Not all the drivers love the new road course at Charlotte, though none want to admit it just yet.
Ryan Blaney would not be one of those.
The Roval, which will host its second event Sunday, will be a cutoff race for four drivers in the playoffs. Twelve will remain after this race, and the defending race winner plans to be one of them.
“Honestly, I love the roval,” Blaney said. “And not just because I won last year. It’s unique, and everybody’s been saying we need a road course in the playoffs. So here it is.”
This is the sport’s home track, and though it’s been altered to include the inner loop that creates the road-oval effect, it’s still home to Blaney and almost the entire tour. And while they don’t all live in the same neighborhood, waving to each other at the mailbox every morning, the drivers will all drive to the office this week.
Just not in a car pool.
“I live about 45 minutes from the track,” the former High Point resident said. “A lot of the other guys are down here, some at the lake and at Concord and Davidson County.”
And for the most part, most of them enjoy the variety of the Roval. Then again, this will be only the second time they’ve run it. Their home track is now a road course for one week out of the season, and Blaney said it’s not anything like the other two road courses in NASCAR. Or rather, it’s like an odd combination of both.
“Sonoma is slow and hilly, while Watkins Glen is high speed,” he said. “Charlotte has both, a slow and technical part and then the high banks.”
And unlike either of the other two, there’s a slick and sliding quality to the Roval that requires drivers to drive it like a dirt track, hoping the tires catch before the cars end up in walls or tire barriers, as we saw last year.
Blaney won last year when Jimmie Johnson tried a desperate run into the final chicane that wrecked him and leader Martin Truex just yards short of the checkered flag. Blaney drove past both to win the inaugural event as teams spat venom and complained over the radio.
With tensions already boiling with the playoff pressure, a similar finish this year could end up in a fist fight.
That’s not anything the drivers are thinking of right now, especially not at their home track. This is the one week where they don’t all get on airplanes and fly home and then meet again at another track three states away.
They’re all in the neighborhood this week.
“I’m going to drive to the track,” Blaney said. “I’ll just stay in my bus all weekend instead of going back and forth to my house.”
He said the sport is like a traveling circus, unlike any other sport where you travel to play different teams.
“We play the same guys every week,” said Blaney, who played baseball, basketball and soccer at Bishop McGuinness before becoming a full-time racer.
The game this week is all about playoff survival. The quirky Roval makes it a more interesting homecoming game, and the stakes make it far from a friendly get together.
Car pools don’t work in this business. And they sure won’t work this week.