Erik Jones faces a must-win situation this weekend to advance to the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. What is the biggest hurdle between him and a win on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL?
Adam Cheek: To put it simply, chaos and unpredictability. Erik Jones finished in the top 10 five out of the seven times he’s been on road courses, but he was caught up in issues last year at the ROVAL. The track is a different animal than traditional road courses like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, and the slightly altered layout from last year means still no one is quite used to it. He has a great chance to salvage his playoffs, but the chaos that can come out of nowhere can snuff those hopes out in a flash.
Michael Finley: Well, it’s the ROVAL itself — the biggest wild card race of the entire year, and who knows what will carry over from last year’s race. Jones’ road course record in Cup is good, but he has also yet to actually win a race at one.
Wesley Coburn: Confidence. He was last at the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this year, and the past few weeks have been rough. He’s a good road course racer, but he’s streaky, so I don’t know that he’ll be able to shake off the bad luck just yet.
Joy Tomlinson: Beating his teammates in the race. Let’s face it, Martin Truex Jr. is on a hot streak, and if it weren’t for Jimmie Johnson last year, he would’ve won at the ROVAL. Truex and Kyle Busch were the top drivers at Sonoma, and at Watkins Glen Truex and Chase Elliott battled for the lead. Let’s not forget the Coke 600, in which Truex was also victorious, either. Jones has to hope for either a mistake or the right strategy play in order to win over Truex.
Does the ROVAL, with its unique format and the fact that it’s a cutoff race, favor certain playoff drivers? If so, who?
Tomlinson: Truex, Kyle Busch and Elliott are all experienced and successful road course racers. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are all fast also and can easily win this race. After all, Keselowski was near the front before he locked up the brakes in turn 1 last year.
Finley: Kyle Busch, Harvick, and the Penske duo of Keselowski and Logano have been fast just about everywhere. And with all four either in good shape or locked into the next round, there’s no reason for the three not to do the same at the ROVAL, regardless of course layout.
Cheek: If anyone, we’ll see Truex and Keselowski excel. Truex is already locked in, but I’m sure he’d like to sweep the first round. Keselowski is pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Round of 12, but a win would give that team some momentum. For everyone else, it’ll be every man for himself and survival of the fittest. Again, it’s still an unknown with the slight changes, and I don’t think we’ll see the true contenders until about halfway through the race. Heck, two of the best cars in the race last year wrecked coming to the line, and neither won.
Coburn: We don’t really know yet, since there’s only been two races run there. If you’re solid on road courses, that’s a good sign, but it’s too early to be able to make accurate predictions when it comes to the ROVAL.
Where do you envision Daniel Hemric racing in 2020?
Finley: If I were Daniel Hemric, a hasty retreat to a JR Motorsports car would be the best game plan if he wants to have long-term success in this industry.
Coburn: Somewhere in the Xfinity Series. While Richard Childress Racing would make sense, essentially making it a swap of Hemric and Tyler Reddick, that could be too awkward, JR Motorsports would be a good fit if it expanded to four full-time teams again, If Team Penske used two full-time cars, then there’s that connection, since he used to drive for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. While at BKR he was teammates with Chase Briscoe, so maybe Stewart-Haas Racing picks him up if it promotes Cole Custer. If none of those rides work out, SS-Green Light Racing, RSS Racing or JD Motorsports would be good spots in the Xfinity Series, since they’re improving teams.
Cheek: I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him drop down to the Xfinity Series and race for Childress again. Reddick will jump to Cup, and Hemric’s experience in the top series might help him out if he goes lower. He’s still winless in all three series, but that exposure to that level of competition would benefit him.
Tomlinson: Hemric would be good in the Xfinity Series with JRM or in Reddick or Custer’s rides if they join Christopher Bell in the Cup Series. He would have a greater chance to succeed there and could return back to Cup in the future if some drivers retire.
If Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick all move to Cup next year, what kind of impact would it have on the Xfinity Series?
Coburn: Then you have a road course ace, a short track star and a veteran who’s been around forever (without a championship yet) duking it out for the title. Should be a good battle between Justin Allgaier, Briscoe and Austin Cindric.
Cheek: The draw to the series might be a bit less, for sure. This is this year’s Big Three we’re talking about — yes, the series would still have stars, among them Cindric, Allgaier and Justin Haley — but Bell, Custer and Reddick have been the standouts of the past two seasons. It would still be a good draw for fans, but the departure of the series’ biggest stars would definitely hurt.
Tomlinson: That would give guys like Cindric, Briscoe and Allgaier a chance to win more races. Who would fill their spots? Hemric would be a good candidate, as well as Ross Chastain or Austin Hill. Harrison Burton is also a good young driver, but he should have at least one more year in the Truck Series. What about drivers like Gray Gaulding or Ryan Sieg? They could be good as well, but they would need to have the funding/sponsors for those top rides.
Finley: See, this is why Hemric should move back down. If he doesn’t, I guarantee that 90% of all NXS races will be won by either a Cup driver or by either Allgaier, Briscoe or Cindric. If Hemric decides not to join that party, the series sponsor might as well become Sesame Street, because all we’ll be seeing next year is A, B and C.