Ryan Blaney won the first ever Bank Of America Roval 400 to seal his place in Round 2 of the NASCAR Playoffs. That doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
A normal race report doesn’t feel like the right way to talk about this race.
Instead let’s discuss just how this race may have a huge long-term impact on the sport’s future. It might even be the thing that saves it.
So much goodness right here.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 30, 2018
When NASCAR announced that the Charlotte Motor Speedway would be converted into a road course for the playoff race in May 2017, the hype began to build.
Never had we ever seen a road course in the post-season before. Never had the Cup Series in the modern era even raced on a track like this before.
Everyone in the garage knew that it would be a wildcard like Talladega. No one would be safe of advancing, even if you had a comfortable points buffer heading into the elimination race.
No one expected it to be quite like this though.
People are excited about the ROVAL. pic.twitter.com/iAG6xDdDzP
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) September 29, 2018
Fans who hadn’t watched NASCAR in years tuned in in the expectation of chaos and drama, and for the first half of the race, there actually wasn’t too much of that.
Kyle Larson had the dominant car of the day, winning Stage 1 to pick up what would turn out to be crucial stage points, whilst Ryan Blaney used pit strategy to pick up the points in Stage 2.
What followed in Stage 3 however is difficult to put into words.
It’s been, truth be told, a pretty awful week for NASCAR.
First came the news that the second race of the Playoffs at Richmond, the races which are supposed to attract higher ratings, set a new record low for TV viewership in the 21st century in America.
Considering it was a Saturday night short track race, this was perhaps the biggest sign yet that the sport is haemorrhaging fans at an alarming rate. With NASCAR already having one of the oldest fanbases in the US, critics were entitled to predict even more sponsors dropping out of the series over the next few years.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a rules package which has divided opinion ever since it was first discussed was then all but confirmed for 2019.
A majority of NASCAR Cup teams voted in recent days to endorse '19 rules related to the so-called All-Star Package that @NASCAR has proposed, per people familiar.
— Exact number of races it will be used for was unclear, but it's said to be most events at 1.5- to 2-mile tracks. pic.twitter.com/UDK7mj3T9A
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) September 26, 2018
It will be officially announced next week, but the expectation is that the package will be similar to that run in the All-Star race, but without the restrictor plate. This means a seismic shift away from the low downforce approach the sport has followed in recent years, something which some drivers, including Brad Keselowski, Larson and Kevin Harvick have publicly criticised.
Finally, a popular NASCAR Truck Series driver made the news for all the wrong reasons. Jordan Anderson, currently 16th in the standings, was issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for possession of a stolen race truck.
Whilst the finer details of the case are unclear as of right now, it was a headline that simply compounded a difficult week in NASCAR.
This makes today’s race, perhaps the most chaotic in recent memory, so important.
For years fans have been crying out for a more diverse schedule, in particular wanting more short tracks and more road courses.
Stands, whilst not full, were noticeably more filled for the race, and the screams fans yelled as the leaders when straight on into the wall at the penultimate restart showed just how excited they were.
A big pileup in Turn 1 at the @CLTMotorSpdwy ROVAL late in the race!
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 30, 2018
Incoming NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke this week about how everything is at play in regards to the schedule for 2021 and beyond.
The fact that the road courses and the short tracks have provided the most excitement this season, with today and the Bristol night race going down as absolute classics, was the best advert possible for these changes to come into effect moving forward.
Road America, Iowa and the Circuit of the Americas are just three tracks which spring to mind that could be Cup Series races of the future.
We may just look back on the 2018 Bank of America Roval 400 as the trigger for these changes that bring the sport back to life heading into a new era.
For what it’s worth, here are the Playoff standings after Round 1. Jimmie Johnson made a desperate move on Martin Truex Jr. at the last chicane for the win, taking both drivers out and gifting Blaney the win.
Behind them Almirola made several late-race passes to sneak his way through, whilst Larson, who was involved in that earlier Turn 1 wreck, bounced his car off the walls to the finish, passing Jeffrey Earnhardt at the line to advance to Round 2.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 30, 2018
Next Sunday, the action moves to Dover as the Round of 12 gets underway. If it’s even half as dramatic as today’s race then we are in for a treat.