Charlotte Roval features many pitfalls for competitors

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CONCORD, N.C. — The most difficult part of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval?

That’s easy, AJ Allmendinger says.

It is “as soon as you pull out of the garage.”

He’s about right.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course combines the track’s oval and the infield road course to create a one-of-a-kind track littered with danger points for drivers. That this is a playoff race — “I think everyone agrees that’s a little bit crazy,” Joey Logano said — only adds to the drama this weekend for the Xfinity and Cup Series.

MORE: Friday’s Crash and Spin Report at the Roval

Here’s a look at some of the key points on the track that could impact the outcome of this weekend’s races.

BACKSTRETCH CHICANE

This is not a favorite of the drivers. They’ll be going around 150 mph as they enter this chicane at the end of the backstretch. It’s narrow.

“Getting into the chicane, there’s not going to be two cars going through there, ever,” Austin Dillon said.

The chicane is protected by blue curbing that is taller than most of the other curbing around the track and can cause more damage to cars — something Denny Hamlin discovered in Friday’s practice.

There’s also the tire barrier at the exit of the chicane. It leaves little room for error. Both Hamlin and Dillon struck it Friday.

“I think in race conditions it is going to be really gnarly,” AJ Allmendinger said. “That is going to be a difficult challenge, and I think it’s going to be a challenge for NASCAR to make the right call if somebody gets shoved and has to shortcut it.”

START/RESTARTS

The field will not go through the frontstretch chicane for the start or restarts. Instead, the field will do those on the frontstretch like any other race. The reasoning is that if the chicane was used, the front of the field would be accelerating while many further back would be braking as they went through the chicane and would not create a fair situation for the field.

With starts and restarts not using the chicane, drivers have estimated that they’ll be going 15-30 mph faster toward Turn 1 — a sharp left-hand turn that will require them to downshift from third gear to second and brake.

As the front of the field does that approaching the corner, others farther back will still be accelerating. It could stack the field and cause a multicar crash.

Restarts, I think that’s probably where most of the questions lie,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “How do we navigate the place? Can we go two wide (into Turn 1)? Where can we go two wide? How’s that all going to play out? That’ll be the interesting part.

“In Turn 1 specifically – Turns 1 and 2, the walls on both sides are really narrow. Kind of a difficult spot on the racetrack, so we’ll just – I don’t know. I don’t really know how to answer your question there. Everybody is anxiously anticipating what’ll happen there and hopefully, we can figure out a way to make it through there.”

TURN 8

This is the left-hand turn that takes cars off the infield road course and puts them back on Turn 1 of the oval.

A lot of teams have worked to make sure their cars handle well here so they can fire off on the oval and build speed through the second corner of the oval and the backstretch before hitting the chicane. If a car isn’t as good here, it will lose time to others, and that could be difficult to make up the rest of the lap.

“That’s going to set up a lot of passes into the backstretch chicane,” Trevor Bayne said. “If you can get off that corner, the speed carries all around (the oval).”

PIT ROAD AND PIT EXIT

While pit road is always important, this pit road carries a unique challenge. Shortly after crossing the final timing line — allowing drivers to go as fast as they want after that point — competitors face a 90-degree turn and then a lane before they blend on the track in Turn 2, a tight section of the track.

“If you’re side by side with a car coming off pit road, and you’re making that first sharp left, and then you blend onto the racetrack, one, if there’s another car coming off of Turn 2, that’s three cars in a really tight spot, that’s not going to work,” Ryan Blaney said. “There might have to be a little give and take there because it’s almost a blind corner pretty much. 

“So that will be a big deal for the spotters to let us know if someone is coming or if you need to back out or something like that. It’s a lot on the driver, too, but you just can’t see on the racetrack. If you’re two wide, and you’re coming off pit road and no one is coming off of Turn 2, I think you can do it. You should be OK, but it’s a big deal if someone else is on the racetrack because they don’t know if you’re coming out or not at that wall.”

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.