The 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs’ opening Round of 16 came to a close with Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. By the end of a chaotic event, Chase Elliott rebounded from stuffing his car in the wall to scoring his third win of 2019, while Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman squeezed his way into the Round of 12 after a tumultuous day of his own.
William Byron led a Hendrick front row sweep with his fifth pole of the season, with team-mate Bowman qualifying next to him and Jimmie Johnson behind in fourth. Entering the race, Byron and Bowman were on the cut-off line for advancement to the Round of 12 in twelfth and thirteenth, respectively; Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Erik Jones also faced elimination.
Bowman, joined by Denny Hamlin and Parker Kligerman had to go to the rear after switching to backup cars following wrecks during the weekend’s practices. Landon Cassill (unapproved adjustments) and Martin Truex Jr. (engine change) were also sent to the back; Truex was riding a two-race win streak after scoring victories in the opening two playoff races. J.J. Yeley joined the five at the rear when he replaced Cody Ware in the #51 Rick Ware Racing car; Ware had been pulled out of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race after experiencing heat exhaustion with no coolbox, forcing Stefan Parsons to fill in and complete the event.
As Byron led the opening lap with Johnson in tow, Bowman spun while racing Darrell Wallace Jr. in the redesigned backstretch chicane, though no caution came out. Bowman, who was on the cut-off bubble, had to pit to change, and eventually pitted again on lap five to serve a pass-through penalty; Wallace was also penalised. Truex missed the chicane and had to perform a stop-and-go penalty.
Wallace and Truex’s early problems continued when he lost his power steering and missed the chicane again, respectively. On lap nine, Corey LaJoie was penalised for speeding on pit road. At the front, Byron’s lead over Johnson grew, while Kevin Harvick took third from Joey Logano on lap 15. Harvick’s progress continued when he passed Johnson for second four laps later.
With six laps remaining in Stage #1, Ryan Preece spun in the chicane; although he recovered, it was enough to bring out the caution. For Byron, the yellow erased his advantage of 7.5 seconds over Harvick. Preece was required to restart at the tail of the grid after not serving a pass-through for missing the chicane.
The race resumed with three laps to go with Byron and Kyle Larson on the front row. Entering turn one, Johnson, Bowman, and Jones all spun, with Hamlin and Chris Buescher also taking damage. Unable to restart the race before the green-checkered flag, NASCAR ended the stage under caution. As a result, Larson scored the stage win with Byron second. Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Harvick, Elliott, and Daniel Suárez.
With their top-ten stage finishes, Almirola and Bowyer moved ahead of the playoff bubble into eleventh and twelfth, respectively. Newman, who was ninth in points entering the race, fell out at thirteenth with Busch fourteenth and Bowman fifteenth.
Between stages, Jones – who was two laps down – went to the garage, ending his championship hopes. Jones had needed to win in order to reach the next round; he was at the bottom of the playoff standings following his disqualification after the previous race at Richmond Raceway.
Before the second stage, Larson was penalised for pitting outside his pit box, causing him to fall to thirty-fifth and a lap down. A Team Penske front row of Logano and Keselowski paced the grid to the green flag. Harvick quickly claimed second from the latter.
Elliott began his charge two laps into the stage as he took second from Harvick before passing Logano for the lead on lap 31. As Elliott led Harvick, LaJoie spun in turn six on lap 37 but no caution. Meanwhile, Logano completed a pit stop but was forced to return when he hit the turn three tyre barrier.
On lap 42, Bowman and Wallace tangled again when the latter was clipped at the backstretch chicane exit, sending him into a spin. Over the radio, Bowman had voiced his frustration with Wallace who allegedly gave him the middle finger:
After pit stops, the green flag waved on lap 45 with Bowyer leading. Keselowski took the lead a lap later, while Elliott closed in. On lap 48, Elliott cleared Keselowski for first. The following lap, Hamlin spun in the chicane but no yellow was waved.
Behind Elliott and Keselowski were Bowyer, Johnson, Harvick, Michael McDowell (who missed practice on Friday with a kidney stone), Truex, Suárez, Paul Menard, and Byron.
After the stage, Newman re-entered the top twelve with Almirola, wihle Bowyer was bumped out. Bowman and Busch were 21 and 30 points back, respectively.
Elliott and Keselowski led the field to the start of the final stage on lap 55. Blaney hit the wall along the way, causing his trackbar strut to break; his team gained the chance to repair it when Daniel Hemric spun in turn 14 on lap 61, but could not fix it. The race resumed on lap 64 only for another caution to come out after Elliott drove straight into the tyre barrier. Elliott, Busch, and Blaney all pitted, with Blaney’s team successful in fixing the trackbar strut.
Another restart took place on lap 67. Two laps later, Kyle Busch was penalised for going through too many pit boxs on entry. Johnson received a penalty of his own when he missed the chicane.
Harvick took the lead from Truex, which increased to over a second by lap 71. Green-flag stops began on lap 75 with Hamlin and Keselowski pitting first. Harvick and Truex followed suit and surrendered the lead to Elliott before he pitted on lap 79. Hemric inherited first until the pit cycle finished with Harvick once again at the front.
On lap 84, Matt Tifft spun in turn five but did not produce a caution. Five laps later, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s spin in the backstretch chicane did result in a yellow, with some electing to pit. During his stop, Newman’s car stalled, forcing his team to push it until it re-fired.
Hamlin and Newman spun in turn six on lap 93 for the next yellow. Another caution occurred three laps later for Suárez’s spin in the same corner, followed by Busch and Buescher spinning in turn eight on lap 99.
On lap 103, the red flag came out for fluid on the track. Kyle Busch retired from the race shortly after. After track conditions reverted to yellow, the restart took place on lap 104 with Harvick leading.
Elliott took the lead on lap 105, while Bowman attempted his climb through the top five. With four laps to go, Bowman was second behind his HMS team-mate but still trailed Newman by one point. When Almirola passed Newman for fifteenth, Bowman and Newman tied for twelfth, but the latter’s playoff hopes disappeared when he was penalised for missing a chicane.
During the final lap, Suárez wrecked on the frontstretch though no caution was called. Elliott drove off to take his third win of the year and another road course victory.
Bowman edged out Newman by one point to take the final spot in the Round of 12. Besides Newman, Almirola, Ku. Busch, and Jones were eliminated.