CONCORD, N.C. — Momentum can be a fleeting thing.
Just ask Martin Truex Jr., who will start Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) seeking an unprecedented first-round sweep of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
“I think we’re feeling good, you know,” Truex said after Friday’s opening practice at the 2.32-mile, 17-turn Charlotte road course, which features the majority of the traditional oval as well as a challenging infield section. “The funny thing about our sport is every weekend is such a different challenge. You look at the last two weeks, nothing we really did prepares you for the roval.
“We get a lot of curve balls thrown at us in this sport, and that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it a huge challenge, but as far as the team goes, I feel good about things and everybody is clicking. Everybody is working hard and looking for more all the time. I think our approach is good, and we’ll just continue to take these things one at a time and do the best that we can do with it.”
On the strength of his victories at Las Vegas and Richmond in the first two events of the 2019 playoffs, Truex vaulted to the top of the standings, building a 21-point lead over second-place Kevin Harvick. His win at Vegas locked him into the Round of 12, which begins Oct. 6 at Dover International Speedway.
A native of New Jersey who grew up racing on oval tracks, Truex has found success on road courses during his NASCAR career. He won at Mexico City in the Xfinity Series, and has three road wins at Sonoma and one at Watkins Glen in the Cup Series.
In last year’s inaugural roval race, Truex was leading in the final chicane before contact from Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet sent both cars spinning and deprived Truex of the victory.
“Actually, the first go-kart racing I did was all on road courses, so that was a little bit of it — kind of getting that mentality and just kind of getting what it takes to do that in your brain,” Truex said of his acclimation to road-course racing. “Growing up, racing modifieds, we didn’t do road courses, but in the Busch North Series (now K&N Pro Series East), we did.
“My first year of racing stock cars, there were a few road courses mixed in there. Then, of course, moving up to Xfinity, we won in Mexico, we raced Watkins Glen. I’ve had enough of it throughout my past, I think, to understand it and to figure out the things that I was good at and the things I needed to work on. Going back each and every year, I just tried to continue to pick those things apart.”
BUBBLE BOYS ALEX BOWMAN, WILLIAM BYRON STILL WORKING TOGETHER
Entering this weekend’s elimination race, William Byron is 12th in the standings, two points above the cut line for the second round of the playoffs.
Hendrick Motorsports Alex Bowman is 13th, two points behind Byron in the race for the final spot in the Round of 12. But, according to Bowman, the competition between the teammates hasn’t affected their working relationship.
“I think that’s a big strength for Hendrick Motorsports, just in how well everybody shares everything,” Bowman said. “Whether it’s rough situations or times where you get racing teammates really hard, I feel like we’re still all able to sit down and do a really good job sharing and helping each other. Sometimes you can give little tips away that you might want to keep to yourself, but at the same time, when the whole company is running better, it’s better for everybody involved.
“I think we do a really good job of that and always have, whether it’s William or Chase (Elliott) or Jimmie (Johnson) or a combination of them. So I think, obviously, we’re racing each other for that last spot, but hopefully we can both get in and not have to worry about it.”
If the cooperation won’t change because of the close competition, neither will the actual racing, according to Byron.
“As far as racing him (Bowman), I race him the same way every week, so I don’t think it will really change for this race,” Byron said. “I think we just race each other hard, clean and just try to go for as many points as possible.”
Both Byron and Bowman put themselves in ideal position to do just that. Byron won his fifth pole of the year in Friday’s time trials, and Bowman will start beside him on the front row Sunday.
KYLE BUSCH DOUBTS DRIVERS CAN RUN SIDE-BY-SIDE IN NEW CHICANE
Something — or someone — has to give.
That’s what Kyle Busch said about the changes to the backstretch chicane at the Charlotte, which is now a slower corner requiring a more radical downshift than was the case last year.
But because the chicane is still tight, Busch doesn’t believe drivers will be able to run side-by-side through the entire chicane. Nevertheless, it’s an opportunity for drivers to pass by out-braking fellow competitors into Turns 11 and 12.
“The bus stop at Watkins Glen, if you both really, really slow down you can go through there two-wide,” Busch said on Friday before qualifying. “I don’t think you can go through this one (Charlotte) two-wide. If you’re a guy who’s going to dive bomb and make a move on the inside of somebody to out brake them getting into that corner, they have to let you go, because you’re going to be going so much faster.
“You’re almost going to be overstepping your braking zone over that guy to get in there, so you’re going to need as much room as you can have. You can’t turn that sharp corner and be two-wide. I hope guys will understand that if they’re getting out braked, they have to give it up and kind of fall into line.”
After qualifying 17th, Busch will need all of his road course braking skills to make his way to the front.
—By Reid Spencer
—Field Level Media