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Speedway's 'Roval' Exciting For Fans, A Challenge For Drivers

NASCAR's top-level playoffs return to Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday, where drivers will battle it out on the 2¼ mile Roval, which includes parts of the regular oval, plus a twisting-turning infield course. It's one way the speedway has tried to boost excitement among fans in a sport where the audience is waning.

Most of NASCAR's races are on traditional ovals, a mile or two around. A year ago, Charlotte Motor Speedway changed things up by running its fall cup race on the infield Roval. It was decided by a last lap wreck.  After Jimmy Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. spun out, Ryan Blaney swept in for the victory. 

Scott Cooper
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Scott Cooper

The speedway has made one major change this year in the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course. They've sharpened the inward S-curve on the backstretch, called a chicane. That will force drivers to slow way down, and give fans something more to watch,  said spokesman Scott Cooper.

"For road courses braking means passing, so that's why we did it, was to create another hot spot," he said.  

The hybrid of sharp turns and fast straightaways on the track's regular oval are a challenge for drivers, said Brad Keselowski, who drives the Number 2 car for Team Penske of Mooresville.

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski

"It's got such slow, tight sections on the infield that are very treacherous, very narrow, easy to get in trouble, easy to wreck, hard to pass in. And then it's got the big, wide open spaces where you pull back up on the race track very very fast," Keselowski said. "So it's super hard to compare it to any other track." 

Charlotte Motor Speedway has made lots of changes in recent years to lure fans. It installed a massive video scoreboard above the backstretch. And its Turn 4 "sun deck" will have a ferris wheel offering free rides during the race.  They'll also have live music before Sunday's race, including country singer and Charlotte native Chris Lane. 

All this week, fans are being offered a chance to take rides on the Roval.  On Friday, the speedway is hosting a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) expo at the nearby zMAX Dragway, with 50 exhibits of racing technology.  

One more element of excitement: Sunday is a NASCAR Cup elimination race for the 16 playoff drivers in the 40-car field. Four will be knocked out of contention at the finish. 

The weekend's racing begins Saturday, with NASCAR's second-level national series race at 3:30 p.m. Sunday's cup playoff race starts at 2:30 p.m.