CONCORD, N.C. – What will be the impact of next year’s Playoff race on the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
“I’m going to put this right there with Talladega,” Martin Truex Jr. said Wednesday during a break in testing at CMS. “I’m going to be hoping I win one of the first two (races) of that round.”
Talladega, of course, is madness and mayhem. The Bank of America 500, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 at CMS, will be the cut-off race in the opening round for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
It will be the first time teams have competed on a road course in the Playoffs since the 10-race, championship-determining format debuted in 2004.
And Charlotte’s 2.42-mile, 18-turn layout isn’t just any road course.
“It’s a whole different type of layout,” fellow competitor Kurt Busch said.
Goodyear officials conducted a tire test at CMS on Tuesday and Wednesday to determine what type of tire would be required for next year’s race.
Four teams took part – in addition to Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota team and Busch, who was subbing for Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet) and Daniel Hemric (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet) were also on hand.
If anything was learned, it was that there is still much to be understood about the CMS layout.
Truex said he spoke with Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., on Tuesday, offering ideas and feedback for what he said was “not our typical road course.”
MENCS teams compete on two true road courses during the series’ 26-race ‘regular season’ – at Sonoma, California, and Watkins Glen, New York.
The Sonoma track is the shorter and slower of the two, with the layout used by NASCAR measuring 1.99 miles and featuring 12 turns.
The layout of the Charlotte road course will incorporate all but two short slices along the frontstretch of the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Nine turns wind through half of the infield just past the start/finish line toward Turns 1 and 2. Then it’s back on the oval surface and down the backstretch before slowing for a chicane just before reaching Turn 3. Another chicane is located beyond Turn 4 just before the start of the dogleg on the frontstretch.
“The chicane on the back straightaway, you go from the race track banking to the flat in the middle of it so it’s a huge challenge there,” Truex said. “Then coming off Turn 4, you’re 18 degrees and you transition down to about 8 degrees and then all of a sudden you hit the flat again in that chicane. Those transitions have been pretty challenging and tricky.”
Speeds have increased during the test – topping out at 175 mph with a low of 40 mph or so – and one of the first things learned was that the initial tire choice, which was the same compound used at Watkins Glen, was too hard, according to Truex.
“It’s very narrow; it’s very rough; there are a lot of swells and whoop-de-dos, all kinds of craziness going on,” Truex said of the layout. “Turn 1, Turn 2 (are) pretty wild. Narrow. Concrete walls on both sides. It’s a little intimidating. Really a lot of spots that made me nervous most of the day yesterday, getting more used to them now. Definitely need to look at some walls and tire barrier options, things like that.”
Busch said the speeds through the infield portion were “much slower than anticipated” and he hopes some consideration would be given to altering a portion of the layout to help increase speeds.
“Maybe there’s a chance … to reconfigure a little bit of the track to go straight from Turn 7, skip 8 and go to 9,” he said. “That way we will have one less slow section.
“That, I think, would help the flow of the track as well as the exit of the infield section out onto the big oval. It would create more of a speed feel as well as eliminate one of the super slow corners … frankly a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t all that exciting so we need to maybe need to speed up the track a little bit.”
Any changes to the layout would have to be completed before an expected test for all MENCS teams. A Goodyear confirmation test may also be worked into the schedule.
But whatever the final layout and whatever the choice of tire, Busch said in the end, “It’s going to be more about survival and being smart.
“That’s what I’ve seen developing with this type of layout.”