Road courses are driversâ tracks where the ability to navigate the course is paramount. There are not just two, three, or four sets of corner to traverse, but 17 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Counting the exits of the chicanes and the oval turns might be padding that number a bit, but even if they each counted as one complex of corners, there are still more than a dozen spots that have to be navigated perfectly.
Does the driver make a difference? Absolutely. Can they use their skill to replicate results from one track to another? You judge: so far in 2019 seven racers have swept the top 10 in the first two road course races. They are (in order of their average finish on this track type): Martin Truex Jr. (1.5), Denny Hamlin (4), Ryan Blaney (4), Matt DiBenedetto (5), Erik Jones (6), Kevin Harvick (6.5), and Kyle Larson (9).
Kyle Busch narrowly missed sweeping the top 10 with an 11th at the Glen after finishing second at Sonoma. Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and Aric Almirola swept the top 15. In most cases, the drivers listed above finished with two or three spots from one road race to the other.
Segment points are an important part of the NASCAR.com scoring system since they contribute to the overall race total, but the strategies employed by teams have been evolving over time. Some teams give up stage points in order to have track position at the beginning of the next segment. Given the modest lap counts on road races, it is particularly important to enter the final stage near the front of the pack. However, winning both stages counts as much as half the race finish total (20 compared to 40 points).
For that reason, stage points need to be taken with a grain of salt, but over the past three seasons, here are the active drivers who have scored the most segment points on NASCARâs three road courses: Truex (72 points / 2 stage wins), Chase Elliott (70/3), Hamlin (70/2), Jimmie Johnson (56/1), Brad Keselowski (55), Larson (52/1), Blaney (39/1), Joey Logano (37), Ky Busch (34/1), William Byron (32/1)
Playoff: Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has a good opportunity to sweep Victory Lane in the Round of 16. He was leading this race last year when Jimmie Johnson barreled into the final chicane and took both drivers out of contention. That would have been his fourth win and sixth top-two finish in the last six road course races. There are no guarantees this will make Truex a favorite to win the championship, however; last year Keselowski ended the regular season and started the playoffs with three straight wins. He did not advance out of the Round of 12.
Playoff: Ryan Blaney
Blaney was in the right place at the right time when Johnson and Truex collided last year. His victory was important and helped him advance in the playoffs, but it is not the only reason he is highlighted this week. That win gave him the confidence needed to sweep the top five so far in 2019 with a third at Sonoma and a fifth at the Glen. He also has a sweep of the top-10 on road courses in 2017. Blaney doesnât need to win to be a good value, but he needs to maximize points to get to the Round of 12.
Non-Playoff: Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto has been at his best on courses on which the balance of horsepower and driver skill shifts to the man inside of the cockpit. Before 2019 he was a solid choice on road courses with a 17th at Sonoma and a 13th on the Roval last year. With better equipment this year he has swept the top 10 so far with a fourth at Sonoma and sixth at the Glen. He is one of the seven drivers who have swept the top 10 on road courses so far, which is an indication of consistency both for him and the track type.
Non-Playoff: Chris Buescher
Consistency is critical on road courses. Buescher lacks any top-10s in 10 starts on this course type, but heâs come close on a few occasions with an 11th at the Glen in 2017, a 12th at Sonoma the following year, and a 13th at the Glen this summer. He got off to a slow start on road courses with three 30-something finishes, but he has swept the top 20 in the last seven with an average finish of 15.4.
Playoff: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is one of the seven drivers with a sweep of the top 10 this year; in fact, he has a perfect record of top-fives with a fifth at Sonoma and third at the Glen. What keeps him from being a favorite this week is the fact that his best finish on this course type last year was a 10th. What makes him a great selection for the garage is his sweep of the top five in the two previous seasons.
Non-Playoff: Jimmie Johnson
Johnson made a big mistake at the end of last yearâs BoA Roval 400k that cost him a chance to advance in the playoffs. He wanted the win more than the distinction of being part of the Round of 12 â and that desire is even stronger in 2019 than it was in 2018. It is notable that Johnson was in position to make the banzai move in the final corner because he is a good road racer. Itâs equally important to consider that if Johnson is in second-place on the last lap this year, whoever the leader is will probably overdrive the final chicane to make sure the No. 48 canât get to the back bumper.
Logano has not been particularly strong on road courses recently. He may still get a lot of coverage based on five consecutive top-six finishes from 2014 through 2016 that was highlighted by a win at the Glen, but since then he has scored only one top-10 and another top-15 in the last seven races on twisty tracks with an average finish of 21.1. So far this year, he finished 23rd in both road course races. The only bit of good news is that he finished 10th in last yearâs edition of this race and should be able to minimize his pointsâ loss to advance to the next round.
Stage Wins This Year
Kyle Busch (11), Joey Logano (9), Kevin Harvick (5), Martin Truex Jr. (5), Chase Elliott (4), Brad Keselowski (4), Kyle Larson (4), Denny Hamlin (3), Kurt Busch (3), Ryan Blaney (2), Austin Dillon (2), Ty Dillon (2), William Byron (1), Aric Almirola (1), and Jimmie Johnson (1).