In my previous life as a teacher, there was a general rule of thumb my colleagues and I tried to follow when speaking to parents. Sandwich the bad about their child’s day with some good, softening the blow of having to routinely offer bad news by not always jumping in with what went wrong.
With that in mind, I hope the fine folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway know they have a great facility and are always wonderful hosts. This past weekend the speedway again delivered drama fitting of an elimination race. There was a tight points battle down to the last lap. The sport’s most popular driver won, in redeeming fashion. Tempers flared. For a journalist, there were storylines galore.
The Roval was entertaining, and considering NASCAR officials have proudly made it known we are in the entertainment business, that makes this past weekend a success. But this is where I slide in some bad news: as a race fan, Sunday didn’t do it for me.
Charlotte was a mess. The best stock car drivers in the country looked like amateurs with the amount of carnage they created and the inability to stay on the pavement. Plus, I don’t think I’m alone in being left to wonder what does and doesn’t constitute a caution, but that’s a fight for another day.
“Confident about what? That we’re all gonna crash?” Joey Logano retorted when asked post-race if he was more confident after two races on the Roval. “Yes. It’s a mess.”
Road course racing is as challenging as it is unique, and nine out of 10 times it’s fun to watch. The Bank of America Roval 400 seemed to be one hell of a challenge, but it was that one time out of 10 that, to me, was the exception. It’s even challenging to call what we saw a race. I might be in the minority, but watching drivers – the best drivers – just try to survive, wasn’t fulfilling. Again, it looked like a mess.
By the time Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher and others had made their contributions to the day’s 10 cautions, I had pulled off my scanner headphones, tossed them next to my laptop, and said out loud in the media center, “Oh, come on!”
Sonoma and Watkins Glen races don’t seem this ridiculous. Do they? Then again, those are natural road courses, and Charlotte, well, is not.
“This wasn’t a purpose-built road course,” said Denny Hamlin early in the weekend. “So, it doesn’t have the run-off areas that normal road courses would have in heavy breaking areas. Turn 5 is a heavy braking area, so a purpose-built road course on heavy braking areas, you have kind of a run-off there when you do blow through it, you just kind of get back on track when it’s time.
“This track really doesn’t have that, and it’s also off-cambered in a lot of spots because some of these roads were parking lots. The car’s not working properly in that area anyway, and then you when you have overdrive in that heavy braking area, and you have nowhere to run off, you crash. That’s why you see so much carnage here.”
Oh, now would be an excellent time to add in some more positive affirmations. Good on Marcus Smith and all those who went out on a limb and tried something different, thought outside the box for a way to keep fan interest and shake up the NASCAR schedule. Charlotte gave up one of its oval races, which are the bread and butter of the sport’s calendar, to try and give those hungering for something else a place to turn to. From day one, hours and hours of work went into designing and then tweaking the design of the course to get it right. That also includes the recent change to the backstretch chicane this year.
Chase Elliott hit the nail on the head by saying the course is a challenge, but it’s the same for everyone. The Roval for the Cup Series is like Eldora to the Truck Series – a bit of a wildcard race that’s different from all others. And it’s not that I’m against the Roval or throwing something new at drivers to keep them on their toes.
My problem is that Sunday swung too far toward the side of entertainment and away from enjoyable competitive racing.