NASCAR heads to its second and final road course race of 2020 with the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The race on Sunday is the final one in the Cup Series Round of 12 and will eliminate four additional drivers from the championship chase.
Right now, there's a clear divide on who those four drivers will be. Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, and Aric Almirola are all 21 points or more behind the cutline. It means a win will almost certainly be required to advance at a place where only Bowyer has a top-10 finish or better.
Of course, the ROVAL is one of NASCAR's newest racetracks, sparking the recent craze to use a facility's infield road course rather than run a snoozer on an intermediate, cookie-cutter oval. In 2018, the inaugural Charlotte ROVAL event was the first of its kind on the schedule. Come 2021, it'll be one of three, joining events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the season-opening Busch Clash exhibition at Daytona International Speedway.
The playoff drivers will begin this weekend with an inherent advantage over the rest of the field: they're guaranteed to start up front. Under NASCAR's COVID-19 protocol, there will be no pre-race practice or qualifying, meaning the field is set according to the metrics outlined below.
25% of the metric will be the driver's finishing position from the previous race.
25% of the metric will be the owner's finishing position from the previous race.
35% of the metric will be the owner's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings.
15% of the metric will be their fastest lap during the previous race.
All drivers remaining in championship contention (12) automatically start ahead of all others.
That extra catch means Aric Almirola, despite wrecking out early at Talladega Superspeedway last week, still gets to start 12th in his battle to advance. And underdogs like Ty Dillon, third at 'Dega, can do no better than 17th.
Thirty-eight teams are entered for 40 spots on the grid, meaning everyone who entered will start the race. Only two "open" teams not guaranteed a spot are attempting the event: Gaunt Brothers Racing (No. 96), whose car is driven by Daniel Suarez, and the MBM Motorsports (No. 66) car driven by Timmy Hill. Both are running the series full-time.
1. Denny Hamlin (P)
2. Chase Elliott (P)
3. Brad Keselowski (P)
4. Kevin Harvick (P)
5. Alex Bowman (P)
6. Austin Dillon (P)
7. Martin Truex Jr. (P)
8. Joey Logano (P)
9. Kyle Busch (P)
10. Kurt Busch (P)
11. Clint Bowyer (P)
12. Aric Almirola (P)
13. William Byron
14. Erik Jones
15. Ryan Newman
16. Tyler Reddick (R)
17. Ty Dillon
18. Ryan Preece
19. John Hunter Nemechek (R)
20. Matt DiBenedetto
21. Chris Buescher
22. Brennan Poole (R)
23. Matt Kenseth
24. Ryan Blaney
25. Quin Houff (R)
26. Bubba Wallace
27. Timmy Hill (i)
28. Cole Custer (R)
29. Joey Gase (i)
30. Jimmie Johnson
31. Michael McDowell
32. Corey Lajoie
33. JJ Yeley (i)
34. Daniel Suarez
35. Christopher Bell (R)
36. Gray Gaulding (i)
37. James Davison
38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
(P) – Playoff Driver
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Denny Hamlin (1st) will start up front in back-to-back races for the first time since August 2018 (Watkins Glen, Michigan). A win at Charlotte would tie Hamlin's career high of eight race wins in a season (2010).
- Chase Elliott (2nd) is the defending race winner. He's won the last three Cup road course races held: Watkins Glen (August 2019), the Charlotte ROVAL last October and Daytona’s ROVAL race in August.
- Austin Dillon (6th) has the best qualifying position of his career on a road course. (14 starts)
- Tyler Reddick (16th) was the highest-qualifying rookie.
- Ty Dillon (17th) has his best starting spot since Dover International Speedway in August.
- JJ Yeley (33rd) moves into the No. 77 Spire Motorsports ride this weekend after Justin Haley drove it to a season-high 11th-place finish at Talladega.
- Gray Gaulding (37th) moves into the No. 27 Rick Ware Racing car this weekend with sponsorship from Panini America. Gaulding, making his ninth Cup start of the season, replaces Cody Ware.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: Bank of America ROVAL 400
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (Charlotte, N.C.)
Date: Sunday, Oct. 11
TV: NBC, 2:00 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 109 laps (248.2 miles)
Stage 1: 25 Laps
Stage 2: 25 Laps
Final Stage: 59 Laps
Cup Series rookie Brennan Poole breaks down a career-best ninth-place finish at Talladega last weekend before Frontstretch Podcast hosts Dustin Albino and Mike Neff turn their attention to NASCAR’s 2020 road course finale in Charlotte.