Alex Bowman and Joey Logano are bracing for chaos Sunday, aware their playoff safety hinges in part on the performances of other drivers at the crash-ridden Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL course.
Bowman and Logano will likely advance to the Round of 8 if none of Kyle Busch, Austin Dillion, Clint Bowyer or Aric Almirola win the 109-lap race. But advancement-clinching victory from one of those four rivals, currently situated below the postseason cutoff line, would probably knock one of them out.
Such circumstances are stressful regardless of racing venue. The 2-year-old ROVAL, though, significantly escalates the mental strain. NASCAR drivers have been wary of the road-oval combination course since its 2018 inception. On Sunday, action will go on even if it’s raining, with the exceptions being lightning and enough of a downpour to waterlog the cement. Inclement weather is in the forecast.
Neither Bowman nor Logano have much experience driving through rain — Cup Series officials usually stop cars at the first sight of droplets — so their path to the next stage of the postseason is iffy.
“Being the car that is on the cut line makes you feel not very good,” Logano said in a Friday news conference. “We know with the ROVAL a lot of crazy things can happen. And then you throw in the very high chance of rain coming into it, and what that means, I have no idea. All I know is there’s not runoff at that racetrack, so most of time you’re going to end up colliding with a wall (if something goes wrong).”
The network of drivers NASCAR teams provide comes into play when uncertain scenarios loom.
Bowman, who will be promoted to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car in 2021, has the Hendrick Motorsports collective from which to draw support. He has performed well in two outings at the ROVAL, finishing fourth in 2018 and second last year, but he said he could still use guidance. The stable of seasoned leaders in his garage should provide help.
Bowman consulted Johnson on Monday and has been appreciative of his relationship with crew chief Greg Ives, a member of the Hendrick Motorsports organization since 2004. He hopes the support helps him not only at the ROVAL, but also when he transitions to his new ride next year.
“We’re capable of winning a lot of races and contending for championships, for sure,” Bowman told Sporting News about his team. “Before the COVID shutdown, we were up front each and every week, dominating races. When we came back, we let quite a few races slip away and don’t have the stats to back up how we ran. When we were really on, we were running out front for fun. So we need to get back to that. And we’ve definitely made a step back in that direction here recently.”
Logano, meanwhile, said he’s leaning on Team Penske up-and-comer Austin Cindric for advice about possibly competing in the rain.
Cindric, 22, is usually the one calling up Logano for racing tips. But Logano admitted he’s clueless about what might happen Sunday, and Cindric carries Xfinity Series experience driving through water.
Logano’s interrogation of his teammate included the following questions in rapid-fire form.
Like Bowman, though, Logano accepts an element of surprise is unavoidable this weekend.
“There’s so many questions that we have no answers to,” Logano said. “We just have to expect the unexpected at this point.”
Bowman and Logano have championship aspirations but want to find a balance between the aggression that naturally comes with their ambitions and caution that’s understandable at the ROVAL. A strong run by Kyle Busch, Dillion, Bowyer or Almirola would likely sway the Hendrick and Penske drivers to push harder than they prefer.
Their strategies could prove similar, then, at the outset of Sunday’s race.
“It’s definitely stressful,” Bowman said. “Sometimes when you kind of throw haymakers and try too hard, you end up hurting yourself more than you help yourself. We’ve just got to go have a normal weekend and execute like normal.”
“Being smart this race is going to pay off, but at some point you’re probably going to have to take some risks and make some passes,” Logano said.
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