Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – Clint Bowyer is facing a four-point deficit entering Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
As if that weren’t enough pressure in the first-round elimination race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Bowyer must try to make up ground on a 2.32-mile, 17-turn road course where potential calamity awaits at nearly every corner.
Bowyer is 14th in the Playoff standings, four points behind pole winner William Byron in 12th. After Sunday’s race, the Playoff field will be cut to 12 drivers.
“Obviously, we brought the best car that we can possibly build, and speeds are good,” said Bowyer, who qualified fifth for the elimination race. “I made a mistake in the chicane on my mock run (in practice) and gave up a half-second. That’s what you can’t do here… It’s minimizing mistakes on a track like this, as treacherous as this track is.
“It isn’t like you can just focus on that chicane and say, ‘Oh, man that’s a trouble zone.’ The front straightaway there is crazy. Turn 1 is crazy. Turn 2 is pretty crazy. Turn 3, there’s a really good opportunity to wreck there. Turn 4 is a little bit uneventful. Turn 5 is another crazy opportunity to wreck.
“I don’t know if you’re catching my drift, but there’s a lot of opportunities to make a mistake and end your day. If not, just give up a lot of positions. You’ve got to do the best you can do, but it’s a razor’s edge. You cannot step over it.”
That’s especially true when your Playoff life is on the line.
CHRISTOPHER BELL RELIEVED TO SHARE NEWS OF 2020 PLANS
Christopher Bell knew the score. Then again, so did everyone else.
Bell has known for quite a while he would be transitioning to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car with Leavine Family Racing. Problem was, he couldn’t talk about it until all the pieces were in place.
Earlier this week, the announcement finally came, and Bell was relieved to be able to share the news after having been hammered for weeks about his 2020 plans.
“It was really frustrating, because I knew for such a long time and everyone else knew, too, but nobody could talk about it,” Bell said on Friday during a question-and-answer session with reporters. “Everyone is like ‘What are you doing next year?’ I’m like ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’ It was really rewarding to finally get it out there.”
Another factor providing peace of mind is the news that Bell’s NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, will accompany the driver to LFR. Ratcliff already has six full seasons of Cup experience at Joe Gibbs Racing with Joey Logano (2012) and Matt Kenseth (2013-2017).
“It’s really big, because Jason understands me as a driver, and our communication is already off to a good start,” Bell said. “If we go there and we have bad days, he’s not going to be blaming me, because he’s worked with me and understands what my strengths and weaknesses are.”
One of the clear favorites for this year’s Xfinity championship, Bell won’t experience his first competition in the Cup car until the 2020 Daytona 500. NASCAR’s embargo on independent testing only increases the challenges of the move to the premier series.
“It’s just going to be a matter of just trying to maximize the practices that you get and the seat time in the races,” Bell said. “I don’t know. It’s going to be really different. The rules package between the two series right now is extremely different, so it’s definitely going to take some adjusting to get used to.”
Defending Bank of America Roval 400 winner Ryan Blaney was fastest in Saturday’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice session, posting a lap at 101.882 mph. Ryan Preece was second at 101.445 mph… Early in the session, Kyle Busch spun in Turn 3 and brushed the outside barrier but didn’t do serious damage to his No. 18 Toyota. Busch was 20th fastest in the session… Kyle Larson posted the best average speed over 10 consecutive laps at 100.358 mph. Matt DiBenedetto (100.087 mph) was the only other driver to top 100 mph over a 10-lap run… Denny Hamlin had the fifth fastest single lap in a backup car 101.228 mph) after wrecking his primary car in Friday’s opening practice. Hamlin will start from the rear of the field because of the car change…
Martin Truex Jr. will have a harder time sweeping the first three races of the opening round of the Playoffs after missing a shift early in the final practice session. Trying to move from second gear to third, Truex instead grabbed first gear and overrevved the engine in the No. 19 Toyota, necessitating a change in power plants. The 2017 series champion, who qualified eighth on Friday will have to start from the rear of the field. “I’ve never done that before in my entire career, so definitely unfortunate,” Truex said of the mistaken shift from second to first. “It’s going to be hard starting from the back, and I hate all the extra work for my guys.” Before the miscue, Truex had just set the fastest lap in final practice at 102.009 mph (though Chase Elliott (102.101 mph) surpassed him late in Happy Hour…
At least Truex is already locked into the second round of the Playoffs. The same isn’t true of Alex Bowman, who spun near the apex of Turns 3 and 4 and slammed into the tire barrier on the outside of the corner with 25 seconds left in final practice. The first driver below the cut line for the next round (two points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron), Bowman will give up the second-place starting position he earned in Friday’s time trials and start from the rear of the field in Sunday’s race, thereby diminishing his chances to advance to the next round.