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ANDERS: NASCAR already working on Charlotte roval

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Jordan Anders

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 22, 2017

With today’s race at Kansas kicking off the second half of NASCAR’s playoffs, some of the sport’s focus this week was on a race almost a year away.

The Monster Energy Cup Series was in Charlotte this week for the first test of the track’s infield road course that will be used for the venue’s playoff race next September. The test was a chance for Goodyear to get the ball rolling on developing a tire compound to be used on the course, which has 18 turns and uses almost all of the traditional oval, but it was also the first chance to get some feedback from drivers who will run on the course next season.

Their response was, well, mixed.

Martin Truex Jr. was one of the drivers to make laps. He called the experience “interesting” and the course “intimidating,” saying he hoped he could win one of the first two races in the first round of the playoffs to have some of the pressure removed to perform at Charlotte.

Kurt Busch was asked about where drivers could pass on the track, and he told reporters it was “hard to say,” before adding “I know there’s a lot of places we can crash.”

The race is 11 months out, but that NASCAR officials are already in Charlotte doing their due diligence with Goodyear to gather information and try to prepare for the best show possible is a good sign. Next year’s fall weekend has the looks of a pivotal one for Charlotte, as interest in its second date of the year (third if you count the All-Star race) has waned.

The “roval” is a swing for the fences to bring some interest back to the fall date, but it’s going to be a massive strikeout if it doesn’t produce a good show. Road racing has become more popular in NASCAR in the last 10-15 years, but the Charlotte course has shown itself to be extremely tight in the infield, and Busch’s comments raise questions about whether there will be enough passing zones to encourage the kind of action that will keep fans engaged.

With that said, it’s encouraging to see the sport getting drivers on the track and collecting feedback so far in advance. Goodyear will need time to develop a tire that can withstand the high speeds of the oval corners and the tight turns that make up the road course portion of the track, and Busch alluded to the fact that the layout may not be completely finalized with remarks about eliminating one of the turns to promote higher speeds as the cars exit the infield.

Chopping off a corner or two might be a good idea if the race length is what Charlotte announced it would be this week. The track said the race will be 500 kilometers (320 miles), but on a course that takes around a minute and 45 seconds to lap, plus cautions, that’s a race that could conceivably last nearly four hours. There’s no way that’s a good idea, especially if the track doesn’t produce a ton of passing.

I, for one, hope the event succeeds. The road course is nothing new, having hosted sports car races in the past. But stock cars on a course that tight and slow has the potential to fall anywhere from a home run to an epic disaster.

I love the idea of having a road course in the playoffs and have hoped for one since the postseason format began. Whether or not Charlotte is the answer won’t be known until an event is held there, but it’s good to see the test run produced some buzz within the industry.

Hopefully NASCAR is able to maintain it, fine-tune it and deliver.

PREDICTION

Truex is the favorite here, but a second-place finish at sister track Chicago to start the playoffs is one of three runner-up results my pick has produced in the postseason. I think (for about the 20th time) that today’s the day he breaks through and gets his first win. PICK: Chase Elliott.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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