In the opening minutes of the first practice session for the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the fear surrounding this race was realized.
Bubba Wallace spun, but kept going. He would spin at least twice more before the session was completed. Aric Almirola crashed. Denny Hamlin ran over one of the rumble strips and tore his front splitter. He later reported there was no damage to his suspension, but the cameras caught bits and pieces coming from under his car. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also crashed.
By the end of the session, 33 percent of the field had some sort of notable issue.
It seems likely that more trouble is on the way and that it will persist into the race as the stakes get higher. If you are playing an allocation management game, stay away from marquee drivers just as you would on a restrictor-plate, superspeedway. In-race incidents will significantly shape the final rundown.
Start: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has nothing to lose this week. With his Federated Auto Parts 400 victory, he was locked into Round 2 of the playoffs and now has only one thing on his agenda: to win the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 and keep his record of winning on every track alive. In the first practice session of the week, he topped the speed chart with a lap of 106.397 mph Friday morning. He also had one lap disallowed for cutting the frontstretch chicane. If that happens in competition, it will result in a drive through penalty. Most of the drivers who showed speed in that session also had issues, however, so fantasy owners need to decide who they think will figure things out (i.e. stop making mistakes) the fastest.
Start: Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott needs to race a little conservatively this week. He is 10 points to the good in regard to the cutoff line for advancing to Round 2 of the playoffs and he cannot afford to do anything that will affect the handling of his car. If he manages to earn points in the first two stages of the race and if enough drivers below or immediately above him in the standings have trouble, he can charge in the final segment and could very well sweep the top five on road courses this year.
Park: Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick said he was terrified of the Roval after last week’s race in Richmond. Frankly, he ran that way in practice and landed 27th on the speed chart – more than three seconds off the pace of Busch. He will probably pick up speed as he logs more laps – and he does not have to worry about advancing to Round 2 since he needs only one point in the Roval 400 to do so. However, he could lose track position in the middle stages that will be difficult to overcome.
Start: Joey Logano
Joey Logano looked fast from the first lap of practice when he gapped Harvick. He hasn’t been terribly high on our list of contenders so far this week since his last four road course races ended outside the top 10. The five attempts on this track type prior to that were all sixth or better and included a Watkins Glen victory. If he keeps this speed up during Saturday’s sessions, he should make his way onto a majority of rosters.
Start: Jimmie Johnson
We’ll give you a moment to check your eyesight.
Yes, Jimmie Johnson is highlighted in green this week. After having such a disappointing season, he might finally have found a place where this team can run well. Earlier in the week on a radio show, crew chief Chad Knaus said he was “giddy” to get to the Roval. Johnson landed seventh on the speed chart in the first practice session and he was not one of the 13+ drivers who experienced problems in that session. If he finds a place to ride that allows him to stay out of trouble, he could score a much-needed top-10. If enough playoff contenders experience hardship, he could advance to Round 2.
Park: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one of the first drivers to test the barrier at the Charlotte Roval. He spun in the interior portion of the track and backed into a tire barrier before spending most of the session helping his crew work on the car. When he finally got back on track, he logged four laps and landed 22nd on the speed chart.
Start: Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell is a safe bet this week. He enters the weekend with five consecutive results of 21st or better. His average in that span was a 16.4. He landed 16th on the speed chart in the first practice session. All of that combines to suggest he will finish on the cusp of 15th. While others slide off the track or hit one of the walls, McDowell will slowly pick up positions. If the attrition is high enough, he might even score a top-10.
Start: AJ Allmendinger
Never underestimate the power of pride. Earlier this week, it was announced that AJ Allmendinger would not return to the No. 47. At the racetrack on the first day of practice, his replacement was named: modified racer Ryan Preece. ‘Dinger realistically has only one week to prove that he deserves a Cup ride. That could be a double-edged sword and cause him to take risks he might not otherwise, but it may also galvanize the driver into action.