Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – Though 10 NASCAR Cup Playoff drivers face widely different challenges this weekend, one driver—Chase Elliott—is firmly in the catbird seat entering Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In the fifth postseason event of the 2022 season last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Elliott became the first Playoff driver this year to advance to the following round by winning a race.
With a victory in Stage 2 to go with his race win, the Cup Series’ most popular driver added six Playoff points to his season total, guaranteeing he’ll have at least 46 points above the baseline when the field is reset for the Round of 8 after Sunday’s elimination race.
That will leave Elliott at the top of the standings with a substantial points lead over second place, no matter what happens in the Bank of America ROVAL 400. And that’s not to say the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet can’t add to his total with a typical performance at the 2.32-mile, 17-turn road course.
Elliott has two victories in four starts at the ROVAL, having scored consecutive wins in 2019 and 2020. Already qualified for the Round of 8, he can approach Sunday’s race with a freedom other Playoff drivers don’t enjoy—and that’s all thanks to a serendipitous outcome at Talladega last Sunday.
“At Talladega, we 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 had gained some good stage points, and that was going to keep us in a position (where) we had 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.
“Now we can try to have a good weekend here at the ROVAL. Gives us an opportunity to short those stages and not have to go for stage points, and hopefully we have enough pace to fight for the win.”
If Elliott can enjoy a stress-free Sunday, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric certainly can’t. Those two drivers are tied for eighth entering the race as they look to stave off elimination from the Playoffs.
Before transitioning to full-bodied stock cars, Cindric honed his skills driving sports cars on road courses. Briscoe won the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the ROVAL in 2018, and his strategy for Sunday’s race features one essential element.
“Stay out of trouble,” Briscoe said. “There can be a lot of chaos at the ROVAL, just like we see at superspeedways and some of the bigger tracks. You can lose a ton of positions on restarts and certain turns. If you miss a turn, it can put you behind.
“We just need to run a good race and stay out of trouble. We’re not in a terrible position to be able to advance, but we also can’t have a bad day. It’s tough to gain points, but all it takes is us not getting stage points and one of the guys in the bottom spots winning to knock us out.”
AJ Allmendinger is shooting for fourth straight win at the Charlotte ROVAL
Like Chase Elliott in the NASCAR Cup Series, AJ Allmendinger brings a worry-free approach to Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (3 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In reality, that probably would be the case even if Allmendinger hadn’t won at Talladega last weekend to gain automatic advancement to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. Allmendinger is undefeated in three starts at the 2.32-mile, 17-turn layout.
The driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet is looking forward to a double-duty weekend in the wake of an announcement that he will return to full-time Cup Series racing next year.
“This is a big doubleheader weekend for us,” Allmendinger said. “On Saturday in the Xfinity Series, we will be going for four in a row. We’re locked into the next round of the Playoffs, so it does take a little bit of pressure off everyone.
“Then on Sunday, we’re hoping to sweep the weekend. The ROVAL is my favorite track on the NASCAR circuit, so I’m definitely looking forward to this weekend.”
Allmendinger and Noah Gragson have locked up the first two spots in the Round of 8 with victories. The same is not true of Daniel Hemric, Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and the defending Xfinity Series champion.
Hemric enters Saturday’s race six points below the cut line for the Round of 8, chasing Ryan Sieg in eighth place. But there’s cause for optimism on Hemric’s part. He has finished third in his last two starts at the ROVAL. In last year’s Playoff race, he led 17 laps.
“I’m super excited for the ROVAL this weekend and to race in front of family and friends,” Hemric said. “We understand the situation and where we stand in the Playoffs. There’s no better time to go have one of our best weeks of the year at my home track.”
Sieg, on the other hand, has a best finish of 21st and an average result of 29.8 in four starts at the ROVAL.