Charlotte Roval storylines: Twists of fate

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Call it “Roval-ution Number 9.”

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has been stout at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval since it debuted in 2018. After finishing sixth in the Roval’s inaugural Cup race, he’s won the last two in 2019 and 2020.

Those two victories have come in style, too.

In 2019, Elliott was leading with 45 laps to go when he went into Turn 1 too hard and went into the tire barrier. He emerged 37th after the incident but came back and won.

Last year, an additional green flag pit stop for a loose wheel knocked him back to 36th. But he quickly made up the lost ground, reclaimed the lead with 18 laps to go, and went on to victory (see the highlights at the top).

As the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs return to the Roval for Sunday’s Round of 12 eliminator (2 p.m. ET, NBC), Elliott is among those looking to advance.

He sits seventh in the Round of 12 standings. Both he and Kyle Busch hold identical nine-point cushions above the cutline (Elliott has the better Round of 12 race finish, giving him seventh).

But with a slim margin for error, the Roval may be the best place Elliott could’ve asked for in an elimination race.

In his last 10 Cup road course races dating back to Watkins Glen 2019, Elliott has had just one finish worse than fourth. That was a 21st-place finish in February at the Daytona road course. In that race, he was going for a fifth consecutive road course win but was spun with five laps to go.

Since then on road courses, he’s earned victories at Circuit of the Americas and Road America, runner-up results at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, and a fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A nine-point buffer can go away quickly on the treacherous Roval. But if Elliott can avoid trouble, he’ll likely be in contention to win – and to move on in the postseason.

Say a prayer, mash the gas

Christopher Bell, William Byron and Alex Bowman are the last three drivers in the Round of 12 standings entering Sunday’s Cup elimination race. And they’re not in great shape.

Bell sits 28 points behind the cutline. Then comes Byron at 44 points behind. Finally, Bowman sits at 52 points behind. All three likely need a win Sunday to advance.

A disastrous Round of 12 opener in Las Vegas (no stage points, finished 24th) put Bell in the hole he’s in. While finishing fifth Monday at Talladega, he only scored six stage points. With other drivers around the cutline having good days, that wasn’t enough to help him.

For Hendrick Motorsports drivers Byron and Bowman, a backfired strategy play and tire failures at Las Vegas put them both behind the cutline but still at reasonable deficits. After crashing at Talladega, those deficits aren’t so reasonable anymore and leave only one option.

The 2021 postseason has been particularly rough for them. Bowman’s average finish for the five playoff races is 20.6. Byron’s average finish in that same span is 22nd. Each has a single top-five finish. Each got it when they needed it: The Round of 16 elimination race at Bristol.

As noted in our Round of 12 outlook, Bell and Bowman would seem to have a better chance than Byron of pulling off a win at the Roval.

Bell clinched a playoff berth with a win at the Daytona road course in February. Bowman has been solid at the Roval, but his best road course finish this season is eighth at Circuit of the Americas in May.

Think they’re impressed?

Bubba Wallace’s rain-shortened win at Talladega on Monday made him only the second Black driver to win in the NASCAR Cup Series. He was able to share the celebration with the family of the first Black winner of a Cup race, Wendell Scott.

Along with Scott’s family, 23XI Racing co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin were also happy, of course. But there’s another group that’s feeling jazzed.

Wallace took the win Monday in the No. 23 McDonalds Toyota. The fast-food giant has since re-titled its Twitter page to “Bubba Wallace stan account.”

The page’s header also includes a Bubba-styled riff on McDonalds’ classic ‘I’m lovin’ it’ jingle.

Wallace’s victory was the first for a McDonalds-sponsored car since Jimmy Spencer won at Talladega in July 1994. So, it’s all understandable on their end.

But now for Wallace and 23XI, the focus turns to closing out the season with solid performance ahead of the arrival of Kurt Busch and expansion to a two-car program.

First up: The Roval. In his three previous starts there for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace’s best result was 21st last season.

In six road course races this season, Wallace has turned in two top-15 results at Sonoma (14th) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (13th).

The spotlight may be shining on Wallace, but he’s still building his skills as a driver – just as 23XI is still building as a team. Another top-15 showing on Sunday would be a fine result.

Eye on the sky

Last year’s Xfinity playoff elimination race at the Roval was marred by heavy rain. It led to perilous track conditions that caused numerous spins during the race, including Chase Briscoe‘s spin on the overtime restart that handed the win to AJ Allmendinger.

As the series returns to the Roval for another playoff elimination race this Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC), rain could be a factor again. Weather Underground’s forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain, with morning and midday showers transitioning to scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Regardless, reigning series champion Austin Cindric has already advanced to the Round of 8 on points. That leaves the 11 remaining playoff drivers to fight for seven spots.

One of them is Allmendinger, who comes off a wreck last week at Talladega that chopped his cushion above the cutline to 33 points. But that’s still good for fourth in the Round of 12 standings behind Cindric, Justin Allgaier (+55 to the cutline) and Hemric (+41).

Allmendinger has won the last two Roval races, and both he and Cindric figure to be favorites Saturday. Through six road course races in 2021, they’ve each gone to Victory Lane (Cindric at Indianapolis, Allmendinger at Mid-Ohio) and posted five top-10 finishes. In Allmendinger’s case, those finishes include none worse than fourth place.

Entering the Roval, fifth through eighth in the Round of 12 standings are occupied by Justin Haley (+24), Brandon Jones (+21), Noah Gragson (+18) and Harrison Burton (+8).

Haley is the lone Xfinity driver to record top-10 finishes in all six road course races this season. His best finish on those tracks is a second at Mid-Ohio.

Harrison Burton’s cousin, Jeb Burton, is the first driver below the cutline. Those behind him – Myatt Snider (-24 to the cutline), Riley Herbst (-32) and Jeremy Clements (-48) – are effectively in must-win mode.

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the best car but had to fight through restarts late in the race to win.

William Byron — Byron, the winningest driver this season, barely missed getting victory No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.

LOSERS

Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Johnson finished last in the 37-car field. Noah Gragson was 36th. Erik Jones placed 32nd.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point. Hamlin said Elliott “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series results: Justin Allgaier wins at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier finally broke through for his first win of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season Monday night.

Allgaier stretched his last fuel load over the final laps to finish in front of John Hunter Nemechek. Cole Custer was third, Austin Hill fourth and Ty Gibbs fifth. Gibbs ran both races Monday, completing 900 miles.

The win also was the first of the season for JR Motorsports.

Charlotte Xfinity results

Justin Allgaier wins NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier won a fuel-mileage gamble to win Monday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Allgaier stretched his fuel to outlast second-place John Hunter Nemechek. Following in the top five were Cole Custer, Austin Hill and Ty Gibbs.

The victory was Allgaier’s first of the year and the first of the season for JR Motorsports. He has 20 career wins.

MORE: Charlotte Xfinity results

After a long day at CMS, the race ended at 11:25 p.m. The race started Monday morning but was stopped twice because of weather before it was halted with 48 of 200 laps completed so that the Coca-Cola 600 Cup Series race could be run.

When the race was stopped, Gibbs, Nemechek and Allgaier were in the top three positions.

Gibbs won the first two stages.

Stage 1 winner: Ty Gibbs

Stage 2 winner: Ty Gibbs

Who had a good race: Justin Allgaier has had good cars in previous races but finally cashed in with a win Monday. He led 83 laps. … John Hunter Nemechek, in second, scored his fifth top-two run of the season. … Cole Custer scored his sixth straight top-10 finish. … Ty Gibbs lasted 900 miles for the day and led 52 laps in the Xfinity race.

Who had a bad race: Sam Mayer was running 10th when he spun off Turn 2. He finished 35th. … Sheldon Creed finished three laps down in 28th.

Next: The series moves on to Portland International Raceway in Oregon for a 4:30 p.m. ET race June 3.

What drivers said at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, N.C. — What drivers had to say during and after Monday’s 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Ryan Blaney (Winner) — “I might shed a tear. This has been a cool weekend. Obviously, Memorial Day weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad run this race for a long time. It’s so cool just to be a part of it, let alone win it. I just was able to get the lead, and that car was so good that I could kind of bide my time a little bit and then we were able to drive off. I was hoping no caution just because you never know. I know we had the car to do it, but restarts can be crazy. … You start to get to feel like you can’t win anymore when you don’t win in a while. It kind of gets hard. So just super thankful to the 12 guys for believing in me. It’s just so cool. What a weekend with (Josef) Newgarden and Roger (Penske) winning at Indy and us winning the 600. I mean that’s just so cool. That kind of snaps our winless streak right there and that’s even better. We just kept working on it all night, and I think the track took a change. I didn’t feel great at the end of Stage 3. I was kind of getting pressured by a couple guys and we had to work on our car, and it was getting cooler outside.”

MORE: Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott crash and disagree

MORE: Charlotte Cup results, driver points

William Byron (Finished 2nd) — “We just needed a little bit. Really happy for Ryan. He really deserves it. He’s a good dude. Cool to see him get a win. We just needed a little bit. I felt like there were enough restarts for him to get back to the front. He had that one pit road where he lost a few spots, and it was kind of between us and the 5 (Kyle Larson). I knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) and 45 (Tyler Reddick) were a little bit stronger than we were. Thanks to this Liberty University Chevrolet team. The car was great tonight. Just not quite good enough. Really proud of the effort. Pit crew was phenomenal on pit road. Those guys are just high energy, and that pit stall helps.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Finished 3rd) — “It was a handful. We just battled really hard and never gave up on the car. We had some stumbles on pit road – had some issues there. We had some issues getting a flat tire with some contact leaving pit road, which wasn’t our fault, either. Just battled a lot of adversity today, but our Bass Pro Shops Tracker Boats Camry was really fast. At the end of Stage 3, I thought that we had a shot to win this thing and then we got some damage out of nowhere on the splitter, and then I got too tight. We made some adjustments to try to get us balanced back out, but it just wasn’t as fast then, and we still ran third. Just proud of everybody for the effort. We definitely had a shot at this one tonight, just didn’t get enough things to go our way and we didn’t do a good enough job on pit road. It was a fun day overall. We had just too many hiccups, too many issues on pit road with a couple of bad stops and the damage that sent us to the rear and had to come back. I thought through Stage 3 we were going to have a shot at this thing, and out of the blue at the start of the final stage, we got some damage on the splitter from debris and the car was never quite as good. … It means a lot to have all of the soldiers on our cars this weekend. I got to meet an amazing family this weekend. Really wish I could have taken them to victory lane, so it’s a little bittersweet, but overall, it’s a solid day for us.”

Bubba Wallace (Finished 4th) — “It started on Friday. We didn’t get through tech. We are trying to push all we can get, and didn’t happen, so bad pit selection really set us back all day. I knew it would be a grind. I need my pit crew to know that as well – they made a couple mistakes – but they rebounded. We were playing the cards that we were dealt. I’m super proud of this Dr. Pepper Toyota team. Just continuing to make strides and continuing to show up and be a part of the factor. Just makes you think – if you were that close on the final restart, or closer, what could have happened. It looked like the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was lights out all day. About time he got him one. I thought he was done washed up (laughter).” (On confrontation with Aric Almirola) Yeah, we were just frustrated on how we raced each other. We were in Stage 2 of the Coke 600. I finished fourth and that’s a good day for our team.”

Tyler Reddick (Finished 5th) — “We had a great car. We were really, really strong there. Just made a lot of mistakes – we kind of went to the bad side of it on that one strategy in the second stage. We had a million cautions because we just kept crashing. We got behind there and we had to fight to get our track position back after that and we did. We got to the 12 (Ryan Blaney), and just being too aggressive, got sideways and hit the wall, and front there, hit the wall about 10 more times and pretty much took all of the life out of the race car. We had a fantastic car. We just couldn’t get around the 12 (Ryan Blaney). We were way faster than he was for most of the day. I tried to take our time, because it’s obviously a 400-lap race, but yeah, made a few mistakes along the way and then I knocked the fence down and then every time we did, we lost a little speed in our Jordan Brand 23XI Toyota. So yeah, fifth.”

Kyle Busch (Finished 6th) — “Coca-Cola 600s are normally up-and-down, so we definitely had an up-and-down day. But the guys fought hard all race long and made some good repairs. We made a lot of good adjustments. There were a couple that we had to go back on, and then go back on again. But all-in-all, just proud of everyone on the No. 8 Alsco Chevy team. Our car wasn’t as fast as we wanted on the fire-offs there – we wanted the long run to finish. Even though we hadn’t been good on the long runs all night, we adjusted for that, but we just didn’t get it. We’ll take a good solid effort and top-10 finish.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Finished 7th) — “I feel great. I got up and did the ‘Murph’ workout this morning. My trainer wasn’t too thrilled about that, but went ahead and did that, and then came out here and ran 600 miles. Our No. 47 Kroger/Coca-Cola Chevy was so good all night. We just fought some track position every now and then, and then the No. 8 (Kyle Busch) fenced us there. I felt like we would have had a top-five if it wasn’t for that. But all-in-all, it was a great Coca-Cola 600 for us. It was what we needed after last week at the All-Star Race. We kind of got beat up there a little bit. But it’s cool to get another top 10. This team is doing a lot of good things.”

Chris Buescher (Finished 8th) — “It was a really strong day. Our Fastenal Mustang was really good. We got hit on pit road and definitely took a decent amount out of us, so I’m upset about that, but at the end of the day it was a good recovery. We kept digging back and it’s cool to have this camo paint scheme up front for a lot of the day, but I want to do more.”

Austin Dillon (Finished 9th) — “We never gave up all night, and it feels like we passed more cars than anyone else all race long in our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. It was a hard-earned top-10 finish. We started this year’s Coca-Cola 600 deep in the field – 33rd — after practice and qualifying were canceled due to weather, but I knew that we would have a chance to be in contention at the end because this is the longest race of the year and there are plenty of laps to work our way forward. It was challenging, though. Pit road was tight for us today, and it felt like every time we gained positions we would pit and get trapped in our box and lose everything we worked so hard for. We never gave up and to finish in the top-10 is a testament to the tenacity that this No. 3 team has. We were just too tight at the end to advance any further, but I think we showed how hard we are willing to work. Today is about our heroes who served and made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m thankful that I can do what I love, which is race, because of them. Thank you to the families of Navy Seal Mark Crampton and Army soldier Rusten Smith for allowing us to recognize them.”

Zane Smith (Finished 10th) – “I am so happy, as happy as could be, really. I was worried when we didn’t take tires there and were running really good and had a really good day. It just worked out, so just a great job by this whole 38 Boot Barn FRM team. We got our Mustang better and better every single stop and that’s so cool. We run on half the budget, if that, than a lot of these guys, so to finish top 10 in our sixth start at the Coke 600 is really cool. It’s been a rough three weeks for me. The Cup Series is a different level and obviously I’m trying to prove I belong here and it’s just an outstanding run. Ryan does an outstanding job and it’s so cool to finish this race, but better yet with a top 10.”

Alex Bowman (Finished 12th)“It doesn’t feel very good at the moment, but about what I was expecting. There was no pain in the car really, but now that I’m out, I feel it a little bit. Just proud of my No. 48 Ally Chevy team. We had a really fast long run car. Obviously the short runs were what we needed, but we were just too tight for that. We got stuck on pit road – every stop, we came in like 10th, but lost spots coming out. But that wasn’t on my guys, it was just pit stall selection. We’ll move onto Gateway. Hopefully we’ll get to qualify there, have a good pit box and just go have a normal day.”

Ryan Preece (Finished 13th) — “What a night. We battled all night long. Some of those cautions just did not work in our favor at all, but we had a good car and just needed track position and clean air. We made strong adjustments throughout the night, and my crew was on it. I think we had a top-10 car. We’ll take 13th after a day like that, and it’s definitely the momentum our team needed. Those top 10s and top fives are coming, and I’m looking forward to St. Louis.”

Justin Haley (Finished 15th) — “We fired off tight today, but the No. 31 team made some great adjustments and had good pit stops. We made it as high as eighth and thought we would get a top 10 there but just got shuffled at the end. A top 15 is not a bad day, but our car was by far the best car we’ve had all year. We made some major gains today as a team.”

Joey Logano (Finished 21st) — “Tough night for the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang team. We struggled with the balance and unfortunately couldn’t miss the late accident and got damage. So happy for Team Penske, Josef and Ryan on a weekend sweep.”

Aric Almirola (Finished 25th) — (On confrontation with Bubba Wallace) “It was early in the race, and I felt like he ran me all over the racetrack and then when he got by me he shot me the bird, so I just went by and asked him why you shot me the bird. I felt like I gave him a lot of room and a lot of respect and he started mouthing off and saying a lot of bad things and cussing at me after he shot me the bird, so I just wasn’t gonna take that. I think it’s squashed. I got my point across. I let him know it’s not acceptable. He’s not gonna cuss at me and shoot me the bird. It was a good night, honestly, for our Smithfield Ford Mustang. It’s Memorial Day and such an honor and privilege to race on Memorial Day. We were running 10th there with 20-something to go and got caught up in that restart wreck in the middle of one and two and got a lot of heavy damage that really killed the race car after that. I hate we didn’t get out of here with a top 10. I felt we certainly had a top 10 race car, got loose on a restart early and hit the right-rear toe link, we fixed it, got two laps down, got all of our laps back and drove from the back to the top 10. I’m really proud of the effort and the fight, not the result, but we certainly fought hard. We’ll go get ready for Gateway. That was a really good racetrack for us last year.”

Austin Cindric (Finished 31st) – “You’re patient for 550 miles; why be patient for the last 40? I probably could have helped myself there by not drifting up the racetrack and knowing my own strength and weaknesses. It’s just unfortunate to get so close to the end of this race and not being able to finish it last year and the same with this year. I felt we had a lot of positives from today – some really good pit stops. We had good speed at times, but just having to put the whole race together as a team. I definitely made some mistakes today and unfortunate not to be able to finish it off.”

Erik Jones (Finished 32nd) — “We had a fast No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevy, but nothing to really show for it. Appreciate the U.S. Air Force and their support. Just hate that we had the radiator issue, but hopefully we’ll go to Gateway with the same speed and have a good day.”

Chase Elliott (Finished 34th) — “The 11 (Denny Hamlin) ran us up into the fence there. Once you tear the right-side off these things, it’s kind of over. I hate it. I thought our No. 9 NAPA Chevy was getting better. It was nice to be making some gains there throughout the race. Our pit stops were really good. We had some pretty good fortune to get up towards the front there. I was just trying to get to mile 600 and have a shot, so unfortunately failed to do that again.”

Denny Hamlin (Finished 35th) — “I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightaway (referring to his collision with Chase Elliott). It’s a tantrum, and he shouldn’t be racing next week. Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t care. It is the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. Exact same. He shouldn’t be racing. It’s a tantrum.”

Noah Gragson (Finished 36th) — “Bummer day for the No. 42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevy team. We made it through the first stage clean. Something went through the radiator. We replaced the radiator and the motor blew up. Just frustrating. Thank you to Black Rifle Coffee Company and the Menusa family for coming out here. Wish we could have had a better run for them, but it was an honor to have Sgt. Menusa on the windshield. It makes this weekend all worth it. Wish we could have given him and his family a better run, but we’ll try again at Gateway.”

Jimmie Johnson (Finished 37th) — “I just didn’t know we were put in that three-wide situation. There were a bunch of us cars that were wrecked and just trying to limp it home. Unfortunately, I ended up in a situation I wasn’t aware of and got turned around. It’s a bummer for the No. 84 Club Wyndham Chevy team.”