ROVAL’s a challenge

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There were no 2020 races at NASCAR’s traditional road courses at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, but they’ll start their second road race of the season Sunday in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 inside Charlotte Motor Speedway. It combines the high-banking turns of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile layout while mixing in the infield with a flat road course layout giving it 17 turns covering 2.28-miles.

It’s the best of both worlds for fans, theoretically, giving us the high speeds of the oval while also giving us the technical left and right turns of the road coourse.

This will be the third year the ROVAL has been used. I’m kind of still figuring out whether I like tracks trying to mesh together as we saw in August when NASCAR raced on Daytona’s road course/oval. I like the speed of high-banked ovals and I love road courses, but not necessarily a mash-up together.

The road course aspect shrinks up the chances of winning for more than half the field, and when adding in the speeds needed on the high banking, it erases a couple of other candidates to win because they don’t have the horsepower to compete with the big-name teams. Where a traditional road course like Sonoma offers skilled road racers a better chance to make up time through the corners to mask being an underfunded team with slower cars.

But it’s a NASCAR race and there are only five remaining on the season, so I’ll watch it and have some action as well. Sunday’s race will be the final race of the Round of 12 and four drivers will be chopped from playoff contention and two of those drivers currently sitting outside the top-8 can win the race to advance — Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer, who sits in 11th-place in the standings, is 38 points behind eighth-place Joey Logano for the final spot. Busch sits 10th, 21 points behind. They don’t technically have to win to advance to the Round of 8 but I think in their minds they’re coming with a mentality they have to.

Busch is tied for the active lead with four road course wins and has 11 top-fives, but the mash-up tracks have been hard on him. He was 37th on the Daytona road course in August and he was 37th last season on the ROVAL and 32nd there in 2018. If you throw those three races out, he’s finished 11th or better in 10 straight road races since his 2015 wins at Sonoma.

With the mounting pressure of being eliminated, we should see his best Roval performance on Sunday. He still hasn’t won this season and pouts to reporters after each race. It’s getting old and I have no sympathy. Just go race hard and act like a two-time Cup champion.

Bowyer’s chances of becoming a first-time champion are slowly ticking away as his plans beyond 2020 are still unknown. This may be the last time he has an opportunity to drive for an elite team. There are rumors that Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe may be a candidate for 2021 in the No. 14 car because of six road courses on the schedule next season and he does very well on them and he’s 16 years younger than the 41-year old Bowyer.

But Bowyer does well for himself on the roads, leading the series among active drivers with 12 top-five finishes, which includes a win at Sonoma in 2012. He’s also been elite in the three races on the oval/road course mash-ups at Daytona and Charlotte: fourth or better in two ROVAL races and sixth at Daytona in August. He’s also been very competitive this season in the 10 races using the race package featuring engines that produce 750 horsepower.

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You could say the rest of his career depends on this race. Winning advances him to the next round and it could also save his job at Stewart Haas Racing. I’ll certainly have a bet on him with all that bundle of pressure.

The top two road course drivers are Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., who have four wins each. Elliott’s 9.6 average finish in 11 Cup road races have produced five top-fives and 213 laps led. He’s on a streak of winning the last three road course races, including the Daytona road race in August. He’s become the best at it.

Truex has 11 top-fives in 31 starts and has been third or better in six of his last eight road races, which includes three wins. He was seventh on the ROVAL last season and has led laps in his last 10 road starts. He knows how to get upfront, and he certainly knows how to make right and left turns with equal skill.

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