NASCAR Cup Series drivers will compete for the second time on the Charlotte road course Sunday afternoon, but there will still be one new thing about the course.
Over the summer Charlotte Motor Speedway officials felt it was necessary to make changes to the backstretch chicane. Last year, drivers quickly learned how to cheat the area by keeping their cars as straight as possible and barley scrubbing speed through the chicane before powering through oval Turn 3.
That will be unlikely this year as the chicane has been widened to 54 feet and now features more runoff areas. Heavier braking is required for the area and additional visual aids have been added on the fence to help drivers recognize the braking points.
Martin Truex Jr. believes the update was a good change and that drivers now must slow down and make a left and right-handed turn. Truex described the chicane as more technical than how it was laid out last year for the inaugural race.
“Last year, it was just like a Hail Mary every time you went through there because all you would do is slow down just enough to get to third gear and you were right back in the throttle through that thing,” Truex said. “As far as the racing goes, I think it’ll be a good braking zone. I think it’s got potential to make passes there. A lot like we see at the bus stop at Watkins Glen, who can get in there deeper on the brakes and will you both make it in?”
Aric Almirola likes the new layout better than it was and believes it’ll add an interesting element to the race. According to Almirola, the cars will now be less aero dependent going through the chicane .
Ryan Blaney stated there is going to be “some pretty bonsai moves” in the chicane. Last year’s winner described it as a tight corner that took some time getting used to in practice. But Blaney admitted another heavy braking zone was needed on the course.
“Super slow” is how Kurt Busch described it.
“But that’s what they wanted to do was to create a big, heavy braking zone similar to the one on the front straightaway to create some action.”
As for passing Busch said, “It will be how you get out of Turn 8 and onto the oval. If you’re close enough to try to out-brake somebody, the risk versus reward is still there.”
Clint Bowyer added, “I honestly think it’s more of an opportunity to make a mistake now than it was before as crazy as that is. We went from one extreme to the other – very narrow, got to slow the car down a lot. You’re asking a lot out of our car, your equipment to go that fast into that slow of a chicane.”
When announcing the changes, Marcus Smith, president and CEO of SMI, said it would give drivers another opportunity to make season-making or season-breaking passes. Only time will tell if that comes to fruition, but the ability to pass in the backstretch chicane was as much a topic conversation as the actual changes were.
Because of how hard drivers must brake and how slow the chicane has become a few drivers don’t believe it will be an area to challenge for position. In Watkins Glen, one of the most exciting areas of the track is the bus stop where drivers can get side-by-side, but Kyle Busch pointed out that’s only if drivers slow “really, really down” to do so.
“I don’t think you can go through this one two-wide,” Busch said. “If you’re a guy who’s going to dive-bomb and make a move on the inside of somebody to out-brake them getting into that corner, they have to let you go because you’re going to be going so much faster. You’re almost going to be overstepping your braking zone over that guy to get in there, so you’re going to need as much room as you can have.
“You can’t turn that sharp corner and be two-wide. I hope guys will understand that if they’re getting out-broke, they have to give it up and kind of fall into line.”
Landon Cassill had a similar thought about why drivers can go two-wide at Watkins Glen but not at Charlotte, also expressing how it’ll be a heavy braking zone more than anything else and slow the field down. Brad Keselowski said “you definitely can’t race” into the backstretch chicane, but that will be what makes it interesting when drivers try to do so. He believes it’s “doubtful” you’ll see a lot of passing there.
So how much of a game-changer will the upgraded chicane be?
“We are liable to wreck anywhere,” Chase Elliott said, “so just add that to the list I guess.”