Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Serving as the United States home for Formula 1 since opening in 2012, the Circuit of The Americas plays host to some good ol’ American Muscle this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series comes to town for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.

The 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course sitting just outside of Austin, Texas is the first of six road courses for the Cup Series to visit in 2023 and will give drivers and teams their first look at some new rules for the road courses this season – namely the elimination of cautions at stage breaks.

In years past, the end of a stage would mean a caution to reset the field and a restart shortly thereafter, which all but eliminated the strategy of road course races. This year, that all changes as the stages will still exist, but the race will continue on without a caution, allowing teams to bring varying strategies back to road courses.

Along with the elimination of stage breaks at road courses, the “choose rule” will also make its road course debut this weekend in Austin. The rule, which allows drivers to select their lane of choice on a restart has been in place at other tracks in recent years, but NASCAR added the rule to road courses earlier this month so the rule is in effect circuit-wide.

The new short track/road course aerodynamic package made its debut at Phoenix two weeks ago, but with COTA being the first road course race that it will be implemented on, an additional practice for the Cup Series has been allotted, with teams hitting the track on Friday afternoon ahead of the normal Saturday/Sunday on-track schedule.

A star-studded lineup of road course ringers will be joining the Cup regulars this weekend to battle it out in the Lone Star State.

Among those drivers is seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson making another appearance for Legacy Motor Club and two former Formula 1 world champions in Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button driving for Trackhouse Racing and Rick Ware Racing, respectively.

Jordan Taylor, a standout driver in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, makes his Cup Series debut driving in relief of the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Last, but not least is NTT IndyCar Series regular Conor Daly back behind the wheel for The Money Team.

By the Numbers

What: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 6 of 36

Where: Circuit of The Americas – Austin, Texas (Opened: 2012)

When: Sunday, March 26

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course

Race Length: 68 laps, 231.88 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage 1 and 2: 15 laps each; Final Stage: 38 laps

March 2022 Winner: Ross Chastain – No. 1 Chevrolet (Started 16th, 31 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Ryan Blaney (92.759 mph/Two minutes, 12.343 seconds – 03/26/2022)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Circuit of the Americas:

  1. Ross Chastain – No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 125.8
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 109.3
  3. Alex Bowman – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 99.7
  4. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 97.5
  5. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 97.4
  6. Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 96.1
  7. Tyler Reddick – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 95.8
  8. AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 93.9
  9. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 92.4
  10. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 85.5

From the Driver’s Seat

“I enjoy road course racing and COTA is really fun,” said Kyle Busch. “It’s obviously high prestige with it being a Formula One track when Formula One comes to the United States that those guys get to race on there, so it’s nice to have a shot on a big stage like that.

“Our cars are really big, really heavy and makes for a big challenge getting those vehicles around there fast. There’s a lot of rhythm sections to the esses and down through the back area in the stadium section. It really is tough to kind of get a car that is really good set up for there. Our big, heavy stock cars are a challenge to try and slow them down in the braking zones. We obviously have to brake well earlier than many other divisions that get to race there but it still makes it for a fun road course.”

Last Time in Austin

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Once again, the old adage rang true at the end of a NASCAR Cup Series race as Ross Chastain scored his first career win at NASCAR’s highest level last year at the Circuit of the Americas while AJ Allmendinger was left to wonder what if after getting spun on the last lap of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.

A day before Sunday’s main event, Chastain and Allmendinger went to battle in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, with Allmendinger winning out after Chastain was spun out near the front of the field late in the race.

24 hours later they were at it again.

After leading the most laps on the day, the two drivers found themselves at the front of the field with the checkered flag in sight. With Chastain seeking his first Cup win and Allmendinger looking to sweep the weekend, the gloves were going to come off – and they did.

As the race was pushed to overtime with Tyler Reddick ahead of both Chastain and Allmendinger, it was anyone’s guess on who would come out the other side as the victor.

By the time the field got around to the esses, Chastain had fought his way through a gaggle of cars including Reddick, Allmendinger, and Alex Bowman to take over the lead, which he was able to hold for the remainder of the penultimate lap, taking the white flag with nearly a second lead over Allmendinger.

Chastain would continue to hold the top spot until reaching Turn 15, when Allmendinger was able to get underneath him and won the drag race through the Turn 16, 17, 18 complex. However, the two-man race, turned into a three-man race when Bowman found himself in the mix.

Heading into Turn 19, it all came to a head.

Bowman entered the turn on the outside, with Allmendinger underneath and Chastain directly behind Allmendinger. Contact from Chastain would send Allmendinger spinning off track, ending his shot at the weekend sweep, while Chastain was able to hold off Bowman the rest of the way to cross the line first and score the win.

“It’s insane,” Chastain said. “To go up against some of the best with AJ, I mean, I know he is going to be upset with me, but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one.

“But when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can’t let that go down without a fight.”

“At the end of the day, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror If you are okay with it, you’re okay with it. Each person is different,” Allmendinger said.

“More than anything, proud of Kaulig Racing. Action Industry Chevy was so fast. If we had a long run, nobody was going to touch us.

“Everybody at Kaulig Racing, all the men and women, it’s just a lot of sleepless nights for them right now trying to just get these cars to the next race. So, I was doing everything I could do to try to sweep the weekend for them. We were that close.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 24

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (2:05 pm to 2:55 pm – No TV)

Saturday, March 25

  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:30 am – Two rounds/Multi-car qualifying – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 26

  • EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 pm – 68 laps, 231.88 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.