truex assumed the lead with Jimmie Johnson hot on his heels.
Pulling away from the rest of the field, all they had to do was finish the race and both drivers would have advanced to the next round. Johnson made the decision to race for the ROVAL win, a mistake that resulted in his failure to move on in the Championships. Johnson overdrove the final turn taking out Truex, allowing Blaney to claim victory.Despite their troubles, the “big three” and Keselowski have the top-four positions going into the second round. Their huge lead in playoff points make them a sure bet to make it to the Championship race in Homestead-Miami, Florida. Stewart-Hass Racing, has advanced all four of their drivers.