» CHASE EL­LIOTT WINS AT RO­VAL

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Luke DeCock

CONCORD, N.C. — Chase El­liott got his re­venge on the turn in the end, in­dulging in per­haps the first vic­tory lap in the his­tory of rac­ing that ended in a de­lib­er­ate crash. This time, when El­liott failed to make the sharp left turn that marks the be­gin­ning of Char­lotte’s Ro­val road course and drove straight into the wall, it was en­tirely in­ten­tional, part cel­e­bra­tion, part tip of the hel­met to a su­pe­rior foe.

That turn nearly cost El­liott his en­tire race when he drove too deep into the corner, locked up his brakes while lead­ing the field into the turn af­ter a restart and skid­ded straight into the wall with half the race still to go. With the best car, he man­aged to fight his way back through the field to the lead, but even Sun­day’s win­ner couldn’t fig­ure out how to make it around that corner when the green flag dropped.

“I don’t know you could have done any­thing more stupid lead­ing the race than what I did right there,” El­liott said.

That’s en­tirely by de­sign: Putting a road course, even this hy­brid course that puts all the twists and turns in the in­field while still mak­ing use of Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way’s sweep­ing banked turns, at such a piv­otal point in the sea­son in­serts an el­e­ment of uncer­tainty and chal­lenge that can trip up even the best.

The con­tours and chi­canes of the road course are danger­ous enough, but it’s the restarts that pose the most se­vere test, the field al­lowed to skip the hair­pin bend painted onto the head of the frontstret­ch, tear­ing out of the corner a full 20 miles per hour faster than it would on a nor­mal lap — es­pe­cially on a day when the sav­age heat put a slip­pery sheen on ev­ery­thing.

You’d think, af­ter two years of the Ro­val 400, the best stock-car driv­ers in the world would have fig­ured out that they’re not ac­cel­er­at­ing into a typ­i­cal lap around the oval but into a sharp left so danger­ous it even got its own spon­sor­ship deal: Tums paid to put its name on the “heart­burn turn.”

And just as Brad Ke­selowski wrecked on the lead last year, El­liott went skid­ding into the wall this year, one of two se­ri­ous crashes in that corner among sev­eral spins and near-catas­tro­phes. El­liott raced the rest of the way with a front end that looked like it was sal­vaged from a teen par­al­lel-park­ing acad­emy, some­how work­ing his way through the en­tire field and back to the front.

It’s a strange thing in­deed to see the best at some­thing in their pro­fes­sion strug­gle with what seems so el­e­men­tal, like watch­ing Phil Mick­el­son whack his ball around the green at Shin­necock or Mackey Sasser get the yips throw­ing the ball back to the pitcher. You’d get it if these driv­ers strug­gled with the right turns, but at least this is a left.

But that’s the idea of the Ro­val. Get these guys out of their com­fort zone, turn a su­per­speed­way into some­thing vaguely Euro­pean — shake ev­ery­thing up. And in the mid­dle of the Chase for the Cup no less, with ca­reers hang­ing in the bal­ance as the play­off field was trimmed from 16 driv­ers to 12. Win­ning owner Rick Hen­drick called it the sport’s most “treach­er­ous” track. Mario An­dretti was there Sun­day, hav­ing con­sulted on the con­struc­tion of this course im­posed upon the in­field, and his opin­ion was echoed by many.

“I’ve never been a fan of road cour­ses within an oval, quite hon­estly,” An­dretti said, “but I’m a fan of this one.”

The lay­out pushes ev­ery­one to their limit with hair’s-breadth passes and, more than any­thing, the restarts, let­ting the driv­ers come out of what’s nor­mally Turn 4 and cross the fin­ish line like they were shot out of a can­non, only to have to slow to a crawl im­me­di­ately and nav­i­gate the corner. Not sur­pris­ingly, even af­ter a week of prac­tice, the first restart of the af­ter­noon lasted all of 10 se­conds un­der a green flag when traf­fic backed up go­ing into the corner like a rush­hour fender-ben­der. Wil­liam By­ron, who dom­i­nated the first 24 laps, let Kyle Lar­son whip past to win the first stage.

“I was so scared about the Turn 1 wall, I kind of gave up the stage on the restart alone,” By­ron said.

When it was over, El­liott came back across the fin­ish line the se­cond time, pointed his car straight into the corner and let it cruise straight in again, driv­ing right over the skid marks he left 43 laps ear­lier. He con­ducted the tra­di­tional burnout in that un­usual corner.

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