It’s not too late to replace the Bank of America ROVAL 400 with the Bank of America 500.
Sure, the NASCAR Cup Series schedule already came out last week and featured the surprising continuation of the status quo with the October Charlotte Motor Speedway date but there is still time to change course.
A two-year sample size with the current configuration of the NextGen on short track and road courses has produced one concrete conclusion — either the car needs to fundamentally change next year or the schedule should until this can be sorted out.
And given that the initial contract between NASCAR and the single source suppliers runs through 2024, there is little reason to anticipate major changes to the car until 2025 at the soonest and that still requires collaboration between the sanctioning body and teams.
So, in the short term, there is no reason for the type of racing fans were subject to at the ROVAL for the past two years to return next season when everyone agrees that this car delivers a really compelling product on intermediates.
At the same time, the rebuttal is understandable that the ROVAL is a unique experience on the schedule and a second race on the oval in a way devalues the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend but this doesn’t have to be the long-term direction.
It’s already understood in the industry that the 2024 schedule was more placeholder and temporary rather than one reflective of the long-term goals pertaining to venues like Montreal, Nashville Fairgrounds and a reconfigured Fontana.
Outside of a race at Iowa Speedway that wasn’t even intended to make the schedule, the 2024 schedule is throwback in nature between two concrete Bristol tracks and a return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
NASCAR returning to the Charlotte oval for two races next year fits with that general philosophy but also is the better show for fans in person and on television.
And by the way, that’s not a fundamental slight on the ROVAL itself, which was a welcome addition to the schedule in 2018 when Cup cars underperformed on intermediate tracks but excelled on short tracks and road courses.
The Xfinity Series cars still deliver an impressive showing each October on the ROVAL. It’s not the track, which despite the confines of the preexisting oval is actually a really impressive, technically challenging road course that even passes the approval test of legitimate road racers.
Again, this doesn’t have to be a long-term hiatus, but just one that exists until a solution can be found for the NextGen on short tracks and road courses.
The race on Sunday was ultimately decided by the timing of a caution right before the end of the second stage and how that jumbled the running order. Even Tyler Reddick, who had the best car, couldn’t complete passes on equal tires and only made progress when he had a tire advantage.
That doesn’t take anything away from AJ Allmendinger who won the race, taking the lead from a must-win Kyle Busch, but the racing throughout the field was not reflective of the highest level of the sport. In fact, with passing being so near impossible, that is why divebomb moves became the order du jour.
With Watkins Glen moving from August to September and in the first round of the playoffs, it actually then becomes easier to take the ROVAL out of the championship deciding gauntlet while also putting the best foot forward for the industry in terms of race quality when it matters the most.
The NASCAR Cup Series format
There are two ways to make to the NASCAR Cup Series championship race under the current format — executing over the final 10 races or have enough playoff points in the bank to weather any figurative storm.
Enter Martin Truex Jr.
It’s funny that the narrative a month ago was that the format was so unfair because it could have prematurely eliminated Truex, the regular season champion, for a bad first round in which a series of misfortunes struck him at Darlington, Kansas and Bristol.
He survived but then immediately suffered another series of bad results at Texas, Talladega and the ROVAL. Playing with figurative fire, he once again survived and the format resets everyone back to their base playoff total plus all bonus points earned throughout the season.
That left Truex as the number-two seed behind William Byron. He hasn’t finished a race better than 15th since the playoffs began and he enters the final three-race round with the second-best odds of making it to the final four.
Now, it’s unfair for Truex to even still be eligible, which shows just how badly some miss the point of this format.
It remains the best compromise possible between rewarding season long excellence with the small sample size intensity of a playoff format. What Truex has relied on throughout the first six races is the equivalent of a home field advantage in that he has been rewarded for his three-victories and stage wins.
On the other hand, there is no way three finishes outside of the top-15 will get Truex through to the championship race so it’s time for them to rekindle the performance that got them to this point but it applies to everyone, really.
Crunch time in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
Anything can happen as Truex can attest but William Byron is as close to a lock as anyone in the final eight can be to making the championship race.
Byron has a 20-point lead, won at Vegas earlier this season, has a win at Homestead and a Martinsville win in the NextGen era in 2022. This round sets up nice for him as it does for Kyle Larson, who finished second at Vegas earlier this year, has always excelled at Homestead and won Martinsville in the spring.
Truex has a 15-point lead over the cutline while Denny Hamlin has 11. Larson is three up by the way.
Below the cutline, it’s hard to bet against Buescher given how well he has performed all year, but especially the past three months. Christopher Bell was undeniable on his way to the final four last year and won Martinsville last fall. Tyler Reddick is silently contending;
Even lowest ranked Ryan Blaney, at 10 under, feels like he is peaking at the right time just like teammate Joey Logano did last year. It’s hard to make arguments against any of the final eight, making the next three races extremely compelling.
The final three races are all non-wildcard races too in two intermediates and a short track so there won’t be any superspeedway or road course shenanigans either. It’s just three races for the four best teams to prove themselves on the way to racing for a championship.
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.