Of the 10 races course that make up the 10-race NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, there is nothing quite like The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 2.25-mile, 17-turn layout is part road course, part oval and that creates some tremendous challenges for the NASCAR Cup Series teams and drivers.
Sunday’s BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 is the second elimination race in the 10-race playoffs, and that makes the pressure even more intense.
There are 12 drivers still eligible for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. After Sunday’s race, four will be eliminated and eight will “survive and advance.”
Trackhouse star Ross Chastain is currently 11th in the Playoff standings, 10 points below the cutline currently held by 23XI driver Bubba Wallace.
Chastain hopes he can deliver a trip to the Round of Eight in the No. 1 Worldwide Express Camaro on Sunday, either through the points, or by scoring the victory.
"Well, I think anyone would tell you that they wish they all of the points to advance to the next round, or a win,” Chastain said as he prepared for the only road course race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. “That's just not how it goes, though. We have to race our race and focus on us. Trackhouse keeps giving me great cars and we'll go there and turn and see what happens."
Chastain is capable of winning on a road course. In fact, his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in 2022. He backed that up with a win at Talladega Superspeedway on April 3, 2022.
Although Chastain was able to advance into the Championship Four last year and finished second in the NASCAR Championship to Team Penske’s Joey Logano, last year’s BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 included some adversity.
Chastain narrowly escaped playoff elimination after making contact with a wall causing a broken toe link. Fortunately, the No. 1 crew made a swift repair and got Chastain back out on the track as quickly as possible. He made last year's Round of 8 only six points above the cutline.
"Last year at the Roval I made a mistake and got us into the wall damaging the car,” Chastain explained. “Obviously, I don't want to repeat that again because it's put the team in such a tough spot. Luckily, we had a pretty decent points situation going into the race and some others had trouble. The Roval can be a tough place but I'm going in there focused on driving the car and giving 100 percent every lap."
Chastain made the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this year with his win at Nashville Superspeedway on June 25. He made the cut when the Playoff field was trimmed from 16 to 12 at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 16.
Chastain was in decent shape entering last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, but the racer inside of him saw an opening near the end of Stage One and went for it. Unfortunately, the opening quickly closed as Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s car ran out of fuel and slowed.
Chastain tried to avoid the sputtering car but made contact. The No. 1 Chevrolet turned and hit the wall and his race at Talladega was over.
“It’s just the way it goes,” Chastain lamented afterwards. “Nothing personal with it. I don’t take any of this personally here (Talladega Superspeedway). I could have stayed on the bottom a few laps earlier probably and would have been safer. I just had a couple of cars land in my lap there and I went for the gap.
“Obviously, I wish I would have lifted now, but I’ll study that and be better next time.
“I just saw someone slow and tagging the fence, and obviously with them being that much slower, I should have just stayed in behind him. Four-wide wasn’t the right call. I saw a hole and just tried to slide through there.
“I wish I wouldn’t have.”
Chastain was using a safe approach to the start of last Sunday’s race at Talladega by hanging out in the back and waiting for the race to develop. It’s a strategy that works well at the high-speed, 2.66-mile, high-bank Talladega Superspeedway, where potential mayhem lurks around every turn.
“Yeah, when they were three-wide early, it just didn’t make sense to get up there and get in line,” the Trackhouse driver recalled. “Eighth in line, three-wide, we would have been in the mid-20s. It felt comfortable – we saved some fuel and cycled ourselves up there to fight for some stage points.”
The 37th-place finish at Talladega has Chastain down, but not out.
He has two ways to advance into the Round of Eight – win the race or make up the 10-point gap.
Either way, it’s not going to be easy, but Chastain promises he is up to the challenge.
"I'm going to make left and right-hand turns this weekend and live my dream," said Chastain. "We’ll put our best foot forward and as long as I’m getting to drive these rocket ships that Trackhouse Racing brings me, I’m living my dream, and we’ll keep fighting."
Chastain has other motivation as well.
This weekend's blue-and-black Worldwide Express paint scheme will also have touches of pink, in addition to the names on the decklid to honor Breast Cancer Awareness month. The 67 names represent people who have overcome, are bravely battling or have been lost due to breast cancer and were submitted by WWEX Group employees.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, WWEX Group employees are raising money for the American Cancer Society to improve the lives of people with cancer and their families through advocacy, research, and patient support.
While Chastain hopes to “survive and advance” into the next round of the playoffs, Trackhouse driver Daniel Suarez hopes this year’s race at the Roval is much better than last year’s.
After scoring 13 bonus points in the first two stages at the Roval, the power steering failed. He muscled his way around the demanding Roval without any power steering.
He termed it “the most difficult race” of his life.
The driver from Monterrey, Mexico did not make this year’s field for the NASCAR Playoffs, but he is coming off an eight-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway and a 10th-place at Talladega.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a special place to Suarez. His No. 99 Chevrolet will carry a special Aguas Frescas paint scheme to honor National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15).
Last summer, the Coca-Cola Company expanded its Minute Maid brand with the launch of Aguas Frescas. The Latin-inspired, non-carbonated juice beverage line offers a twist on juice with a “unique, bold taste,” the company said. The beverages are made with real fruit juices and natural flavors.
Suárez unveiled the new paint scheme on Sept. 14 as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event at Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.
Suárez is also hosting about 400 local residents at Trackhouse Racing for the second event in the 2023 Daniel's Amigos program.
The guests from the Latino community will spend time at Trackhouse Racing with Suárez enjoying Mexican food, a Mariachi band, a deejay, shop tours, pit crew demonstrations and prize giveaways before racing gets underway at Charlotte for the weekend.
"This is my way to give back for all the support over the years," said Suárez. "We want to make the Amigos feel at home at a NASCAR race, and when they feel at home, I feel at home."
The program is a passion play for Suárez who has worked with Coca-Cola, Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR to create the best experience for his guests.
Daniel’s Amigos goes beyond explaining the sport, it’s about welcoming new fans by creating fandom on-ramps for those who are less familiar with the sport. It’s also about diversifying the image of what it is to be a NASCAR fan and allowing guests to see themselves as a part of the NASCAR family.