For the moment, put aside all the hype you’ve heard about the Charlotte Roval. Forget that Kevin Harvick said he was terrified of the track. Forget that most experts expect this will be a complete wild card. Forget that several playoff-eligible drivers will experience crash damage that will cause them to lose a lap or retire to the garage.
Forgot all that because it is not helpful.
This may indeed be one of the wildest races encountered this year with tight confines that could produce track-blocking accidents. Then again, it could act just like the other road course races. Even then, predicting the winner is difficult because strategy plays such an important role in who wins or loses. Make your picks by the numbers and hope that your drivers are not among those eliminated in what will likely be multiple incidents.
Since there is no data to consider from previous Charlotte Roval races, look back at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Of those two tracks, Sonoma is more technical and probably more representative of what drivers will face.
It’s hard to bet against Kyle Busch this week. He enters the weekend with eight consecutive top-10s on the twisty tracks that include a victory at Sonoma in 2015. In this year’s pair of road course races, he netted two top-fives. With his Coca-Cola 600 victory this summer, he had victories on every Cup track on which he’s competed. That list now excludes the Charlotte Roval and he will want to tackle it early. He won last week’s Federated 400 at Richmond Raceway and has nothing to lose by going for broke.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. isn’t ready to roll over yet. His team is closing shop at the end of the year, but that has not slowed him any in the last two weeks with a pair of third-place results at Richmond and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Never underestimate the power of motivation. Truex wants to disprove critics that say this team will unravel before Homestead. His last three road course races ended in a pair of victories and a second. Like Busch, he is locked into Round 2 of the playoffs and can take risks if he needs to.
Garage Pick: Erik Jones
Erik Jones has gotten progressively better in every Cup road course race he’s entered. Starting with a 25th at Sonoma last year, he improved to 10th at the Glen. Jones finished seventh at Sonoma this season and was fifth at the Glen last month. Two years’ worth of data is not enough to make him a starter, but if he stays out of trouble he could be a good driver to have waiting in the wings.
Red Flag: Jimmie Johnson
This is not the track Jimmie Johnson wanted to see as the elimination race for Round 1. He has had an occasionally strong run on road courses back when he ran well everywhere. But, he has not earned a top-10 in the past three years on twisty tracks, however, and his average finish in that span is 22.7. It might even be difficult for him to beat that average this week. Johnson is in a precarious position. He is only six points behind the cutoff line, but most of the drivers he needs to outperform have been much faster than him all season.
Silly Season is in full bloom. Several drivers or teams have announced they are splitting up at the end of the year and occasionally that spurred them on to better results. AJ Allmendinger and the JTG-Daugherty Racing team will part ways at the end of 2018 and that might be the catalyst for a solid run at the Roval. No one doubts Allmendinger’s ability on this track type even though he has made mistakes in the past few races. In Round 1, the non-playoff driver options are limited, so it is worth taking a gamble.
Daniel Suarez has been better at the Glen with a pair of top-five finishes than Sonoma. If he were competing against the playoff drivers for your fantasy attention, that would make a lot of difference. On the more technical track, Suarez has two results in the mid-teens and if he can back that up, he will be one of the three best non-playoff drivers this week. Like Allmendinger, the pressure is on for him to perform and impress a future owner (if the rumors are true that Truex will take his ride at JGR).
Garage Pick: Jamie McMurray or William Byron
For the moment, players should make allocations based on the strength of the given teams. Chip Ganassi Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have been strong enough to place drivers in the playoffs so it is apparent they can field top-10 capable equipment. Jamie McMurray and William Byron both finished in the top 10 at the Glen this year, so they both know how to navigate a road course. It is going to come down to who executes pit strategy best to determine if they can get another single digit result.
Red Flag: Trevor Bayne
Trevor Bayne is entered in the No. 6 this week. He was behind the wheel at Sonoma as well and finished 27th. In last year’s pair of road course races, he also finished outside the top 25 in both events. Matt Kenseth was unable to give this team a decent result at the Glen last month – finishing 29th. The odds are good that Bayne is going to finish outside the top 25 and if the team has any hiccups whatsoever, he will be outside of the top 30.
A complete explanation of the rules changes and some strategies can be found in “Changes Coming to NASCAR Fantasy Live.”