Whether a praise to the heavens or a statement of shock – or a combination of both – that’s how Clint Bowyer began his press conference after finishing third in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400.
Somehow, someway, Bowyer survived the 109-lap race to earn his best result since placing third at Sonoma in June. He also raced his way into the second round of the playoffs.
That was after he entered the elimination race as one of four drivers on the outside looking into the top 12 who would advance. Bowyer began the day 14th on the starting lineup and four points out of the cutoff spot.
Since the introduction of the elimination format in 2014, Bowyer’s achievement is the 12th time a driver entered a cutoff race in the bottom four and drove their way into the next round.
It’s the fifth time a driver has advanced to Round 2 after entering the elimination race below the cutoff.
“Our day in particular, we knew we needed an opportunity,” Bowyer said. “You knew some people were going to have trouble. You try to make sure that you’re not one of those people.”
Beginning at 5 a.m. Sunday when his son Cash woke up, Bowyer had plenty of time to think about where there would be opportunities on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 17-turn, 2.28 mile course.
“It wasn’t much sleep the last couple nights,” Bowyer said. “Once you’re up, you start thinking about this gremlin that’s ahead of you today, there wasn’t any more sleeping. I stood there and watched the sun come up thinking about the chicane on the back straightaway, thought about the chicane on the front straightaway, thought about Turn 8, how I was going to get off that. I hit the wall in Turn 8 (oval Turn 1). Just thought about restarts and things like that.”
Bowyer managed to finish third in Stage 1 for eight points and fifth in Stage 2 for six points.
Bowyer then kept his No. 14 Ford from being one of 15 cars that got a piece of the wreck in Turn 1 with six laps to go.
On the final restart, he was sixth.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to compete,” Bowyer said. “Nerve‑racking as hell on our part, but nonetheless, it was a lot of fun, challenge. … But heartburn, that was a heartburn, ended up being a heartburn on a lot of people’s parts.”
But Bowyer’s heartburn was worthwhile as he joins all three of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates in Round 2.
Bowyer’s advancement in the playoffs comes a year after Kyle Busch was the only driver to enter an elimination race below the cutoff line and advance. He did so to advance to the third round.
In 2016, Austin Dillon did it in Round 1 and was followed by Hamlin in Round 2 and then Carl Edwards advanced from Round 3 to the championship race.
In 2015, Kyle Busch did it twice, advancing into Round 2 and 3 from the below the cutoff on his way to winning the title. Kevin Harvick also did it to advance into Round 2.
2014 saw Hamlin race his way into Round 2 and eventually make the championship race. Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski followed the next round and Harvick finished second in the final cutoff race at Phoenix to advance to the championship race, where he claimed his first Cup title.
NASCAR America returns today and airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss the wild action from the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR America will be followed by IndyCar Live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.
Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.
The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.
While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.
A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.
While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.
Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.
Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.
All this over an exhibition race.
Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.
Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.
But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.
The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.
While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.
Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.
Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.
Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.
Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.
That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.
Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.
While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.
Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.
Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.
If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.
Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.
The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.
Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.
Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.
“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”
As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas.
While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.
“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”
It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.
Saturday night, there were no mistakes.
“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races. I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”
The races, which will be on the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be held at the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and will be streamed on NASCAR’s Facebook and 704Games’ Twitch channel.
Green flag for the Xbox One race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET. The PlayStation 4 race is set to start at 4 p.m. ET.
Each race will be approximately 30 minutes in length on each console. The number of laps will change from track to track as a result. There are no stages but there will be a mid-race caution. Points will not be awarded for finishing order at the time of the mid-race caution.
Fans can tune-in starting at 3 p.m. ET for pre-race coverage.
The second race of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29. The full 16-race schedule will be announced at the end of the week.
Here are the full driver rosters for each console.
Xbox One Drivers/Teams:
Greg Matarazzo / Chip Ganassi Gaming
Nicholas Vroman / Leavine Family Gaming
Tyler Dohar / JR Motorsports
Brian Tedeschi / Team Penske Esports
Nick Walker / Roush Fenway Gaming
Diego Alvarado / Petty Esports
Josh Shoemaker / Stewart-Haas Gaming
Sam Morris / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club
Daniel Buttafuoco / Gibbs Gaming
Justin Brooks/ JTG Daugherty Throttlers
Matt Heale / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)
Jordan McGraw / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)
Jacob Kerr / Germain Gaming (Germain Racing)
Casey Gomme / Wood Brothers Gaming
PlayStation 4 Drivers/Teams:
Slade Gravitt / Wood Brothers Gaming
William Arnold / Germain Gaming
Joey Stone / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)
Held in the rain, the dedication came during a seven-hour celebration of Trickle that was attended by hundreds of fans and friends of the driver, in addition to his brother, sisters and daughter.
“It’s amazing what they did,” Chuck Trickle, the driver’s brother told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I got here Monday at 5 o’clock. The guys were still here. We sat and had a beer, and I gave ’em all a hug and I looked at this thing and I got tears in my eyes.
“It really means a lot to our family and myself.”
The dedication of the statue comes six years after Trickle’s death at the age of 71 from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Trickle, the 1989 Cup rookie of the year, made 303 Cup starts from 1970 – 2002. His only two national series wins came in the Xfinity Series at Hickory Motor Speedway in 1997 and Darlington Raceway in 1998.
The memorial to Trickle is expected to be completed next year.