This weekend marks one of NASCAR’s most anticipated ones of the 2018 season: the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series are both racing on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL for the first time ever. No one knows how good the racing will be, but nearly everyone expects it to be a wild show.
With this much excitement for a ROVAL event, it begs this week’s question: Should NASCAR move more races to infield-configured courses at tracks on the current schedule?
To ROVALs and Beyond
It’s hard to say for sure because there hasn’t been a race on a ROVAL yet, but, for now, I’ll say that there should be more ROVALs in the sport for both potential audience growth and cost concerns.
There are 12 tracks that have an infield road course layout, according to an NBC Sports Twitter post.
The infield configurations should definitely be tried out for the July Daytona International Speedway race and one of the Pocono Raceway races. Daytona is a crash-fest more than a race most of the time, and it would sort of be a link to the past’s original road course along the beach. Pocono’s too treacherous to human health to be raced at twice a year, as the vicious crashes in NASCAR and IndyCar over the past several years have shown. Also, the races there are about as exciting as watching paint dry, and since NASCAR is obligated to race there twice a season, try a ROVAL format to see if it races any safer or is more exciting.
The Camping World Truck Series should be the first to test out the infield courses when racing at either of those tracks. Because of their microscopic budgets compared to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series or top NASCAR XFINITY Series teams, tearing up equipment is far more severe than it would be for a team like Hendrick Motorsports, or even Front Row Motorsports. It would be cost saving to teams and give road-course ringers a chance to experiment with stock cars, drawing them into the sport.
If Talladega Superspeedway still has an infield course layout, NASCAR should certainly use it for one race as well for the same reasons I outlined for Daytona.
Kansas Speedway would also be a good candidate to test a ROVAL race for the same reasons that Charlotte Motor Speedway is trying it: the track is a cookie-cutter one-and-a-half mile, generally making for a dull on-track product. Those tracks definitely don’t help NASCAR’s image to potential new audiences, who think, “Cars are going in circles for forever, and nobody’s passing anyone. Why do people like this sport?”
If NASCAR really wants to become a more global sport, some form of road courses needs to become a larger part of the schedule, since other racing series around the world almost exclusively use road or street courses. Drivers like Alon Day, Daniel Suarez or Juan Pablo Montoya grew up on those types of tracks and have or are currently racing in Cup, which helps out the sport from a diversity angle.
True road courses would help in this area more than ROVALs would. More races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park would be a welcome addition to the schedule, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course might make a good place to race in Cup.
This weekend’s pair of races in Charlotte will probably be chaotic and they might be a disaster, but at least they’re willing to try something different, which is extremely necessary to position the sport for the future. Since there are no race notes to go off of and there is a potential for rain in the weekend forecast, those add more unknown variables to the equation.
For now, I am hesitantly in favor of expanding the ROVAL experiment. -Wesley Coburn
Don’t Usher in ROVAL-geddon
Everyone needs to calm down with the ROVAL talk. NASCAR doesn’t need to litter its schedule full of ROVAL races just because we have one this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
We don’t know what will happen during the race. It could be a complete disaster, whether it be because it’s a passing-free snoozefest or because it’s a demolition derby.
And even if Charlotte manages to pull off two thrilling races this weekend, that doesn’t mean we should go all aboard the ROVAL train. This weekend might only be good because of the unknown. Once teams figure out the track, it might not be anywhere near as entertaining.
Even if Charlotte’s infield produces a track with consistently-good racing, it doesn’t mean that every track’s infield will. I know that Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway already have successful races on their road courses, but that doesn’t mean that the heavy cars of NASCAR will put on a good show on those tracks.
Wesley mentioned above changing the July Daytona race to the infield road course, but the Firecracker 400 is an iconic and popular race — you can’t replace that with something that might not be as good. He’s right that Indy and Pocono Raceway haven’t delivered too good of races recently, but that has more to do with the cars than the track.
When I first started watching NASCAR, the road courses were the worst races on the schedule. Then, NASCAR went and added splitters and made these cars so aero-dependant that it killed the racing at the oval tracks and made road racing look better. So instead of abandoning these once great ovals for their inferior infield courses, let’s get the cars back to where they can actually race each other.
Instead, I see this situation playing out just like it did for the cookie-cutter mile-and-a-halves. Leading up to the 1990s, the racing at the mile-and-a-half Charlotte oval course was great, so NASCAR went overboard and reproduced a ton of tracks just like it. Now, our schedule is overrun with those tracks, leaving people to want any sort of track that is different. The same thing will happen if the schedule suddenly consists of a ROVAL every other week.
Also, I don’t want to get behind the idea of ROVALs because it is such a cop-out by NASCAR, who restricted itself from going to new tracks by signing long contracts with the current ones. If fans seem content with the ROVAL idea, then NASCAR will re-up the deals with the current tracks and we won’t get any new and unique venues on the schedule.
This is everyone’s warning to not go all in on ROVALs. Let’s look into adding another great short track first. -Michael Massie