Circuit of The Americas Sets the Stage for the NASCAR Cup Series

(Florida Sports Wire) – Crank up the lights and focus-in the cameras, because the stage is set for the NASCAR Cup Series to return to one of the country’s premiere tracks, the Circuit of The Americas (COTA), for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

This week the NASCAR Cup Series teams are preparing for the first of six road & street courses on the 2023 schedule – Circuit of The Americas (Mar. 26), Sonoma Raceway (June 11), Chicago Street Course (July 2), Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen International (Aug. 20) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 8).

On 1,500 acres of land just outside of Austin, Texas construction began in 2010 on what is now known as the Circuit of The Americas. The 20-turn, 3.41-mile, multi-elevational counterclockwise circuit takes advantage of the naturally rolling landscape, including a 133-foot hill at Turn 1. The track also has an amphitheater, the largest permanent outdoor amphitheater in Central Texas, and a 251-foot observation tower.

The sprawling Circuit of The Americas road course has hosted two NASCAR Cup Series races (2021, 2022). The inaugural event was held on May 23, 2021, but was shortened from its scheduled 68 laps to 54 due to inclement weather. The race produced 11 lead changes among 10 different leaders, but it was Hendrick Motorsports driver and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott who won the inaugural event under caution.

The series returned to 3.41-mile track in 2022 and this time ran the full scheduled length (68 laps) producing 13 lead changes among nine different leaders. The final lead change of the NASCAR Cup Series March 27, 2022 race took place with two laps to go – Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain passed Tyler Reddick for the lead – and went on to win his first career Cup Series race.

Last season’s race was also the premiere of the Next Gen car on a road course, and it didn’t disappoint. Circuit of The Americas produced a NASCAR Cup Series record for green flag passes for the lead on road course tracks with 30 green flag passes for the lead. The previous record was held by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course with 22 green flag passes for the lead in 2021.

This weekend’s on-track activity for the NASCAR Cup Series begins with practice on Friday, March 24 at 2 p.m. ET followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying on Saturday, March 25 at 12:30 p.m. ET. Both events will be televised on FS1.

Standings leader Joey Logano dominated Atlanta, looks to keep success rolling at COTA

After a prevailing performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, that saw Team Penske’s Joey Logano lead 130 of the 260 laps and pass RFK Racing driver Brad Keselowski to win, has leaped to the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings lead by one point over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell in second place.

Holding the points standings lead for the second-time already this season, Logano’s win has also etched his name on the list of 2023 Playoff drivers to secure their spot; joining Ricky Stenhouse Jr., William Byron and Kyle Busch. He has also earned his spot in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race which will be held at the newly renovated North Wilkesboro Speedway (May 21). Now, the 32-year-old will look to extend his points lead and get his first series career win at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

Logano is already an established road course racer in the series, taking the win at Watkins Glen International in 2015. In his two series starts at Circuit of The Americas he has put up one top-five finish (third) and an average finish of 17.0. Last season at COTA, he started sixth and ran well but was caught in a late race incident that relegated him to a 31st-place finish.

NASCAR road course aces to watch this Sunday

Heading into this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas, the NASCAR Cup Series has 12 former road course winners entered in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and 11 of them are looking for their first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season (all except Kyle Busch and Joey Logano).

Three new drivers were added to the NASCAR Cup Series road course winners list last season; including Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain, who won his first career Cup Series race at Circuit of The Americas, and Daniel Suárez, who earned his first career Cup Series win at Sonoma Raceway, and not to mention, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who earned two road course wins last season driving for Richard Childress Racing at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

“When I look back at our first win, I think of all of the people who helped me get here,” said Chastain. “My family, sponsors, team owners, all of the men and women who have spent time trying to help me put everything together so I could race. It would’ve been so easy for me to give up and go back and work at the farm. Instead, I kept working at it, and kept trying and so many people were there to help me.”

Of the three (Chastain, Suarez and Reddick) the pre-race loop data stats are pointing to Ross Chastain as the one to watch for this weekend at COTA. In his two starts at 3.42-mile course, he has posted one win and two top fives. He leads the series in average finish with a 2.5, average running position with a 6.785, driver rating with a 125.8, fastest laps run (20) and laps in the top 15 (112 laps, 91.1%).

Button, Räikkönen and Taylor join the Cup Series at COTA

With the announcements of Formula One champions Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen and IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car champion Jordan Taylor joining the NASCAR Cup Series to compete in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas on March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the level of road racing competition in the series was officially raised.

Rick Ware Racing and Mobil 1 have worked in conjunction to bring the 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button to NASCAR to compete in three races this season – Circuit of The Americas (March 26), Chicago Street Course (July 2) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Aug. 13). This weekend, Button, native of Frome, England, will attempt to make his series debut piloting the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet with crew chief Billy Plourde on top of the pit box.

“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” Button said. “But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100% in.”

The 43-year-old driver has won 15 races in 306 career Formula One starts. His final start came in 2017, and his last full-time F1 season was in 2016.

Returning to the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend, after making his career debut at Watkins Glen International last season, is the 2007 Formula One world champion Kimi Räikkönen. The driver from Espoo, Finland will be back in the Trackhouse Project No. 91 Chevrolet with crew chief Darian Grubb on the pit box.

This will be Räikkönen’s second stint in the Project 91 car, he helped introduce the program last season at Watkins Glen International. The 43-year-old driver started the race at The Glen in 27th but was caught in an incident exiting the bus stop that relegated him to a 37th-place finish.

“Last year was a great experience,” said Räikkönen. “Unfortunately, the result wasn’t what we were looking for because we got caught up in a wreck, but that’s part of racing. I am excited to have another go and hopefully we will stay out of any big issues. This will be tricky for sure, but the further we go in the weekend the easier it gets. At least I have an idea of how we can approach the weekend. I think we did a good job last year. Is the car going to give us a better result? I don’t know, I hope so.”

Joining Button in making his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas will be IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car champion Jordan Taylor, who has been selected to replace an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on road courses until Elliott is healthy enough to return. Taylor will be working with crew chief Tom Gray this weekend.

Taylor, from Orlando, Florida, has also been tapped as the fourth driver in the NASCAR Garage 56 project that will have an adapted NASCAR Next Gen car compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.

“Jordan is a world-class road racer and has recently been working with our Garage 56 team preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “He’ll be able to step in and do a great job at COTA.”

Jimmie Johnson will check off a ‘bucket-list’ item this weekend at COTA

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and current owner/driver at Legacy Motor Club, Jimmie Johnson, will be returning to the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas – his second start of his 10-race part-time 2023 schedule.

“COTA has been on my racing ‘bucket list’ for a very long time,” said Johnson. “But my timing was off by a year or so. I was hoping it was going to be on the INDYCAR schedule – and it wasn’t – and then they added it to the NASCAR schedule after I left. I’m excited to finally be able to check this one off the list and thankful to Club Wyndham for making it happen. From everything I’ve heard, NASCAR drivers have had a lot of fun racing at COTA, so to say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement.”

Johnson made his return to the series in the season opening DAYTONA 500, where he started 39th and finished 31st.

Throughout Johnson’s NASCAR Cup Series career, he has made 40 starts on road courses posting one win (Sonoma, 2010), nine top fives and 20 top 10s. His most recent NASCAR Cup Series start on a road course was on Oct. 11, 2020 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval; where he started 30th and raced his way up to a 13th-place finish

Top performers in the Next Gen last season on road courses

Last season the NASCAR Cup Series competed on six road courses in the newly introduced NASCAR Next Gen car. Now, the series is about to embark on the first of six different road courses this season, but before they do lets take a look at the top performers on road courses last season in the new car. 

Wins – Five different drivers won on road courses in the Next Gen car last season, led by Tyler Reddick who scored two victories in 2022 at Road America and the Indianapolis Road Course. The other four winners were Ross Chastain (COTA), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma), Kyle Larson (WGI) and Christopher Bell (Charlotte Roval).

Runner-Up Finishes – Six different drivers finished runner-up in the six road course Cup Series races last season: Alex Bowman (COTA), Chris Buescher (Sonoma), Chase Elliott (Road America), Austin Cindric (Indianapolis RC), AJ Allmendinger (WGI) and Kevin Harvick (Charlotte Roval).

Top Fives – A total of 18 different drivers scored top-five finishes in the six road course races run last season, led by Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick with three top fives each.

Top 10s – A total of 26 different drivers posted a top-10 finish in the six road course races run last season, led by Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick with five top 10s each.

Average Finishes – A total of five different drivers had an average finish of 10th or better in the six Cup road course races last season – Chase Elliott (9.0), Chris Buescher (9.0), Austin Cindric (9.3), Tyler Reddick (9.5) and Michael McDowell (10.8). 

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc. 

Honorary Starter Darius Rucker will perform pre-race concert at COTA – Three-time GRAMMY® Award-winner Darius Rucker will perform his chart-topping hits during a one-hour pre-race concert prior to the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix NASCAR Cup Series race this Sunday, March 26 at 12:45 p.m. CT. Rucker has been named the Honorary Starter for the event.

Darius Rucker first achieved multi-Platinum status in the music industry as lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the GRAMMY Award-winning band Hootie & the Blowfish, who have sold more than 25 million albums worldwide including their Diamond-certified debut Cracked Rear View, which remains among the Top 10 best-selling studio albums of all time. Since releasing his first Country album in 2008, Rucker has earned a whole new legion of fans with four No. 1 albums on the Billboard Country chart, including RIAA Platinum-certified Learn to Live and True Believers, plus 10 No. 1 singles at Country radio and 11 Gold, Platinum or multi-Platinum certified hits. Rucker was inducted as a Grand Ole Opry member in 2012 and in 2014 he won his third career GRAMMY Award for Best Solo Country Performance with his 9x Platinum version of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” one of the top five best-selling Country songs of all time.

Actor Brendan Hunt named Grand Marshal of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix – Two-time Emmy Award-winning actor, writer and producer Brendan Hunt, who co-stars in the Apple TV+ global phenomenon Ted Lasso, will serve as the Grand Marshal for Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas (COTA).

Hunt will have the honor of providing the “Drivers, start your engines” command to the field prior to Sunday’s race.

Hunt is best known for his role as “Coach Beard” in Ted Lasso and has won consecutive Emmy Awards in 2021 and ’22 for “Outstanding Comedy Series” as the show’s producer. Hunt is a six-time Emmy Award nominee, including five with Ted Lasso. In 2021, he was a nominee for “Best Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series” as well as two nominations for “Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series.”

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