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Heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, just one driver can rest easy.
Chase Elliott, the 2021 Cup champion, is the lone driver locked into the Round of 8, thanks to his win at Talladega last Sunday. As for the rest of the field of 11 vying for the seven spots available in the next-to-last round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff, there will be a lot of drivers checking their blind spots on the road course and throwing Hail Marys trying to keep the championship hopes alive.
Elliott knows that he’s in an enviable position.
“At Talladega, we really just wanted to have a solid day and try to get as many points as we could,” Elliott said. “Honestly, after that second stage, I was super happy with our day. Regardless of what happened from there, I thought we had done a really good job.
“We gained some good stage points and that was going to keep us in a position. We hedged our bet to have a pretty solid points day regardless of how the finish ended up. To have the win on top of that was just icing on the cake.”
While Elliott is safe for now atop the Playoff standings, it’s a mixed bag for his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson (sixth in the points), William Byron (seventh, thanks to a favorable ruling by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Thursday that returned 25 points taken away from an earlier infraction) and Alex Bowman (12th).
Bowman will miss this week’s race—and a chance to advance—with a continuing concussion-like symptoms resulting from a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 25. He will be replaced by Noah Gragson, who is currently tied for the top spot in the Xfinity Series points standings.
The bottom four drivers (Bowman will be one of them) after Sunday’s race will be left to think about what might have been, and the top eight will move on. A win on Sunday by any of the Playoff contenders (Elliott is already in), will also lock them into the next three-race round.
NASCAR Playoff Points Standings
Field will be cut to 8 after Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval)
- *Chase Elliott 3,103
- Ryan Blaney 3,101
- Ross Chastain 3,097
- Denny Hamlin 3,090
- Joey Logano 3,087
- Kyle Larson 3,087
- William Byron 3083
- Daniel Suarez 3,081
- Chase Briscoe 3,069
- Austin Cindric 3,069
- Christopher Bell 3,036
- Alex Bowman 3015
* – Automatically advances to the Round of 8 thanks to a win in the current three-race Round of 12.
Hendrick has a history of success on road courses, having won 11 of the last 19 road-course races. Hendrick drivers have also won the last three races at the Roval, with Elliott winning in 2019 and 2020, and Larson taking the checkered flag in 2021. Elliott (2020) and Larson (last year) went on to win the Cup championship after wins on the 2.32-mile, 17-turn road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
One other reason to like Hendrick’s chances for a good day on Sunday is the fact that Hendrick drivers have won seven of the last eight cutoff races.
“Our road course program has been really good, and I hope it carries over to this weekend,” Larson said. “I’ve been above the cutline several times before here and have had some crazy races and results.”
NASCAR Cup Series
Bank of America Roval 400
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
The Date: Sunday, October 9
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: NBC; Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 252.88 miles (109 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 109)