Ready, Set, ROVAL™
Like the settlers of the Old West, NASCAR's top guns ventured into the great unknown - the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL™ - for an up-close look at NASCAR's newest track during Tuesday's second and final ROVAL™ Test Fest. Drivers including Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon let the rough side drag around Charlotte's 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course oval before the inaugural Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 race weekend Sept. 28-30.
Busch set the day's fastest time, a one-minute, 16.9-second lap averaging 106.8 miles per hour during the afternoon session. Logano set the second-quickest time in the afternoon session - a 1:17.1-second lap - with A.J. Allmendinger third-fastest with a 1:17.4-second lap. Busch's 1:17.9-second lap was fastest in the morning session.
"It's a different type of race track," said Allmendinger, whose lone Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win was on a road course - Watkins Glen - in 2014. "It's unique and that's what this is all about for us. It's a different challenge for all of us drivers. … To have something different, especially going into the playoffs, to bring a different excitement level to the sport and to the series (is great). It's something else to talk about and more than anything for us drivers to go out there and experience it is something that we need.
"Through the infield, it's fairly narrow. Through the infield, I think there's going to be contact. Every time I go in there, my eyes are wide open and I know I've got to hit my marks."
Alex Bowman pushed the limits in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car on Tuesday. Bowman - who finished ninth in the series' most recent road course race at Sonoma - made a different type of impact early in Tuesday's test. Bowman's car made contact with a tire barrier in Turn 3, but the team made repairs and Bowman roared back onto the track after lunch.
"(The biggest challenge is) not crashing," Bowman said. "Obviously, I haven't done that very well today, but I'm glad we didn't get any more damage than we did. You're off camber in some spots and it's fast in some spots, it's slow (in others) and it's narrow. There's not a lot of room for mistakes. It's been interesting so far. I feel like we've learned quite a bit."
Joey Logano had plenty of learning experiences on Tuesday. The Team Penske driver, who is locked into the Playoffs, said the ROVAL™ is sure to provide fans with a show when the green flag drops in September.
"I think the race track is fun," Logano said. "It's different than any other road course we go to, which I don't think is a bad thing in any way. There are three distinctive, different types of race tracks when it comes to road courses in the Cup Series. It will be an interesting little race to see how it goes. … . I would say the most challenging part honestly is getting through the race. You can get decent speed, but at some point, there's going to be a caution and strategies are going to change and you're going to see the fastest cars be in 15th or 20th like you do at road courses. You're probably going to see something like that. You may see some fast cars get torn up, so honestly I think finishing this thing is Priority No. 1. Do that and you probably have a pretty good shot at winning.
"I think the fact that a fan can sit in the grandstands and see everything is your coolest part about this. The fact that you can sit there and you can watch road course racing without (the cars) going out of view, that is pretty neat."
Fans witnessed the test session from the grandstands as well as the speedway's Whisky River location, where Ashley Rowe of Durban, South Africa, made his first visit to the ROVAL™.
"It's interesting," Rowe said. "It's big, it's tight, it's got a lot of everything. For me, it's a spectator track. It's not one of those tracks where you're waiting for cars to come around. There's always something happening. That's what you want in racing. The changes in the course are exciting. I want to be here in September. I wish I could go out there and race on it."