The NASCAR world has been blowing up today with the unveiling of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule on Tuesday…and to be honest it’s pretty understandable. NASCAR is putting a lot of time and effort into attracting new fans to the sport, putting those fans in the seats, and keeping them watching on TV when the show isn’t in town.
The biggest shake-up however is without a doubt the change to the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Rather than running the 1.5 mile oval course that we’ve seen so many times before, the series is going to be turning laps on the “ROVAL”.
This layout combines the infield road course with the traditional oval into a 2.42 mile course that – theoretically – brings the best of both world and will give the fans a breath of fresh air at Charlotte, where the racing has been lackluster as of late.
I’m not convinced though.
One of the most exciting things about road course racing is the chance for a team that doesn’t often contend for the victory to have a chance to really compete with the big, well funded teams. With shorter straights, less time spent full throttle, and a far greater number of curves and turns, top speed and aerodynamics are far less important at road courses than they are on larger oval tracks. Lower funded teams tend to have less engineers on staff, less money for time in the wind tunnel, and lower quality components to build their cars with. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to both of these categories…but on a road course, suddenly, it’s a more level playing field.
Generally this leads to closer racing, more cars packed together competing for every position, and a more exciting race with lots of pushing, bumping, and passing to get the fans cheering.
The problem with the course Charlotte is going to run is that after going through the road course portion on the infield the cars exit back onto the oval and proceed around nearly the entire thing.
Top speed is going to matter. Aerodynamics are going to matter.
Cars are going to get spread out. Backmarkers are still going to be backmarkers. Don’t get me wrong going to be a fun race to watch, but the bulk of people excited to see another road course on the schedule are going to be disappointed with a course that’s not really a road course in the end.
That’s why they call it the ROVAL, after all.