Charlotte Roval storylines: Twists of fate

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Call it “Roval-ution Number 9.”

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has been stout at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval since it debuted in 2018. After finishing sixth in the Roval’s inaugural Cup race, he’s won the last two in 2019 and 2020.

Those two victories have come in style, too.

In 2019, Elliott was leading with 45 laps to go when he went into Turn 1 too hard and went into the tire barrier. He emerged 37th after the incident but came back and won.

Last year, an additional green flag pit stop for a loose wheel knocked him back to 36th. But he quickly made up the lost ground, reclaimed the lead with 18 laps to go, and went on to victory (see the highlights at the top).

As the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs return to the Roval for Sunday’s Round of 12 eliminator (2 p.m. ET, NBC), Elliott is among those looking to advance.

He sits seventh in the Round of 12 standings. Both he and Kyle Busch hold identical nine-point cushions above the cutline (Elliott has the better Round of 12 race finish, giving him seventh).

But with a slim margin for error, the Roval may be the best place Elliott could’ve asked for in an elimination race.

In his last 10 Cup road course races dating back to Watkins Glen 2019, Elliott has had just one finish worse than fourth. That was a 21st-place finish in February at the Daytona road course. In that race, he was going for a fifth consecutive road course win but was spun with five laps to go.

Since then on road courses, he’s earned victories at Circuit of the Americas and Road America, runner-up results at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, and a fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A nine-point buffer can go away quickly on the treacherous Roval. But if Elliott can avoid trouble, he’ll likely be in contention to win – and to move on in the postseason.

Say a prayer, mash the gas

Christopher Bell, William Byron and Alex Bowman are the last three drivers in the Round of 12 standings entering Sunday’s Cup elimination race. And they’re not in great shape.

Bell sits 28 points behind the cutline. Then comes Byron at 44 points behind. Finally, Bowman sits at 52 points behind. All three likely need a win Sunday to advance.

A disastrous Round of 12 opener in Las Vegas (no stage points, finished 24th) put Bell in the hole he’s in. While finishing fifth Monday at Talladega, he only scored six stage points. With other drivers around the cutline having good days, that wasn’t enough to help him.

For Hendrick Motorsports drivers Byron and Bowman, a backfired strategy play and tire failures at Las Vegas put them both behind the cutline but still at reasonable deficits. After crashing at Talladega, those deficits aren’t so reasonable anymore and leave only one option.

The 2021 postseason has been particularly rough for them. Bowman’s average finish for the five playoff races is 20.6. Byron’s average finish in that same span is 22nd. Each has a single top-five finish. Each got it when they needed it: The Round of 16 elimination race at Bristol.

As noted in our Round of 12 outlook, Bell and Bowman would seem to have a better chance than Byron of pulling off a win at the Roval.

Bell clinched a playoff berth with a win at the Daytona road course in February. Bowman has been solid at the Roval, but his best road course finish this season is eighth at Circuit of the Americas in May.

Think they’re impressed?

Bubba Wallace’s rain-shortened win at Talladega on Monday made him only the second Black driver to win in the NASCAR Cup Series. He was able to share the celebration with the family of the first Black winner of a Cup race, Wendell Scott.

Along with Scott’s family, 23XI Racing co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin were also happy, of course. But there’s another group that’s feeling jazzed.

Wallace took the win Monday in the No. 23 McDonalds Toyota. The fast-food giant has since re-titled its Twitter page to “Bubba Wallace stan account.”

The page’s header also includes a Bubba-styled riff on McDonalds’ classic ‘I’m lovin’ it’ jingle.

Wallace’s victory was the first for a McDonalds-sponsored car since Jimmy Spencer won at Talladega in July 1994. So, it’s all understandable on their end.

But now for Wallace and 23XI, the focus turns to closing out the season with solid performance ahead of the arrival of Kurt Busch and expansion to a two-car program.

First up: The Roval. In his three previous starts there for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace’s best result was 21st last season.

In six road course races this season, Wallace has turned in two top-15 results at Sonoma (14th) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (13th).

The spotlight may be shining on Wallace, but he’s still building his skills as a driver – just as 23XI is still building as a team. Another top-15 showing on Sunday would be a fine result.

Eye on the sky

Last year’s Xfinity playoff elimination race at the Roval was marred by heavy rain. It led to perilous track conditions that caused numerous spins during the race, including Chase Briscoe‘s spin on the overtime restart that handed the win to AJ Allmendinger.

As the series returns to the Roval for another playoff elimination race this Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC), rain could be a factor again. Weather Underground’s forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain, with morning and midday showers transitioning to scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Regardless, reigning series champion Austin Cindric has already advanced to the Round of 8 on points. That leaves the 11 remaining playoff drivers to fight for seven spots.

One of them is Allmendinger, who comes off a wreck last week at Talladega that chopped his cushion above the cutline to 33 points. But that’s still good for fourth in the Round of 12 standings behind Cindric, Justin Allgaier (+55 to the cutline) and Hemric (+41).

Allmendinger has won the last two Roval races, and both he and Cindric figure to be favorites Saturday. Through six road course races in 2021, they’ve each gone to Victory Lane (Cindric at Indianapolis, Allmendinger at Mid-Ohio) and posted five top-10 finishes. In Allmendinger’s case, those finishes include none worse than fourth place.

Entering the Roval, fifth through eighth in the Round of 12 standings are occupied by Justin Haley (+24), Brandon Jones (+21), Noah Gragson (+18) and Harrison Burton (+8).

Haley is the lone Xfinity driver to record top-10 finishes in all six road course races this season. His best finish on those tracks is a second at Mid-Ohio.

Harrison Burton’s cousin, Jeb Burton, is the first driver below the cutline. Those behind him – Myatt Snider (-24 to the cutline), Riley Herbst (-32) and Jeremy Clements (-48) – are effectively in must-win mode.

Read More About NASCAR

Early odds list Chase Elliott as PointsBet favorite for Charlotte Roval Charlotte Roval Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Cindric on pole Charlotte Roval Cup starting lineup: Denny Hamlin on pole

Charlotte Roval storylines: Twists of fate originally appeared on NBCSports.com