Why the Charlotte Roval Is the Perfect Setting for a Playoff Bubble Battle That Includes a Few New Kinks
Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are clinging to life as they’re tied just below the cut line to advance into the third round of the NASCAR Playoffs as the Cup Series heads to the Charlotte Roval, perhaps the best track the schedule could offer for this type of head-to-head matchup.
Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric have both had prior success at the Roval and road courses in general
Briscoe won the first-ever NASCAR race on the road-course layout at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He scored his first career Xfinity Series win as a 23-year-old in the 2018 inaugural Roval event. Cindric, meanwhile, scored five of his 13 career Xfinity Series wins from 2019-21 at road-course venues.
Briscoe and Cindric have also been factors at nearly all of the five road courses the Cup Series has visited in 2022.
Briscoe has led laps in four of the five road-course events and has won a stage in each of the last three. Cindric has finished inside the top 10 in four of those five races, with his only outlier a 13th-place result in August at Watkins Glen International.
As a Cup Series driver, Briscoe finished 22nd in his first attempt at the Roval during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2021, but he posted an average finish of 9.3 in his three Xfinity Series starts at the track.
Cindric, who will be the 2022 Rookie of the Year, will make his first Cup Series start at the Roval. He excelled at the track in the Xfinity Series, however, with a top-10 finish in all four of his starts, including three finishes inside the top three.
Other drivers could also factor into the fight for the final playoff spot, but a few things have changed
Of course, following Talladega, plenty of other factors were at play to prevent a duel between Briscoe and Cindric for the final spot in the Round of 8. William Byron, Christopher Bell, and Alex Bowman were all in a position to leapfrog both Briscoe and Cindric if they won in Charlotte. Byron was also only 11 points behind the cutline, so he could have scored enough stage points and finished high enough to advance on points himself.
Bell is 45 points behind the cutline, and Bowman is 54 markers behind, so their path to the Round of 8 was probably only via a victory, which is still the case for Bell.
Byron is back on the right side of things now in seventh position as he gained back 25 points Thursday in an appeals hearing for a penalty he sustained after the Round of 12 opener at Texas Motor Speedway. Bowman missed Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway because of a head injury he suffered in the Texas race and now won’t even enter the Roval race, eliminating him from contention.
Other drivers in front of Briscoe and Cindric also could have problems that drop them below the elimination cutline. The first four races of the playoffs were full of trouble that plagued multiple playoff drivers in each race, and the Roval has had plenty of wild-card moments in its short four-year history.
Daniel Suarez is the first driver ahead of the Briscoe-Cindric duo. He sits 12 points above the cutline in eighth and has had substantial success on road courses this season.
He won his first career Cup Series race on June 12 at Sonoma Raceway. He also won the first stage of the March 27 race at the Circuit of the Americas and scored two of his five other top-fives this season on road courses.
Playoff drivers have routinely faced trouble through the first half of the postseason
The top six in the playoffs standings have all had previous success on road courses, as well, so the chances of them having a problem are somewhat unlikely, except this has been a postseason full of unexpected trouble for championship-eligible drivers.
At least three playoff drivers finished outside of the top 20 in the first four playoff races before Talladega surprisingly restored order, with Joey Logano as the only playoff driver to finish outside of the top 20.
Either way, Briscoe and Cindric will enter a make-or-break race in what is the first playoff experience for both drivers. But they luckily get to face that challenge at one of their better tracks.
Each driver could be a factor to win Sunday’s race, much less just make the Round of 8 on points. That could make for a thrilling finish to a Round of 12 that has been anything but predictable.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference