Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

AUSTIN, Texas – 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 2022 and will be the next milestone test for the Next Gen car to undertake, with the new car having already raced at superspeedways and intermediate tracks over the course of the first five races of the year.

Though the Cup Series raced in Austin last season, this time around at COTA is a completely different animal. In addition to racing under sunny skies instead of the torrential rain that ultimately brought last year’s race to an early end, the cars that will be racing this year are night and day when compared to the machines being piloted last season.

From bigger brakes to wider tires to a sequential shifter to independent rear suspension and so much more, the Next Gen car is more akin to a sports car than a stock car, with the design of the car being geared more toward road course racing.

Give that the new car presents some additional unknowns this weekend and the challenging nature of racing at COTA, a number of Cup Series regulars will be running in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on Saturday to help increase their knowledge base heading into Sunday.

The drivers pulling double duty include AJ Allmendinger (NXS/Cup), Josh Bilicki (NXS/Cup), Alex Bowman (Trucks/Cup), Kyle Busch (Trucks/Cup), Ross Chastain (NXS/Cup), Cole Custer (NXS/Cup), Kaz Grala (Trucks/Cup), and Bubba Wallace (NXS/Cup).

By the Numbers

What: EchoPark Texas Grand Prix, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 14 of 36

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

When: Sunday, March 27

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 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 15 laps; Stage 2: 17 laps; Final Stage: 36 laps

May 2021 Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started eighth, five laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Tyler Reddick (92.363 mph/Two minutes, 12.911 seconds – 05/23/2021)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Circuit of the Americas:

  1. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 124.6
  2. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 122.8
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 121.0
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 114.7
  5. Ross Chastain – No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 110.0
  6. Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford – 107.9
  7. Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 92.8
  8. AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 92.7
  9. Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 87.2
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 82.5

From the Driver’s Seat

“With a road course as diverse as COTA, you really have to bring your a-game,” said Tyler Reddick. “It’s exciting to come back to the place where I won my first pole, you don’t forget that and it’s definitely special. Especially with not having practice and qualifying most weekends last season, it was cool to be one of the guys that went out there and won the pole. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s race and adding another one for our team.

“Last year’s race was rough with the rain and it’s looking like we’re going to have good weather this weekend so that’s a gamechanger. I think with the new car and no rain, you’re going to see different racing. I’m pumped for it; we’ve spent a lot of time working on our road course program and this is our chance to put it all to the test with the Next Gen car. With only having 20 minutes to acclimate to the new Next Gen car on the racetrack, every minute on track will be crucial.

“I feel very good about where we are as a team and how well the performance of our cars have been. This will certainly be a race that will test every aspect of the team and the driver.”

Last Time in Austin

Rain became Public Enemy No. 1 in the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at COTA last season, not only bringing the race to an early end, but also leaving chaos in its wake, with a number of frightening crashes due to the severely limited visibility the inclement weather brought.

Eventually the rain became too much, with NASCAR bringing the cars down pit road and red flagging the race. Chase Elliott found himself in the lead ahead of his Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson at the time and eventually Mother Nature won out, forcing the sanctioning body to call the race 14 laps short of the scheduled finish and handing Elliott yet another road course win.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Elliott said. “I’ve never won a rain race before, so it’s kind of cool. And I’m just super proud of our team for just continuing to fight. We started the day, and we weren’t very good. I just kept pushing myself and we kept making some good changes throughout the day and got to where I thought we were on pace with those guys there at the end. So, I’m really proud of that.

“It’s not the greatest thing ever, for it to rain and to have a rain race win, if it’s your first one; but I think it’s okay if it’s down the road, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m looking forward to next week and trying to keep it rolling.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, March 26

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:00 to 11:00 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:00 am – Two rounds/Multi-car qualifying – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 27

  • EchoPark Texas Grand Prix (3:30 pm – 68 laps, 231 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.