Elimination time for some NASCAR drivers

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It’s elimination time for four of the 16 drivers in NASCAR’s Playoffs Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval which incorporates the road course on the infield with the fast banks of the speedway.

The Roval features 17-turns on the 2.28-mile course and the drivers will turn 109 laps during the race. It’s the best of both worlds — speedway and road courses — mashed together to give us all something fresh and while it’s technically the third road course race of the season, it’s something we haven’t seen. It has got the postseason aspect to it which adds to the intensity of the layout even more.

Last season was the first time the Roval was introduced to the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series schedule, and it didn’t disappoint with 11 lead changes among eight drivers. It also offered a fantastic finish with Jimmie Johnson wrecking leader Martin Truex Jr. on the last turn of the last lap. Ryan Blaney, who was third at the time of the wreck, cruised past those two for the win. It was his only lap led on the day.

Johnson would get his turned around in enough time to at least finish eighth while it took Truex longer and he finished 14th. On the cool-down lap, Truex was fuming and smashed into the back of Johnson’s car and spun him out.

Johnson, a seven-time Cup Champion, was desperate for a win and the layout of the track allowed him to do something rarely seen out of him — scratch and claw for a win.

It was at that moment that I was sold on the Roval. Johnson is still searching for his first win since 2017. 

The 14th-place finish by Truex on the Roval dropped his average finish in the last seven road course races to 8.2. He has three wins on the roads since the start of 2017 and his five top-fives and 180 laps led also lead the series. On the other two road courses this season he won at Sonoma in June and was runner-up at Watkins Glen in August.

He has won or been runner-up in five of his last six road course races, which is why the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has him posted as the 3-1 favorite to win Sunday.

Truex isn’t just great on the road course, he’s great everywhere. He’s won the first two races of the playoffs to give him a series-leading six win on the season. He’s got a free roll this week with nothing to lose because he’s already clinched a spot in the next round by virtue of his Las Vegas win. Four of Truex’s wins this season have been using this week’s race package with engines producing 750 horsepower.

Last week at Richmond Joe Gibbs Racing finished 1-2-3-4 using the 750 HP race package. Denny Hamlin finished third to give him nine top-fives in 10 races with this package, which includes a fifth-place at Sonoma and third-place at Watkins Glen. He’s got top-fives in six of his last nine road races with no finish worse than 13th over that span.

Chase Elliott has won the last two races at Watkins Glen and was sixth last season on the Roval. His Watkins Glen win in August was dominant with him leading 80 of the 90 laps.

Kyle Larson might be someone to take a look at this week as well due to leading 47 of the 109 laps on the Roval last season. He had top-five finishes in both road course races this season.

Something to be aware of when betting this week is that JGR drivers have won 15 of the 28 races this season. One of those wins came from Erik Jones who finished fourth at Watkins Glen. He’s sitting in last place in the playoffs and needs to win to advance to the next round.

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