CONCORD, N.C. – Tuesday brought the very first opportunity for teams to hit the track on the brand-new ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The first “Test Fest” included the Nos. 9 and 48 teams, and next Tuesday, July 17, will provide a chance for the Nos. 24 and 88 teams to get a feel for the course.
The fact that it’s the newest venue on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit made the test session that much more important.
“You just don’t have any reference or history or any data at all,” No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “It’s the first time we’ve been on the track as a company. Everything’s new.”
And the teams were learning as they went.
One thing was for certain – there’s no time to get comfortable taking on a brand-new racetrack.
“It’s a very challenging lap, to say the least,” Jimmie Johnson said. “You’re not comfortable anywhere. The whole time you’re just on pins and needles afraid you’re going to bust your butt. It’s really not a calm place around here. So, I would say adrenaline’s high the entire lap.”
Both teams worked all day to get a feel for the track, and Johnson said the No. 48 team was able to create more speed in his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as the test progressed.
No. 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus said he expects an “extremely exciting” race when the NASCAR Cup Series returns for the Bank of America ROVAL 400, particularly with the event falling as an elimination race in the first round of the playoffs.
With so much on the line at a brand-new configuration, it could make for an eventful afternoon.
“I really think this is going to be a survival race,” Knaus said. “I think going out there, 40 cars, tight racetrack and first time here, it’s going to be a lot of carnage.”
Both Johnson and Chase Elliott agreed that staying out of trouble might be the biggest key when the Sept. 30 race weekend rolls around.
“I don’t even know if it’s going to be people hitting each other, I think it’s just going to be easy for people to run off course and make a mistake,” Elliott said. “Honestly that goes for everywhere around the racetrack. It’s pretty narrow and not a lot of room to mess up.”
The 2.28-mile, 17-turn road-course oval features a 35-foot elevation change. And at 400 kilometers, the event will be the longest road-course race on the Cup schedule.
The unique configuration of the course left both Hendrick Motorsports drivers participating Tuesday feeling like it’s significantly different than any other track they visit.
Johnson said there is “no margin for error,” and Elliott noted that it takes parts of what is required to succeed at both other road courses on the schedule.
“There’s a lot of variety of racetrack within the course,” Elliott explained. “There are some really fast sections and there are some really, really slow sections. Typically, you get one or the other at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen.”
That, he said, will make car setup particularly challenging and put a premium on having a ride that’s well-prepared to tackle the various aspects required.
The inaugural race at what Johnson called “a very tricky track” has the potential to make for a long day, but both teammates said they’re ready to take on the ROVAL.
“I think as time goes and we get more used to it, it won’t be as bad, but right now there are a lot of guys that have been doing this for a long time that are making mistakes because it’s just so easy to do,” Elliott said. “It’s a challenge for everybody, and I’m looking forward to it.”