After months of debate and testing, Charlotte Motor Speedway officially unveiled its new infield road course configuration on Wednesday afternoon.
The ROVAL will make its debut on the weekend of September 30th for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series. The race will also be an elimination event for the Round of 16 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway openers.
Even though Charlotte has long contained an infield road course and even hosted the American Le Mans Series, this will be the first time stock cars have competed on this kind of configuration. The pre-existing road course has been modified and updated to reflect its addition to the NASCAR schedule.
Track officials have also added a chicane near the exit of oval Turn 4 and also installed synthetic turf to prevent cars from digging in with their splitters during races on both the oval and road course layouts.
There’s a lot to digest here, so let’s break it down with a FAQ:
Put it bluntly: Why is NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway doing this?
NASCAR fans want a less intermediate D-shaped ovals and want more road course. More so, they want both of these outcomes during the NASCAR Playoffs. From a sanctioning body standpoint, NASCAR vice president of competition Steve O’Donnell said the league is paying attention.
“Fans wanted a road course in the playoffs and this does just that,” O’Donnell said on Thursday. “The speeds should kind of mirror what we have at a Watkins Glen. Look at this chicane, and it reminds me of Sonoma, and the last turn. We should see that here too.
“Drivers from Mario Andretti, to Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick all weighed in. We’re excited to see it.”
What will the track look like?
Look at the graphic above. This is 18-turn, 2.4-mile course with a 35-foot elevation radius. The start-finish line will remain the same as on the oval. Turn 1 begins just after the start-finish line and turns left into the infield. The track wraps around the infield grocery store through several esses and empties out at oval Turn 1. The track will then pretty much follow the oval configuration with the exception to a ‘bus stop’ chicane that was added to the backstretch to slow cars down before they enter oval Turns 3 and 4. From there, the new wide chicane has been installed off the exit of oval Turn 4. It’s wide enough to fit five cars and intends to generate the kind of finishes the Xfinity Series delievered in Montreal.
A viewing platform is also being built outside of oval Turns 3 and 4 that will work for both types of events — ovals and road courses.
What kind of tires will this race use?
Autoweek spoke to Goodyear director of tire sales Greg Stucker last month at Chicagoland Speedway and asked about the ROVAL.
He expects the track to race like a high speed road course, a la Watkins Glen.
“Right now, they’re still working on the compound,” Stucker said. “In fact, NASCAR is looking at chicanes on the backstretch. So that will be on the backstretch. We just need to figure out if its on the backstretch or Turn 4.”
Obviously, you still run the banking but we’ll adjust for that. We do that at Daytona so we know what that means. it will be a higher speed road course tire, but still expect to run our road course package. We just need to decide which package. Probaly something like Watkins Glen, faster, has been repaved recently. As opposed to something like Sonona which is a softer tire.”
It’s worth noting that there’s a tire test scheduled for next month and Goodyear believes rain tires will work there as well.
Why can’t NASCAR simply run a real road course?
This question gets asked all the time. There are three kind of NASCAR Cup Series events: those run at tracks owned by International Speedway Corp, tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. and independent tracks like Indianapolis, Dover and Pocono. For any track that gets added to the schedule, it would have to replace a track currently on the schedule. And for that to happen, a current owner of a date would have to swap a track out with another track that owner possesses.
For example, SMI owns Las vegas and New Hampshire. Vegas gained its second date at the expense of New Hampshire. The fall race at Las Vegas could not replace a SMI or independent date. So there’s just no realistic way for NASCAR to easily go to Road America or Montreal. Lawsuits have been filed over such matters, which is how SMI eventually came to own Kentucky Speedway and how Kansas Speedway eventually was added to the Cup Series schedule.
So the ROVAL was a compromise to add a road course event without Charlotte Motor Speedway losing a date.
What’s up with the turf on the infield?
For over a decade, NASCAR cars have had their front ends destroyed by splitters digging into the grass. Carl Edwards won the 2011 All-Star Race but accidently destroyed his car when he did a burnout in the infield. Erik Jones attempted a daring three-wide pass on Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez. The move destroyed the nose of his car.
Charlotte officials hope turf is a little more forgiving.
42,000 square feet of synthetic turf – more than half the length of a football field, 1,100 gallons of glue, 300,000 pounds of sand and 900 man-hours of planning and installation.
“This is the beginning of the solution of a problem,” former Cup driver and current television analyst Jeff Burton said. “The problem is cars are getting into the grass and tearing their spliters apart. It’s ending people’s days. So this is the first attempt at a solution. It’s a really good idea. it’s just that — a first attempt. It’s very innovative. In my mind, it’s groundbreaking, because you don’t lose that traditional look.”
What else do I need to know?
Jeff Burton tested the layout, with the exception of the new frontstretch chicane. He had skepticism at first, until he drove around the course.
“I had every intention of coming here and trying to talk Marcus (Smith) out of it,” Burton said. “But then I tested the layout. Fans say they want more short tracks and road courses, and they’re right. That’s where the action is. My only concern was that the track wasn’t going to produce that. After turning some laps, and now looking at the chicane, I can say with conviction that I think this is going to be a lot of fun. And look, the fact that you can see all the way around the course is unprecedented. I can’t wait to watch this race.”
It’s worth noting that jersey barrier will also be added alongside pit road to prevent cars from spinning off the chicane onto pit road. They are all mobile and temporary in nature.