Denny Hamlin kicked off the round of 12, or round two, of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his second win of the season. He begins his campaign to bookend the round with victories Sunday with the pole for the Bank of America Roval 400, the elimination race of the round, on the oval/road course hybrid at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“There are a lot of interesting things about the Roval – how narrow the track is, so there’s a lack of passing zones,” Hamlin said. “There’s not really a lot of run-off areas. So there are a lot of challenges with the track itself and why it’s such a wild card. It’s very intricate in that sense. We don’t have as many playoff points as we’ve had in the past, so we’re going to have to be very smart with how we race that track.”
The 12 playoff drivers start in the first 12 positions, or first six rows, of Sunday’s starting grid. Hamlin shares the front row with Brad Keselowski. One of Keselowski’s Team Penske teammates, Joey Logano, lines up third for the start of the Roval race, sharing row two on the grid with Christopher Bell.
Martin Truex Jr. starts fifth Sunday, alongside the third Penske diver, Ryan Blaney, winner of the inaugural Roval race in 2018. Kevin Harvick starts seventh, in row four next to two-time defending race winner and reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
“We’ve had a good road course package, I feel like, for the last few years and, yeah, for whatever reason, we just kind of hit on a good package there at Charlotte,” Elliott said. “They’re all similar. But we tweak things here and there and kind of landed in a really good spot for the last couple of races. Who knows how it’s going to go this weekend? I’m sure everybody is going to be better again. But, looking forward to it.”
Kyle Busch starts ninth, in row five next to season wins leader Kyle Larson in 10th. Larson and Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman start worst among the playoff drivers in the 11thand 12th positions.
“I feel like there is really nothing to lose for us. We’re 44 points out,” Byron said. “We’re not going to make it on points. We’ve got to go win. We know what we have to do to do that. Yeah, the last round I think, would have been really disappointing if we didn’t make it through to the next round. There was a lot kind of on the line for that. And we’d still be really disappointed if we didn’t make it through this round. But it hasn’t been a good round for us as far as luck goes, I guess. We’ve had a flat tire and gotten wrecked and so, it’s not been good. But I think we can make up for all of that on Sunday and we’re very capable of that. So yeah, we just go into it with nothing to lose. We either win or get out of the playoffs.”
BANK OF AMERICA ROVAL 400 STARTING LINEUP