Long: Roval provides roller coaster of emotions for playoff drivers

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CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson stood in silence. Kyle Larson’s team cheered a 25th-place finish. Ryan Blaney wasn’t quite sure how to feel.

A wild finish to Sunday’s inaugural Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval left competitors dazed and confused.

Johnson thought he would advance to the second round of the playoffs. Then he didn’t.

Larson thought he was eliminated from the playoffs. Then he wasn’t.

Blaney thought he would finish third. Until he won.

It made pit road a wonderful, wacky and woebegone place after the checkered flag.

Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. spin on the last lap. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Johnson was second and set to advance in the playoffs when he attempted to pass Martin Truex Jr. in the final chicane for the win. Johnson locked his brakes and spun.

He placed eighth and finished in a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots.

After exiting his car on pit road, Johnson and others stood waiting to hear from NASCAR if he advanced. The silence was broken only by someone in the crowd asking if Johnson had made it.

In a season where he has failed to win a stage or a race, Johnson fell one point short of continuing his quest for a record eighth championship. If he’s to win another title, it will be with a different logo on the No. 48 Chevrolet than the previous seven crowns with sponsor Lowe’s leaving after this season.

“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win, and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive,” Johnson said. “We had such a good car. It’s just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points, and it bit me.”

Johnson’s misfortune — and that of Truex as well — allowed Blaney to drive by both and score his second career Cup win.

A great moment for Blaney.

But he wasn’t quite sure.

“You’re happy that it’s worked out for you,” Blaney said. “You’re happy you won the race. You’re happy for the team to do that.  … I don’t want people to look at it as, ‘Oh, you just won because the two guys wrecked.’ And that’s what it was, and you don’t want to be kind of overjoyed about it. You have to have some pride in it, I guess. It’s a weird feeling.

“I’ve never won a race like that before.”

There had never been a race like this before — on a track that combined the oval with an infield road course. 

The drama was only building after Blaney, Johnson and Truex (14th) crossed the line.

Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed on the frontstretch, and his car stopped about 100 yards from the finish line. If he crossed the line, Larson would have been eliminated from the playoffs.

It would have been a dramatic fall for Larson, who led 47 of the 109 laps and engaged in a spectacular duel for the lead with Brad Keselowski about 35 laps from the finish before seeing his title hopes all but end when he crashed into the Turn 1 tire barrier on a restart six laps from the finish.

Kyle Larson’s crew repairs his car late in Sunday’s race. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The team made repairs, and the green flag waved with three laps to go. Larson rode behind the field, his car limping through the course in hopes that someone would spin of course or crash, and he could gain the one position he needed to make the playoffs.

“I had kind of given up,” Larson said.

Then Earnhardt crashed.

Larson’s lucky break.

But disaster soon struck Larson. His right-front tire blew, and his car slammed the wall in Turn 4 on the oval.

He kept going.

Earnhardt’s car wasn’t moving.

As Larson approached Earnhardt’s car, he said to himself: “Please don’t go! Please don’t go! Please don’t move!”

Larson’s right-front tire angled inward, the fender gone and the brakes locked as he went through the chicane. He drifted wide off the final turn and hit the frontstretch wall while Earnhardt’s car remained motionless.

As soon as Larson passed Earnhardt and crossed the finish line, a large cheer rose from Larson’s pit box.

They knew.

They had advanced to the second round.

Larson, though, didn’t know his situation.

“Did we make it?” he asked his team on the radio.

It was only two days ago that Larson sat on the pit wall after qualifying and said he just needed some good luck in the playoffs, feeling luck had gone against him so often the past couple of years.

Reminded of that conversation, Larson smiled.

“This,” he said, “was some damn good luck.”

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.

 

Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

Preliminary entry lists for Championship Weekend in Miami

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NASCAR’s final race weekend of the year has arrived with the championship races for all three of its national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the race.

Drew Herring is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota for his Cup debut.

John Hunter Nemechek will make his third start in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford in relief of Matt Tifft.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Cup title.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered. One car will not qualify for the race.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Cole Custer to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 37 trucks entered. Five trucks will not qualify for the event.

K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota for his fifth start of the season.

Angela Ruch is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet.

Christian Eckes is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman is entered in Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Chevrolet.

No drivers are listed for NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Chevrolet and Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 33 and No. 34 Toyotas.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

JJL Motorsports announces new team owner

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JJL Motorsports, Jesse Little‘s Gander Outdoors Truck Series team, announced Tuesday it has sold its assets to Logan Puckett, president of Diversified Utility Group, a turnkey general contractor specializing in fiber optic telecommunications construction.

The company will sponsor Little in Friday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Puckett will re-brand the team as Diversified Motorsports Enterprises in 2020 with plans to compete part-time with Little as its primary driver.

Little, 22, has made eight starts in the Truck Series this year in his No. 97 Ford.

More: Jesse Little to compete full-time for JD Motorsports in 2020

The team announced in early September that its assets were up for sale.

“I’m honored to represent Diversified Utility Group this weekend at Homestead,” Little said in a press release. “Logan has been so excited about the opportunity to enter the Truck Series as an owner in 2020, but to have his company be a part of our last race under the JJL Motorsports banner as a sponsor is even more awesome.

“Hopefully we can have a good performance for him on Friday night before looking ahead to 2020.”

Said Puckett: “I am really looking forward to taking over an outstanding program that JJL has put together as it provides a great foundation to build on and hopefully grow. I think the growth potential is what excites me the most.

“I am certainly looking forward to the challenge that this provides, and I hope that I can bring some value to the team and ultimately it would be awesome if I can bring value to the sport as a young owner with a fresh outlook.”