CONCORD, N.C. – The wildcard of the first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs has arrived.
This weekend, drivers take on the “roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the very first time.
And no one knows what to expect.
“It is a true wild-card race,” Jimmie Johnson said. “At Talladega, you can fall back, hope for the best, get some decent track position and a decent finish if you just survive. I don’t think we’ll have that luxury here. Track position will be key on the roval.”
The first-ever playoff road-course event will bring even more drama as it falls as the elimination race in the Round of 16.
Four drivers will see their run toward a championship come to an end Sunday afternoon at Charlotte.
“It’s going to be exciting for the fans and could switch up the playoff picture, for sure,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can survive to see another round.”
Currently, both Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are among the top 12 drivers in the playoff standings. Elliott sits ninth – 10 points ahead of the 13th-place driver – and Bowman is 11th with a five-point cushion.
Johnson is on the outside looking in entering Sunday’s race but is just six points below the cutline in 14th place.
All three Hendrick Motorsports teammates in the playoffs agree that this weekend will be about survival.
“I think it’ll be challenging, with a lot of wrecks,” Elliott said. “I’m sure it’ll be exciting to watch. There’s going to be a lot of hurt feelings at the end of the day.”
The 2.28-mile, 17-turn road-course oval – the newest track in NASCAR competition – features a 35-foot elevation change.
After testing there in July, William Byron shared that it was impossible to compare to any other road course – or any other track, for that matter – on the schedule.
“This is going to be a completely different beast,” the rookie said.
“I feel like each corner is kind of something unexpected and a little bit of every track we go to,” Byron continued. “There are parts of the track that are like Sonoma and parts of the track are like Watkins Glen or faster. It feels sometimes like you’re coming to pit road on an oval track. You kind of mix everything that we do in one track, which is very unique.”
At 400 kilometers, the event is the longest road-course race on the Cup Series schedule.
When the checkered flag flies, the field for the playoffs’ Round of 12 will be set. And the three Hendrick Motorsports playoff drivers hope to be on the right side of the cutline when all is said and done.
“If you can stay out of trouble throughout the day, it’s going to be a good one,” Bowman said. “You’ve got to do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully, we’re in position to get it done there.”