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ROVAL Makes Round a Knockout
The 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series Playoff has a whole new look and I believe round could be a real knockout.
Instead of Chicago, New Hampshire, and Dover kicking off the season-ending 10-race championship run, that honor now belongs to Las Vegas, Richmond and the first race on the new "Roval" at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The three tracks could not be more different and will surely test all the title contenders.
Moving the opener from Chicago was a step in the right direction. If NASCAR stuck with that we'd continue to get the Playoff started in a ho-hum fashion because at this time of year it will always be overshadowed in Chicago by the Cubs and the Bears, not to mention college football. NASCAR was just a small blip on their radar screens in the fall and I don't think anything was going to improve the situation.
Las Vegas, on the other hand, is turning into an American sports mecca. Everything they do here feels big and it's that kind of atmosphere NASCAR needs to get this post-season party started. Just about anywhere you walk down on the strip you run into folks wearing their favorite driver's t-shirt and there is a definite "buzz", which wouldn't have been felt or heard if we were in Chicago.
Like many others, I've thought for the longest time we should have another short track in the Playoff, which is why moving Richmond into the opening round was a strong move. Putting a little more beating and banging into the equation is a winner, especially with 16 guys trying to bank enough points to have some breathing space before they face the mother of all road races.
Yes, what makes this the craziest round NASCAR has ever had in the Playoff is the "Roval" at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a road course unlike any other in the world. No driver wants to head into that race needing a win to advance to round two. It's going to be insanely unpredictable and with the majority of title contenders worrying more about just surviving, let alone finishing well.
"There will be a lot of anxiety, a lot of unknowns and a lot of interesting, unique things are going to come out of the road race with it as a cutoff race," explained Kurt Busch. "It's a very important race to have a smooth day. And right now based off of testing, nobody's had a smooth day getting around that track. So, it puts emphasis on Vegas and it puts emphasis on Richmond and right now I think everybody's looking at Richmond like, 'Man I want to win that one, that way I don't have the stress of the Roval."
"It puts a little more pressure on the first round for sure," Kyle Larson said. "I would like to have a good start at Vegas and Richmond. That would take a little bit of pressure off of the ROVAL and not knowing what to expect there. It's definitely going to be an interesting race, so we will see how it goes."
For years fans have clamored for the Playoff to add a road race to make the championship more representative of the regular season and the drivers never really argued against it. Maybe it was because they never thought it would happen and they surely didn't anticipate CMS President Marcus Smith to be bold enough to come up with the Roval concept.
It will make round one chaotic and is almost guaranteed to have drivers fuming at each other when it's over. It almost guarantees a driver no one thought could get knocked out will see his title hopes vanish like a wisp of smoke.
NASCAR's top guns are on edge and will be fans on the edge of their seats.