CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr., who has been able to pass just about anything and everything this year, didn’t have an answer for how he will make a pass in the 2018 opening-round elimination race next season.
That race will take place on the 2.42-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway “roval” — a road course that uses nearly all of the 1.5-mile oval and about a mile of twists and turns (with a slight uphill/downhill section) between Turns 1 and 2.
Truex, who won on the Charlotte oval a couple of weeks ago, was among four drivers who tested tires Tuesday and Wednesday for Goodyear on the course. It appeared somewhat treacherous and unpredictable.
“I’m going to be hoping I win one of the first two [playoff races],” Truex said. “I’m going to put this right in there with Talladega.”
So where will he pass if he has to make a pass to advance to the next round?
“I don’t know — I can’t really answer that,” Truex said. “I know there is a lot of places where you can crash. I’m not real sure about the passing yet.”
That reaction wasn’t much of a surprise. The newly designed road course appears to have tight turns. But what was a surprise is that Goodyear thought it would run more like the high-speed, less technical Watkins Glen road course, but the grip levels demanded a tire that could be more suited at the more technical Sonoma course.
Then again, as Kurt Busch said, as the drivers got more comfortable on the course, the Watkins Glen tire setup might be needed from a durability standpoint. He said the course has a unique feel that should make the race exciting.
“It’s going to be more about survival and being smart,” Busch said. “That’s what I see developing with this type of layout. … [It has] a lot of sharp corners, low grip and we have 800 horsepower, so we’re always trying to put the power down and we’re just sliding the tires quite a bit.
“This process is to work with Goodyear, to work with Charlotte Motor Speedway, to find things around the track that we can change safety-wise as well as recommend different shapes of the chicane on the back straightaway and even the front straightaway section.”
In other words, there’s a lot of work to be done — from the team side, the NASCAR side and the track’s. Busch suggested to have one less turn from the infield to the big oval, to give the car momentum and “speed up the track” because they go about 35 mph in that section.
“It’s very narrow,” Truex said. “It’s very rough. There’s a lot of swells and whoop-de-dos — there’s all kinds of craziness going on. … There’s really a lot of spots that made me nervous most of the day [Tuesday]; I’m getting more used to them now.
“We definitely need to look at some walls and tire-barrier options and things like that. It’s just a unique track.”
The track announced the race would be 500 kilometers, approximately 130 laps, but NASCAR was quick to put the kibosh on that idea with the track later saying the length had not been determined. That was probably good news, as it could have been a race that, with cautions, could conceivably last four hours.
The race could challenge suspension pieces and tires because of the age of the asphalt — the frontstretch chicane was just installed over the summer, the road course itself was redone in the past year or so and then the Charlotte oval surface was repaved before the 2006 season.
The drivers expect their equipment to be tested by the harsh transitions. Driving on Turn 4 into the frontstretch chicane takes drivers off the banking, as does going from the backstretch to the apron near Turn 3 as part of a chicane NASCAR will create by using cones.
“Those transitions have been pretty challenging and tricky. … It’s just a unique track,” Truex said. “The elevation changes inside the track and the bumps and the humps — Charlotte is not a smooth track to begin with and then you add in the infield, which has been around for a long time, there’s a lot of swells in it.”
So, where will they pass, or is it just a matter of taking advantage of another driver’s mistake?
“The key is … how you accelerate out of the infield section onto the oval and then down the back straightaway into the chicane,” Busch said “That will be the most utilized spot, and taking advantage of other people’s mistakes will be secondary.
“It will open up once we all are more comfortable how to get through [Turns] 3 and 4 in the infield section. Anytime you have two corners back-to-back in the same direction, you have to swing wide for the second one — so the next car could plug the hole and get underneath somebody.”