Drivers got off to a tough start. In practice on Friday. Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, and Bubba Wallace each added excitement to the practice and qualification sessions. Wallace spun three times at various sp[ots on the track, but a trouble spot identified itself as the backstretch chicane.
The chicane is short, but the transition out of it is sharp. Hamlin and Jones did major damage in this portion of the track. In fact, Hamlin had two different problems: he ran over the “turtles” (six inch high rumble strips) and ripped off his splitter. Later, he spun out of the exit of the chicane in Round 1 of qualification and made heavy contact with the wall.
Erik Jones tried to straighten out the chicane and scrapped the tire barrier that demarks its end. The team was able to buff out the damage and allow him to qualify 12th. On Saturday, he drove head on into the barrier and destroyed his car.
Bubba Wallace also ran headlong into the barrier and as a result, NASCAR has decided to move that barrier. They did not move the turtles, however, and runnong over those six inch tall obstacles have just as much potential to damage a car.
Brad Keswlowski set the fastest time in Happy Hour and in the last couple of minutes, he over-cooked the frontstretch chicane and nosed into the outside wall. Hamlin, Jones, Wallace, and Keselowski will all go to backup cars – but the peril does not end there. Those types of incidents will continue into the race and there is really no telling who it is going to effect.
Moreover, if a spin happens at one of the choke points, a track blocking accident is going to occur. Our opinion from Friday – that this is a wild card race akin to the restrictor-plate superspeedways – has been reaffirmed. Spread the wealth around and hope that your roster survives.
Hemric represents a great opportunity. In allocation management games, this is only his second start so is a good value. In salary cap games he will be cheap. And in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, he is well under the radar screen. Hemric was only 22nd fastest in Happy Hour.
In final practice, Keselowski had the fastest lap, but crashed at the end of the session. William Byron posted the second fastest time. He finished eighth at Watkins Glen last month and represents another solid dark horse choice.
Kurt Busch won the pole for Saturday's Roval 400. He enters the weekend with 12 consecutive top-12 finishes on road courses. If anyone has the consistency to stay out of trouble, Busch is that driver. He is likely to earn stage points in Segment 1 and should finish well. That will offset any potential lost place-differenntial points.
AJ Allmendinger sits on the outside of the front row. He has a lot on the line after being released from the No. 47 earlier this week. He sounds like he wants to continue to race at the Cup level and this is likely his last opportunity to prove his worth. He has made a number of mistakes on road courses in the past couple of years that have kept him from being a good value. Put all that aside this week. Unless something happens in front of him, Allmendinger should be able to drive well enough to score a top-five.
The Hendrick Motorsports drivers qualified well. Alex Bowman will start third, Chase Elliott qualified fourth, and Johnson starts sixth. Byron found single lap speed in Happy Hour. That points to the overall strength of this organization's strength and if makes them a good value. Johnson could be a surprise contender for a top-10 and if he also earns stage points, he will advance to Round 2 of the playoffs.