Wade Payne/Associated Press
Sunday, the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runs its most unpredictable race in years at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
The Bank of America Roval 400 is the first NASCAR playoff race with right turns in history, and the road-course hybrid could serve up a dish of unpredictable results in what amounts to the sport’s latest experiment.
Said experiment also happens during the third race of the playoffs, meaning it’s cut-down time for the four drivers with the fewest points. Ahead of Sunday’s event, a notable like Jimmie Johnson remains on the outside looking in at advancing.
Here’s a look at everything to know about one of the most-hyped races in recent memory.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Bank of America Roval 400
1. Kurt Busch: 106.868 mph
2. AJ Allmendinger: 106.811 mph
3. Alex Bowman: 106.800 mph
4. Chase Elliott: 106.596 mph
5. Kyle Larson: 106.574 mph
6. Jimmie Johnson: 106.462 mph
7. Clint Bowyer: 106.332 mph
8. Jamie McMurray: 106.104 mph
9. Ryan Blaney: 105.919 mph
10. Chris Buescher: 105.556 mph
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Kyle Busch||2125|
|2. Brad Keselowski||2111|
|3. Martin Truex Jr.||2141|
|4. Kevin Harvick||2113|
|5. Joey Logano||2081|
|6. Aric Almirola||2079|
|7. Kyle Larson||2073|
|8. Kurt Busch||2071|
|9. Austin Dillon||2066|
|10. Chase Elliott||2066|
|11. Alex Bowman||2061|
|12. Ryan Blaney||2060|
|13. Clint Bowyer||2056|
|14. Jimmie Johnson||2054|
|15. Erik Jones||2039|
|16. Denny Hamlin||2031|
Drivers to Watch
Martin Truex Jr.
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Normally, we would say Martin Truex Jr. is interesting because he won this race a year ago.
Which is technically true, as Truex pulled in the win in Charlotte during the playoff’s third race—it just didn’t take place at this road course.
Still, Truex is interesting because while he hasn’t won seven races like Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick, he’s quietly remained in the background and is seemingly poised to strike. Truex has now finished third in back-to-back events to end an iffy streak and likes what he saw from his team last time out in Richmond.
“Aside from the penalty, we were probably the fastest we’ve been on pit road in a while,” Truex said, according to Motorsport.com (h/t Yahoo Sports). “That’s really encouraging for the playoffs and going down the stretch here when you need to win races off pit road and things like that.”
Keep in mind Truex also happens to be one of the best on road courses, meaning it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to see him take down this inaugural experiment. Considering he has led 259 laps over his last two outings, it is starting to feel like Truex is due.
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
It’s do-or-die time for Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson hasn’t looked like himself all season, yet despite the lack of a win, he managed to sneak into the playoffs—where fans understandably figured a man with his resume and clutch gene would flip a switch and make things competitive.
Instead, Johnson has finished 16th or worse in three out of his last four outings, with only the most recent one in Richmond landing as a top-10 performance because he finished eighth after starting 22nd.
Not that Johnson sounds too concerned.
“I think surviving is just the biggest thing. We will just go there and give 100 percent and do what we can,” Johnson said, according to Jim Utter of Motorsport.com. “It’s been one of those years, but we are going to go down swinging to the bitter end.”
Johnson certainly has the experience needed to go in and take down not just a strong point-standing finish, but a win outright. But at the same time, he’s going into this like everyone else—new to the event and not sure what to expect.
It makes Johnson a driver worth watching either way, as the mix of experience and everything at stake could truly produce something special.
Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Kyle Busch got back to being Kyle Busch in Richmond—he pulled in a win after leading 92 laps after starting 12th.
While it was the fourth consecutive top-10 performance for Busch, he had not pulled in a checkered flag since the end of July—which is a big gap for a guy who has won seven so far.
Busch wasn’t hurting for points by any means, but it sounds like he and the people around him, such as team owner Joe Gibbs, are happy to get the win out of the way and remain in a good position.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen more talk about something than the roval, really,” Gibbs, said, according to the Associated Press’ Hank Kurz (h/t the Roanoke Times). “We’ve been talking about this thing. And I will say this: I think we wrecked four cars, didn’t we, in practice getting ready for it? I finally said, ‘Nobody else goes over there.’ I’m tired of wrecking stuff.”
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
The 7th win of 2018 for Kyle Busch.
Another winning moment, presented by @ToyotaRacing! https://t.co/eTklUUs0Zm
Unlike everyone else, Johnson has built in some padding as he heads into the great unknown that is this weekend’s race. To top it all off, oddsmakers have him pegged as the favorite (+300, bet $10 to win $30), according to OddsShark.
Though knowing Busch, turning the unknown to his advantage isn’t out of the question.