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What to Watch: Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
(⏰ 2 p.m. ET | 📺 NBC, TSN | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Round of 12 elimination race and 32nd points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.

Where: Concord, North Carolina
Green flag: 2:30 p.m. ET
Grand Marshal: The family of Sergeant Nicole Gee
Honorary Starter: Daniel Craig, portrayer of James Bond in “No Time to Die”
TV/Radio: NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Partly sunny, with a high near 76. North wind 9 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 18 mph according to
Race Distance: 109 laps, 252.88 miles
Stages: 25 | 50 | 109
Pit-road speed: 40 mph
Caution car speed: 45 mph
Roval 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections

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Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

1. Here we are — the final road-course race of an unprecedented seven total in what has been a historic 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson have been the class of the field on these tracks this year, with two wins apiece. Oddsmakers have the dynamic duo as the top favorites, but which one will snap the tie and claim the road-course crown for 2021? As the two-time defending winner of the race, the edge likely goes to Elliott, yet Larson has been the better driver overall this season with a whopping six victories.  It’ll be fun to watch them duke it out, but, oh yeah, there are still another 37 drivers in the race with their sights on the checkered flag, too.

2. And one of them is Martin Truex Jr., Elliott’s previous road-course nemesis. After winning three over the span of five road-course races from 2017-19, the 2017 champ was perhaps the Ace to Chase’s King for a spell there, but has struggled to find similar success on them since. Since winning at Sonoma in 2019, Truex has strung together 10 winless starts, albeit with seven top 10s in that span. He led more laps — 59 — in that Sonoma race than every race since, combined. That said, if there’s any driver that can break up the Hendrick All-Stars, it’s Truex, who was within a few hundred feet of winning this race before.

3. Here we are focusing on who’s going to win the race, but perhaps the more important angle to come out of the Roval — who’s going to get eliminated? Three of the sport’s younger stars — Christopher Bell, William Byron and Alex Bowman — as well as one of its oldest in Kevin Harvick are currently the four that would tentatively be dropped from the playoff field after Sunday’s race. Harvick has a decent path to point his way in, but the other three have ventured into the neighborhood of must-win territory — and they each have a significant shot to win outright. Consider, too, that Elliott and Kyle Busch — the sport’s two most recent champs — are currently the last two in, and Sunday could easily get wild and unexpected in a hurry.

4. Talladega and the Roval to close out a playoff round — tough on drivers, tremendously entertaining for everyone else. Just as it was the case last week with the final superspeedway of the season, this weekend marks the final road-course race with the Gen 6 car. Road courses always tend to widen the field and really open the door for a surprise winner. Knowing that these chassis, uh, won’t need to be used again might tear the door completely off the hinges. We saw a surprise winner take away a guaranteed Round of 8 spot last year, and the chances are high again this weekend. Just for the heck of it, here’s a smattering of names of drivers that have finished in the top five in the first six road courses this year: Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger (twice, one win), Matt DiBenedetto. If you’re looking for an upset driver, pick from those three, one of which is still looking to pad his resume in search of a 2022 ride.

5. Speaking of resumes and 2022 rides, Sunday could potentially be Brad Keselowski‘s final race still in contention for the championship with his longtime organization Team Penske. After a brief summer lull following the announcement of his departure to Roush Fenway Racing in the late summer, the 2012 champ and the No. 2 crew have been on a steady rise and appear headed toward the Round of 8 and possibly beyond, but nothing is guaranteed given this weekend’s volatile nature. The spring Talladega winner is currently fourth in the standings and 20 points to the good, but also has a pair of finishes (31st, 18th) in the Roval’s three total races that might not be good enough this weekend. The other finish was a top five and he’s led multiple laps in all three races so I feel the chances are better than not that he does advance, but Sunday might end Keselowski’s last hope to bring Roger Penske one more title.

Race-day staplesAds Fantasyfastlane Hero

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

• Power Rankings: Could Bell win way into Round of 8? | Latest rankings
• Paint Scheme Preview:
Slick schemes for Charlotte Roval | See them here
• Playoff Pulse: Who’s hot, who’s not after Talladega | Full breakdown
• Debate:
Can Harvick escape elimination? | Backseat Drivers
• Bubble Watch:
Elliott has Roval right where he wants it | See the bubble breakdown
• Fantasy Fastlane:
Start Chase, what about Larson? | Top plays, sleepers
• Busch Pole Award:
Denny Hamlin to lead Roval field to green | Read more

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

• What are the odds?: Betting odds for Roval | See them here
• NASCAR betting:
Who could possibly beat Elliott at the Roval? | Read more
• The Action Network:
Who to pick — Elliott or Larson? | Read more
• Talking playoffs: How Fantasy Live game works for the postseason | Read more
• No risk, big reward: Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot

Memories from the Roval2001 Charlotte Tbt 922 Crop

Before the Cup Series races at the Roval for the fourth time ever, take a look back at some important track history.

• Top 10: Laps led at Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval | Who has led the most?
• Rulers of the road:
All-time winners on road courses | See the list
• Recent roadies:
Active road-course winners | See the list
• Remember when:
Stewart, Dale Jr. put on a Charlotte show | Watch the 2001 UAW-GM Quality 500 replay
• That was cool
: @nascarcasm: Coolest thing to happen at each Roval turn | Relive the moments
• Turn, turn, turn: Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval turn-by-turn analysisSee the breakdown

Five fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

All seven playoff points in Talladega were won by non-playoff drivers.
Ford is winless in the last eight playoff races. There is one Ford driver below the elimination line: Kevin Harvick.
• Kyle Busch has nine playoff wins — seven of the nine came in the last five years.
Hamlin is the only driver to make the playoffs more than 10 times who has not won a Cup championship.
Five drivers still in the 2021 Playoffs have won a championship in this current playoff format (2014-current). 

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to the race.

• Win or get out: Byron’s Roval mission is simple — yet difficult | Hear his thoughts
• Leading by example:
Ben Kennedy’s leadership role evolves at NASCAR | Read more
• Living the dream:
‘Surreal moment’ for Bubba Wallace at Diversity Awards | Read more
• Two of a kind?:
Harvick, Hamlin share some playoff trends, differ in others | Read more
• Moving on:
Round of 8 clinch scenarios for Roval | Read more
• The King speaks:
Richard Petty’s Round of 12 finale preview | Watch more 
• GIF Competition:
@nascarcasm sums up how playoff drivers are feeling | Read more
• The eliminators: Winners of NASCAR Playoffs elimination races | See the list
• Survive, advance:
Kyle Busch’s mindset going into the Roval | Read more
• Ruffled at the Roval?:
Harvick isn’t sweating advancement | Read more

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into the race.

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“I feel like we have just have had a good road course package. Like I’ve said for years now, I don’t feel like what I do is anything special. I just think we have a good package and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) has done a really good job of honing in on the things that matter at a road course and we’ve just kind of hit on things that work. When you are a young guy and you come into new situations and the foundation is built there for you, it makes it a lot easier for a guy to learn. I think I came into a great foundation and I was able to really work on myself because we have a solid package and as we improve, the cars and I improve, I think we just landed in a solid place. Does that mean we will be good there forever? No, but I certainly feel that we can improve upon where we’ve been and I can do a better job. We will see where we shake out.” — Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

“I think the biggest challenge with the Roval is that you have to somewhat set up your car to run on the oval, especially Turns 3 and 4 of the oval. It kind of keeps you from setting up the car the way you want to for the infield, so it just makes it a big challenge. It always seems like the infield is pretty bumpy. It’s pretty narrow. There is a lot of undulations up and down. The car is never in the race track very good because the tires are hard for the oval. It’s just a big compromise. It’s really hard to get your car working right and it’s a real challenge to get around there.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

“The Roval has always been tough ever since we started racing there. I feel like every year it becomes a little bit more normal for us and we’re able to understand the race track a bit more and what to expect. The good thing is that I have the same amount of experience there as most of the field since it is a fairly new track. It’s difficult, though, because I feel like this is a race where there is always a lot more contact throughout the field and you can’t prepare for that other than to be ready for anything at any moment. We always have fast cars there, though, so we just need to go there and focus on getting the win. It’s going to be really difficult to worry about points, so a win is really all we’re worried about.” — William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet