CONCORD, N.C. — Sixteen Cup teams hit Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday for the first open test on the track’s 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course that will host the Sept. 30 Bank of America Roval 400.
From 9 – 6 p.m. ET the teams tried to get familiar with the course that they will visit for the last race in the first round of the playoffs.
Drivers came away with different reactions to the track, which uses most of the 1.5-mile oval.
“You’re not comfortable anywhere,” Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports and ESPN. “You’re on pins and needles afraid you’re going to bust your butt. There’s not a calm place around here.”
The seven-time champion believes attrition during the 109-lap race is “going to be very high.”
“It’s very easy to make mistakes and have big problems when you make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Race time is going to be a handful.”
Asked where the best place to pass will be, Johnson answered simply, “pit lane.”
Kasey Kahne indicated miscues could be aplenty, saying “Basically if you make a mistake you hit something.”
But the Leavine Family Racing driver enjoyed his marathon experience on the new track.
“I actually kind of like all of it,” Kahne said. “I like all of it and I dislike all of it. It’s very unique and different and interesting to drive. Because of that I think it makes it technical and difficult at the same time.”
Kahne said the road course portion in the infield is a “completely different type of technical” than Sonoma Raceway, the road course the series visited last month.
Paul Menard took that view a step further.
“We can’t look at Sonoma notes, we can’t look at Watkins Glen notes,” Menard told NBC Sports. “We have to create our own, because we’re going 170 (mph) through the banking … We don’t see anything like that at Watkins Glen. And certainly not Sonoma.”
The main road course portion ends in Turn 8, where drivers return to the oval at the entrance of the oval’s Turn 1.
“You’re peddling it to not to run into the wall,” Kahne said. “Because of the lack of turn, the way you pick up the banking. It’s so flat right before that … you rely all on the car and you can only do so much I guess.”
Once on the backstretch, cars go through a chicane to slow them down before entering Turn 3.
The test was stopped for two hours in order to add two more sets of rumble strips to the chicane and a tire barrier at the chicane exit. Before their addition, drivers were blowing over the existing rumble strips as if they weren’t there.
“The changes on the backstretch were just to keep everybody honest, to keep everybody on the line that was defined,” Ryan Newman said. “I don’t know that it’s on its final iteration, but we’re making an attempt for it to be the final iteration.”
When it comes to the course overall, Chase Elliott said the “whole thing” presented problems for him.
“I feel like I struggled the worst leaving (Turn) 8 and then getting back on the frontstretch and entering the infield, that seems to be my bigger issues,” Elliott told NBC Sports.
Similar to Kahne, the Hendrick driver said “it’s all pretty fun, if you don’t crash.”
At the end of the day Elliott wasn’t sure where the best passing zones would materialize.
“I’d say you could pretty much root and gouge somebody out-of-the-way in a bunch of different places if you really wanted to,” Elliott said. “I would say your best opportunities are maybe getting back on the frontstretch there and maybe into Turn 5 (a right-hand turn across from the traditional Turn 2). I don’t know, until everybody kind of gets to racing, it’s hard to say.”
It wasn’t hard for Menard to say what could be in store for fans and drivers come Sept. 30.
“Should be a hell of a show.”