Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Texas Grand Prix Represented Both Halves of NASCAR’s Identity

By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor

The EchoPark Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas was billed as something akin to a showcase for just how far NASCAR has come from a global standpoint. And for three hours, it largely delivered on that expectation until it suddenly couldn’t.

And for nearly 45 minutes, spanning three different overtimes, arguably the greatest international motorsports starting lineup ever assembled for a single Cup Series race just could not stop crashing each other.

Involved in one of the overtime crashes, Ryan Preece referred to the field as ‘a bunch of hacks,’ which is remarkable considering the caliber of competition that took the green flag on Sunday. It was a field that included Formula 1 world champions Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen, IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and the weekly elite of NASCAR.

And they collectively drove like ‘a bunch of hacks,’ but only after the end of regulation, turning an old-school classic NASCAR road course race into a complete spectacle. It was a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario showcasing the purest form of stock car racing and its worst stereotypes.

What the Texas Grand Prix devolved into featured a disagreement between Trackhouse teammates Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain.

“I’m getting run into and I’m running into people,” Chastain said. “I got spun a couple of restarts before and he got it later. He’s mad because I was two rows back. I didn’t get mad when I got spun. … I don’t know how he can be upset about the crazy restarts that we’re all out there doing.”

And to his point, it’s more about the culture of overtime NASCAR racing these days and a general lack of respect or race craft, something a couple of Formula 1 legends were indoctrinated to on Sunday.

Button, when invited over to the media bullpen laughed and said, ‘I need to hold this fence,’ referencing the barricade serving as a barrier between the media and competitors.  He might have legitimately still been reeling from whiplash.

Now, let’s talk about respect.

“Well, I respect what they do with the car, their car placement,” Button said. “Some other things? Well, it’s disappointing. It’s a tough one. It’s their way of racing. It looks good on TV, I’m sure. You could be minding your own business and get whacked in the rear corner and they weren’t even trying to overtake you. It’s crazy.”

Button also conceded that the track layout in Austin, Texas encourages this kind of racing with these cars too — overall likening his experience to a baptism by fire.

Then there was Taylor, a three-time IMSA champion across two different categories, who said he has experienced more contact in a single day than in his entire life.

“I have never honestly seen anything like that in my whole life,” Taylor said. “If someone came over to the Sports Car side and did that, they would be ejected immediately. I probably should have expected that from watching races over the years, but when you’re in the car getting smashed around, it’s a much different experience.

“You’re out there battling for 29th, and they don’t care, they’ll use you up for 28th. Just a different form of racing I was used to and probably should have expected.”

When asked how NASCAR should respond to this kind of behavior, he said it wasn’t entirely his place to opine as an outsider but said this lack of respect is a byproduct of both the car and a mentality that has likely evolved over the years.

“It’s just different here,” Taylor said after his debut Cup appearance. “If I knew that on Lap 1, I probably would have started moving some guys out of the way and held my position in the top-five.

“But I don’t know how to not get smashed off the track. I don’t know if they’re aiming for me more than other guys, but, it was definitely a new experience. I don’t know how the car was even standing after that.”

It was an endorsement that would make Bowman Gray Stadium regulars squirm.

Räikkönen is a self-professed NASCAR enthusiast — who has made starts in all three national tours and still wants to come back even after Sunday — took a stereotypically fatalist view of it all.

“It’s just what it is,” Räikkönen said. “Maybe it’s the downforce levels compared to last year, maybe not, but everyone drives really hard.”

But that’s what makes the three overtime finishes so puzzling. It wasn’t what it was for three hours. The first race since 2016 to not feature stoppages for stage breaks, the Texas Grand Prix played out like a 1990s or early 2000s Cup Series road course race.

There were various strategies being played out, resulting in a constant reshuffling of the deck, and really clean racing throughout the field. Up front, Tyler Reddick and William Byron were delivering a masterclass of race craft and respect.

Twice over, Byron chose to restart to the outside of Reddick, wanting to beat him straight up for the win as opposed to taking the green behind him and sailing it into the first corner.

It’s a sentiment that was not shared behind them, and best illustrated by Chastain in effectively saying that he will do it since everyone else was doing it too, the hallmarks of complete pandemonium.

“Are you not entertained,” Chastain said before a pause, and then, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! Listen, this is what we love. I don’t love doing it. But we are entertaining.”  

It’s certainly chaotic.

“Yeah, I don’t know if it’s good chaos or not, right,” says Denny Hamlin. “We had two laps to go two hours ago. It just felt like it just kept going on and on. Again, I don’t know what we do about it.”

Ultimately, despite all its efforts to impress on the world stage and featuring some of the biggest names in global motorsports, both identities of the EchoPark Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas entirely represented NASCAR.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,