By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – The prospect of a new track possibly joining the NASCAR schedule always gets the masses talking and this weekend is no different with the focus shifting to the Circuit of the Americas and its viability of hosting a stock car race.
After three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart joined his Haas F1 counterparts on Thursday to make some demonstration laps around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, the speculation has shifted into high gear about the possibility of NASCAR running at the track sometime in the future.
Running a two-seater car with Haas F1 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, the laps were the first for a NASCAR stock car at the track, which has hosted Formula 1, IndyCar, sports cars, and other series during its eight-year existence.
Stewart noted that the attention from not only Magnussen and Grosjean, but the rest of the F1 paddock was one of his biggest takeaways from the day.
“It was pretty cool because anytime you can take a race car to a venue with a series that’s never seen anything like that, it draws a lot of attention,” Stewart said. “The track, I thought, was a lot of fun to drive, but to watch Kevin and Romain get in there and make their laps, the smile on their faces was the best part of it.
“The first time we went down through there, all the teams ran out from the garages and were lined up on the frontstretch wall there. That was pretty cool…They hear that thing coming down the straightaway and for those guys to run across like that, you’re watching guys running across pit road to watch the car go down there.”
Stewart then turned his attention to the suitability of NASCAR running on the track should the sanctioning body elect to add the facility to the schedule sometime down the road. He compared the track to one of the road courses already on the NASCAR circuit, Watkins Glen, but stressed COTA is its own animal.
“The layout of the track, it’s a very technical race track,” he said. “Watkins Glen is the road course where I had the most success at, but it’s pretty straightforward about where the line is, what you need to do, braking, this and that. The thing about Circuit of the Americas is that it is very, very technical and there are a lot of ways you can attack it.
“Turn 1, obviously, that’s probably what is most visible to everybody and what everybody remembers about COTA. You go uphill and it’s big braking and then you turn and you start a four-set sequence of right-left esses. Every turn in that sequence of those eight corners, the radius gets tighter. Each corner gets tighter, tighter tighter, tighter, tighter, and that’s what makes it so technical.
“For a heavy stock car, I mean, you have to be precise with your marks. You do in any kind of race car, but it’s harder if you miss your marks in a heavier car. For a track that the corners keep getting tighter as they go through that sequence, I mean, that’s what was really fun. A lot of blind off-camber, cresting corners.
“I think there’s five and potentially six passing zones on that race track for Cup cars. The area that it would probably be hard on is braking. I mean, there’s three really long straightaways that are really heavy braking zones. Aside from that, there’s plenty of passing opportunities.”
Of course, the opportunity for NASCAR to possibly add COTA to the schedule comes with the big question of where it would fall in the season lineup and which track it might replace if it does.
Stewart explained that while the sanctioning body should give COTA a good look, it shouldn’t take a date away from the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval in Fort Worth, which currently hosts two dates on the Cup Series schedule.
“I’ve heard rumors that NASCAR is looking at potentially more road courses,” he said. “I think it would be an injustice if they overlooked at least looking at COTA. Then the question is, obviously, you’ve got COTA here in Texas and you’ve got two races here at Texas Motor Speedway. The worst thing they could ever do is take one of the races from Texas Motor Speedway, in my opinion.
“There are other tracks on the circuit you could take one away and I think everybody would think it would be a reasonable decision. I don’t think taking a race from Texas Motor Speedway would be a wise decision at all.”