This is the race all teams, drivers and fans had circled on their calendar for a long time. A never before run, road course race from modified Charlotte Motor Speedway three years in the making with the design through the infield with back-stretch chicanes brought to life on Sunday afternoon. This race was filled with hype and anticipation coming in and it lived up to all the media attention and buzz surrounding it with fantastic racing and entertainment throughout. Playoff hopes were dashed, numerous cars were torn up and a street style road course race looked like the scene of a major car wreck or a demolition derby. Add to that a last lap pass attempt for the lead gone wrong in the final turn that left both the leading car and the guy going for the win wrecked, with the third place car coming from out of nowhere to steal the win, this race truly had a little bit of everything and did not disappoint.
First, lets set the stage for the closing moments. On a late restart with old tires, leader Brad Keselowski along with many of the cars up front over-drove the “heartburn turn” and all barreled directly into the 90 degree wall tearing up many of the cars including favorite to win and stage one winner Kyle Larson, who was suddenly in a battle for his life to make it through to the next round. As was SHR driver Aric Almirola who also incurred damage on the incident and was set to battle it out with other cars to stay ahead of the cut-off spot. Larson’s car was torn to pieces, with a broken suspension and duct tape all over the hood as he made it around on the final laps during the restart. Meanwhile back up front, Jimmie Johnson, who had collected stage points and was closing in a very solid race, was chasing down the leader Martin Truex Jr. looking for the inaugural Roval Bank of America 400 win while also looking to snap a 51-race winless skid. Watch the final lap below, presented by Credit One Bank:
Ryan Blaney reaped the rewards charging through the chaos to capture his second career win and first in the No. 12 car driving for The Captain. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson wound up finishing 8th and in a third place tie for the final cut-off position which he lost by virtue of a tiebreaker to Almirola and Larson for best finish in the round. Truex came away 14th and frustrated, spinning the 48 during their cool-down lap to let off some of the steam after what he felt was a race win robbed from him by Johnson. “Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their (78 team) day, which I feel bad about,” Johnson said with a sigh. “I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.” Truex also chimed in with his take on the closing moments, “He (Johnson) wasn’t ever going to make it through that corner whether I was there or not. Just desperation on his part and pretty stupid really if you think about it because he was locked into the next round and now he’s out. I guess if there’s a silver lining, that’s it.”
Now let me get this out there first, I am a die-hard Jimmie Johnson 48 fan, always have been since his first race in 2002 up until the day he retires. I’m not blaming Jimmie for anything here. Sure, he could’ve sat back and came away with a solid runner-up result and easily pointed his way into the second round. However, in the heat of the moment all Jimmie Johnson cared about was winning the race. That’s what we as fans want to see, a last lap fight to the finish and win at all costs mentality. That’s what has made Johnson a seven-time champion. He was going for the win, his first in a really long time and ended up making a mistake that cost him advancing. The fans that paid good money to watch in person were not dissapointed and the millions watching at home were blown away by what they just witnessed. It sucks for Truex getting spun on Johnson’s mistake, but that’s racing. It’s why we all follow and love the sport, for moments just like that.
Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman rounded out the top five at the Roval. AJ Allmendinger, a road course specialist also scored a top-10 finishing 7th and provided for great entertainment on restarts dive-bombing turn one cutting off multiple drivers and going for the win without a job for next year. In the end, he wasn’t quite in the spot to get it done, but provided some great racing for spectators all afternoon.
In the end, Johnson, Austin Dillon who crashed out, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin (both needing victories to advance) were eliminated in the Round of 16. The list below represents the 12 drivers moving on with their new point totals heading into the Round of 12 that features Dover, Talladega and Kansas.
- Kyle Busch 3,055 points
- Kevin Harvick 3,050 points
- Martin Truex Jr. 3,038 points
- Brad Keselowski 3,025 points
- Clint Bowyer 3,015 points
- Joey Logano 3,014 points
- Kurt Busch 3,014 points
- Ryan Blaney 3,013 points
- Chase Elliott 3,008 points
- Kyle Larson 3,006 points
- Aric Almirola 3,001 points
- Alex Bowman 3,000 points
The first round of the playoffs and the Roval lived up to all the hype, and some. That’s just the beginning and it came down to a three-way tiebreaker to decide who moved on and who went home. Imagine what’s in store for the Round of 12 with super speedway Talladega thrown in the mix? Nevertheless, Dover is next up on Sunday.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank