Home / Cup Series / Thinkin’ Out Loud: Ryan Blaney Wins the ROVAL, Kyle Larson Survives to Advance
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Ryan Blaney Wins the ROVAL, Kyle Larson Survives to Advance

Who’s in the headline

The list of road course favorites was long going into the first ROVAL race, and it was a safe bet that Ryan Blaney wasn’t on most of those lists. However, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and Blaney was lucky to be in the right place at the right time when Jimmie Johnson wrecked with Martin Truex Jr. while going for the lead in the final turn of the race. It gave Blaney the win and it cost Johnson a berth in the second round of the playoffs. Blaney was far from a shocker as he won the second stage of the race as well. Kyle Larson took the first stage after starting fifth and making the first on-track pass for the lead.

What happened

It all started when Marcus Smith decided to upgrade the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway so that stock cars could race on it. Since then, the ROVAL has been the topic of discussion building up to Sunday’s race. In the end, the hype resulted in a whale of a race. Kurt Busch won the pole, led to start the race but lost the top spot to Larson on lap eight. Larson held onto the point for the remainder of the first stage to claim the points.

Stage two saw Larson stay out on the mandatory caution with Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Larson led on the restart but knew he had to pit during the stage. He ended up pitting on lap 36, surrendering the point to Blaney. At that point, it became his stage win to lose. Late in the stage, Brad Keselowski and Truex got into a spin in the front straight chicane that altered their race strategy. Blaney led the final 14 laps of the stage to grab the stage win. That put the first 50 laps of the race into the books with only one caution outside of the stage ends … but it was about to change.

The final stage started with Larson leading thanks to pitting during the second stage. Austin Dillon smacked the wall on lap 66 to bring out a caution. That resulted in Larson pitting for his second time of the race, followed by Jamie McMurray. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led for two laps before making a mistake and being overtaken by Paul Menard. Keselowski then reassumed the point from Menard and looked to be headed toward a fuel strategy victory.

On lap 103, Stenhouse spun into the tire barrier to bring out a quickie caution. Keselowski stayed out, meaning he was on well-worn tires along with several other drivers. On the lap 105 restart, Keselowski and no less than 13 other cars wadded them up into the tire barrier leading into the infield. After the red flag and clean-up from that disaster, Truex assumed the point. He led Johnson as they pulled away from the rest of the field.

Johnson stalked him and on the final corners of the final chicane of the event Johnson overdrove the entrance, spun out, and took Truex out with him. The result was Blaney strolling through the opening left and grabbing the victory amongst the smoke of the dueling spins.

Why you should care

The biggest story coming out of the race, despite the unrivaled success of the ROVAL, was Johnson not only failing to advance in the playoff but making a stupid decision that cost himself and Truex. Johnson is having a down year but one of the smartest drivers in the sport simply proved that, once the helmets go on, the brains turn off.

Stewart-Haas Racing advanced all four of its drivers to the next round which means it’s the only organization with four full-time drivers who all made the second round of the playoffs. The team is poised to have all of those drivers make the final eight. With Joe Gibbs Racing losing two, it is setting up to be a battle between Team Penske and Roush against SHR over the final seven races.

What your friends are talking about

The ROVAL might have been a big success but part of that was because no one knew what to expect. Restarts with old tires, sandbags holding signs, walls that needed to be moved and a myriad of other things were all learned by the track, fans and teams. It was a horrible decision to have an elimination race on a track that had never been raced before. The ROVAL is here to stay but next year might not be quite as exciting as this year.

Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric have both been announced as new Cup drivers for 2019. The youth movement in the sport continues as some more of the old guard is looking for work. Ryan Newman is moving on to Roush Fenway Racing, but AJ Allmendinger is looking for work at this point and will most likely end up in IMSA.

A bunch of fans were up in arms about Kyle Busch cutting the first corner and not being penalized. He did not advance his position so NASCAR did not penalize him. For some reason, no one gets upset about drivers dive bombing across the dogleg at Phoenix and that is the same thing. People need to decide what offends them and be consistent.

The 2019 rules package has been approved by the owners. The details have not been released yet, but it appears that a version of the All-Star package from 2018 could be used at most of the intermediate tracks in 2019. The difference is a tapered spacer rather than a restrictor plate. In reality, you say tomato, I say tomahto. The end result is that the top series in stock car racing is going to have approximately 540 horsepower.

Who is mad

The No. 48 team, owner and fans are all pissed about Johnson making the terrible move at the end of the race that caused his team to miss the playoffs. It is always easy to Monday morning quarterback but, when you are in second place and into the next round by seven or eight points, somebody needs to be screaming in the driver’s ear so that he doesn’t do something that hurts the driver or his team.

Keselowski was a big part of the show for the first 103 laps on Sunday until he led the field into the barriers in Turn 1. It looked remarkably like when a precision air team all flies into the ground because they are flying off of the wing of the lead pilot. In the end, whether it was a poor line of sight or poor decision making, the result was Keselowski put on a show Sunday but his finish didn’t reflect it.

Who is happy

There are a lot of people who would think that Bubba Wallace should be in the mad category. He had the worst time of any driver over the last month or so at the ROVAL. He tore up multiple cars and did a lot of spinning through the tests and the race. There isn’t a driver in the garage who is happier that the series isn’t coming back to Charlotte to run the ROVAL for 12 months.

Larson could not be happier that Johnson chose Sunday to have a full-on mental fart. Johnson has had some terrible luck lately and when he had a chance for a miracle advancement to the second round he foolishly pissed it away. That maneuver led to a wounded Larson limping to the finish and ultimately taking the tiebreaker between himself, Johnson and Aric Almirola.

When the checkered flag flew

Ryan Blaney won his second race of his career on Sunday in his 119th start.

It is Blaney’s first win of 2018.

Two career wins ranks Blaney in a tie with 25 other drivers for 102nd on the list.

Jamie McMurray came home in second place thanks to the late race carnage.

This is McMurray’s best finish of 2018.

McMurray has one career top two on the ROVAL.

For his career, McMurray has 13 second-place finishes which rank him 57th on the all-time list, tied with Donnie Allison, Morgan Shepherd and Curtis Turner.

Clint Bowyer rounded out the podium on Sunday. It is Bowyer’s sixth top-three run of 2018.

This is Bowyer’s 40th career podium finish.

On the all-time podium list, Bowyer is tied with Donnie Allison for 57th.

William Byron has had a strong year running for Rookie of the Year. Even on days he has failed to run well, Bubba Wallace has not been able to capitalize on it. This weekend Byron finished 34th while Wallace finished 36th when they were both in the giant wreck on lap 102.

For the year, Byron’s 19 awards are nine more than Darrell Wallace Jr’s 10.

Round two of the playoffs is upon us. 12 drivers are eligible to win the title but only eight will advance beyond this round. The playoff contenders are listed below with their associated points. The four drivers eliminated from title contention are listed because they are still eligible to finish as high as fifth. Race winners are bolded and will automatically advance to the next round.

1) Kyle Busch – 3055

2) Kevin Harvick – 3050

3) Martin Truex Jr. – 3038

4) Brad Keselowski – 3025

5) Clint Bowyer – 3015

6) Joey Logano – 3014

7) Kurt Busch – 3014

8) Ryan Blaney – 3013

9) Chase Elliott – 3008

10) Kyle Larson – 3006

11) Aric Almirola – 3001

12) Alex Bowman – 3000

——————————–

13) Jimmie Johnson – 2097

14) Austin Dillon – 2066

15) Denny Hamlin – 2053

16) Erik Jones – 2041

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

There are about as many opinions as there are fans when it comes to the ROVAL. In the end, it cannot be denied that the old cliché of having a seat but only using the edge couldn’t have been truer. The race had everything that you could ask for. Four on-track passes for the lead, strategies all over the place, driving errors, a Talladegaesque Big One and final corner chaos with a third-place runner grabbing the win. While someone wasn’t upside down and on fire across the line, it was close enough. We’ll give this one five ice cold Red Hill Amber Ales from Cabarrus Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

Round two of the playoffs beings next week at Dover International Speedway. Coverage is available on NBCSN Sunday, Oct. 7 starting at 2 p.m. ET. You can also watch the coverage on the NBC Sports app. If you want to listen to coverage of the race, it is available on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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29 comments

  1. I don’t believe Dale Sr. ever did a burnout either, hope Ryan never does unless it’s after winning the Championship!

    • It isn’t very dignified, is it?

    • Neither did Bill, Rusty, Darell, Kenny, Harry, Sterling, Brett, Geoff , Ernie, Davey, DJ, Alan , David, Richard, Donnie, Terry ,Bobby, Cale ( and I’ll throw in Derrick for that one big race).

    • He did put the 3 in the grass after he won Daytona.

    • The burn outs are obnoxious. Wasting rubber and engine while the average fan is running on may-pops with over100k miles on their engine.
      Bringing your little kid to driver intros is getting to be competitive.
      But the worst of all is that lame interview with Rutledge or whoever at the start/finish line. Please stop it.

  2. If you didn’t like that, then I don’t think anything NASCAR could ever provide will satisfy you (except a time machine back to the 1970s or 80s). SMI took a big risk with this Roval race and it paid off big time. Yesterday proved you can race stock cars on an infield road course and put on a compelling race. I don’t blame Jimmie one bit for going for the victory, points be dammed. He’s struggled all year and this was an opportunity to win a race (an inaugural race) and save a season. It didn’t work out, but I’m glad he went for it. Contrast this to the F-1 event from earlier where Bottas was told lay over for Lewis Hamilton. The Roval was an astounding success and might be the shot in the arm NASCAR needs.

  3. Everybody’s all about Championships, and playoffs! I commend Johnson going for the win. You plant your ass in the seat to win the race. He went for it, whether banzai or not,and lost out. As a race fan, or at least for me, thats what I like to see, a racer going full out for the checkered flag!

    • Maybe so but he had a lot more on the line at this race/show. It’s not about winning the battle, it’s winning the WAR!

    • On a scale of 1 to 10, how wise or smart would you say that move was?

    • Also, do you think he’s having second thoughts today?

      • Nerer mind Phil H, I’ve found the answer directly from Johnson:

        “”It’s a bummer,” the seven-time Cup champion Johnson said. “It’s not what we want by any stretch. … If I knew the outcome was going to be that, no [I wouldn’t have tried the move]. I want to stay alive in the championship points. But I really felt like I could pull that pass off.

        “I’m shell-shocked for sure. I wish I could go back in time and let off the brakes a little bit and take that opportunity, because the championship is what we’re here for.”

        So all I can contribute this to is GREED. One of the seven deadly sins.

  4. Back when I had a driver that I cared about and rooted for, these were the types of races that really pissed me off. The late cautions, restarts that continually reshuffle the running order and crapshoot endings where my driver would be having a good day and was robbed of a good finish by the arbitrariness of the ending made me so mad that I swore that once my driver retired, I would never align myself with another.

    With all that said, now that I don’t have a driver that I care about, and I can watch the races with my emotions detached, it was hilarious and very entertaining. Not sure I would call it a sport or a race but it was certainly fun to watch.

    I can’t believe how stupid Jimmie Johnson was to be so greedy that he couldn’t be satisfied with a guaranteed berth in the next round. Oh well, I am glad he got what he deserved and, with the season he’s had, he didn’t deserve a chance at the championship anyway. Idiot.

    One question I’d like answered is how could Larson maintain minimum speed with his front tire at a 45 degree angle?

    I can’t believe that no one has figured out that for the first two rounds all you need are good finishes. Instead everyone is trying to prove they can piss the farthest and end up having issues that put them in a hole. That’s how Ryan Newman made the final four a couple of years ago, consistent finishes while the other drivers were all trying to prove they were the best by dominating every lap of every race.

    I will be fine with the Roval being part of the playoffs in the future but I don’t think it should be a cutoff race (nor should Talladega) because they are too crapshooty.

    • Even if Larson was running too slow and got a black flag he would have three laps to acknowledgr the flag and by then the race would be over.

      Watching the pit stops the right front changer takes off the tire and leaves it “unattended” while another crewman puts on the replacement tire and all five lug nuts get tightened. It then gets rolled or carried to the pit wall. It seems to me that every team on every pit stop has an “unattended” tire and should be penalized.

      • Mike Neff

        The rule on the tires is that they need to be within an arms length. When the tire changer turns to put the new tire on the old tire is still within an arms length of the changer. If it rolls further away or the changer leaves it before the other crew member gets there to grab it, then it is uncontrolled.

      • Are you sure about that?

        My understanding is that the crash clock keeps ticking until you meet minimum green flag speed and once it hits zero you are done if you fail to meet minimum speed, not three laps later. The time on pit road certainly counts on the clock but I’m not sure how they determine the time under yellow. The car certainly can’t be expected to meet minimum speed under caution so that time would logically not count on the clock.

        I have no idea what minimum speed is at the Roval but I find it highly doubtful that it could be met with a broken control arm. I tried to find the exact language of the rule but the official rule book is behind a non public area at NASCAR.

        I don’t really care whether Jimmy or Kyle advances I would just like to hear a clarification.

    • Also, Ryan Newman proved again that a driver needs good finishes and not wins to compete for a championship. Imagine that! Some people still can’t.

    • As far as Larson not maintaining minimum speed, there was only 3 laps left and they give you 3 laps before black flagging you.

  5. Heard Blaney won & watched the last 2 minutes to see the finish. Earnhardt & Burton made my head hurt in that short span. I can only imagine what kind of crap show this event was.

    I’m headed over to that old lady’s site. She doesn’t serve Kool-Aid.

    • She serves nothin but kool aid, starting with a picture taken 21 years ago. Enjoy listening to how smart a senile wanna be is post after post. Make believe that NASCAR has an assign rd
      Reader instead of being irrelevant and whining nobody will talk to her. Lol, enjoy

      • I don’t agree with everything she says, but I don’t believe NASCAR is more awesome than ever just because Jeff Burton said so. You and I can agree to disagree.

    • tony – i try to be tolerant of earnhardt and burton but it’s too much. i flipped it on at 5:45 and saw where johnson was not going to get #8 this year, then i went on line to see who won.

      the pain from my root canal was more tolerable than those two voices.

  6. It was A hell of a lot better than playing follow the leader in circles all race long that we’ve all been complaining about for years. It was way better than the old days when Waltrip or someone would win by 5 laps. If you didn’t enjoy the action yesterday then quit watching now and switch to the golf or tennis channel. Y’all sound like that ancient lady who has two followers on her web site, whiners.

  7. Thought race was ok. Was happy Blaney got the win. Been pulling for him since day one. Has real class when it comes to winning. No stupid burnouts which probably makes the engine shop guys happy and searching for a kid to give the checkered flag to. Johnson looked as if he had lost his best friend and was about to cry. Can’t say I felt sorry for him though. Wish we could have seen a reaction from Knaus.Received my new Lowe’s card the other day in the mail to replace the one I already had which wasn’t about to expire. Guess since it had the 48 car on it they wanted to replace it.

  8. That was professional race car drivers out there yesterday? Must never have seen a road course before. But maybe thats where the sport is now.

  9. It wasn’t a bad race and at times it was downright edge-of-your-seat exciting, but overall, it felt contrived… like somebody’s goofy idea that was adopted just for kicks. I can’t say I’m disappointed that Johnson didn’t make the cut-off… his season was dreadful and he really didn’t have any business racing for the championship.

    I give it a couple of phony, non-alcoholic beers to consumed when there’s nothing else in the cooler.

  10. I give NASCAR credit for trying something outside the box at what has been its worst track for the last decade.

    That said, it followed the predictable script. A mostly pedestrian race, late competition caution to get everyone back together, and the predictable “crap”show that follows a late restart. Next thing you know, it’s the greatest thing since the last time this script played out.