Ready or not, the Roval awaits

It’s the playoffs for both the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup and Xfinity Series and normally this time of year teams have just returned from Loudon, N.H. and are preparing for Dover, Del., and Charlotte is just another 500-mile race somewhere down the road.

I guess this is the new normal.

Charlotte Motor Speedway now serves as the cutoff race for the Cup Series opening round, where the field of 16 will become the field of 12 following Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 (NBC, 2 p.m. ET)

For Xfinity folks, it’s the midpoint of Round 1, wedged in between Richmond and Dover. Its’ field of 12 will still be 12 after Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 200 (NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET) but some folks will be in for a long, restless week.

The big news, of course, is the track itself. Through the years, the 1.5-mile layout has been cussed and paved and cussed and levigated and about anything else one can imagine.

What hasn’t been done? Well, the road course portion of the facility has never been used for NASCAR events. Until now.

A year ago they were parking Air Titans and a handful of media folks in what is now a short chute between Turn 1 and 2, which you find by taking a hard, 90-degree left turn just past the end of pit road.

Turns 3 and 4 and 5 and on up to 8 wind through the infield. Then it’s back on the “oval” portion of the Roval, entering what’s long been considered Turn 1. The rest of the “oval” completes the course, with a chicane prior to Turn 3 and another one on the frontstretch added for good measure. Or meanness. Or who knows what.

Seventeen turns in all, 2.28 miles a lap.

It’s a novel idea and Charlotte track officials should be applauded for their ingenuity and willingness to try something out of the ordinary. Fans have lobbied for a road course race in the playoffs and this is about as close as possible for the time being.

Ticket sales, we’re told, have been robust. Perhaps fans are tired of the same old venues year after year after year. Maybe this is a sign they are ready for change.

“Obviously they are interested in this since (the media is) writing about it, talking about it; it seems to be working from a ticket sales standpoint,” Steve Phelps, who will take over as NASCAR president Oct. 1, told members of the media recently.

“The interest level in this race versus what would have been the Charlotte race last year seems to be significantly higher.”

For the most part “fans don’t like change,” Phelps said.

“But when you find something that they do like, it would probably make some sense to go towards that to the degree that you can and do it under the architecture that you have.”

Maybe that means similar changes down the road. Who knows?

On Monday, Daytona International Speedway put out a cryptic posting via social media asking “would you want to see a NASCAR race on the Daytona road course?”

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have multiple road course wins and folks want to point to them as the favorites, but those wins came at other venues and no one really knows what to expect at Charlotte. Most of the teams tested but there were never 40 cars on the track at the same time and a ticket to the next round of the playoffs wasn’t hanging in the balance.

It should be fun. It will be wild. When was the last time those two things were said about a race?

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