Story By: CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS – AUSTIN, TX – Defending NASCAR Cup Series champ Chase Elliott has been a road course master in recent seasons, winning four of the last five starts where drivers are required to turn both right and left.
The second-generation phenom will look to put those skills into play this weekend during the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at the challenging Circuit of The Americas (COTA) layout.
While there’s been quite a bit of parity this season in the Cup Series, with 10 different winners in the season’s first 13 races, Elliott is still looking to make his first visit to Victory Lane in 2021. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy is hoping it will come this weekend on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn COTA road course. The historic race, NASCAR’s first visit to the purpose-built road course in the Texas capital that has hosted Formula 1 and INDYCAR, will take the green flag Sunday at 1:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast live on FS1 and PRN Radio.
Elliott swept all of the road course races in the Cup Series in 2019 and ’20, winning at Watkins Glen and the ROVAL™ in ’19 and then taking wins at Daytona’s road course and again at the ROVAL™ in ’20 for four in a row. He won the pole position and led 44 laps of the Daytona road race earlier this year but ultimately finished 21st after spinning out with six laps remaining in the race.
He’s ready to start another streak at COTA, a track that he says is a blast to drive. He was one of three drivers, along with Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., who participated in a Goodyear Tire test at COTA in March.
“It’s a super neat facility – super nice facility, number one,” Elliott said. “The track’s fun. It has a lot of character to it, I feel like. I’ve never been here, never seen it before in person before (the Goodyear test) and really haven’t watched a ton of races here, so it’s really been a pretty steep learning curve for me, trying to piece together all the different parts of the track and understand where you need to be good and how to make it flow.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge… Your lap time doesn’t tell the whole story, so you really have to piece that together to understand what you did good and what you didn’t, and then go put the pieces of the puzzle together and try to put the whole thing in the works.”
Elliott will have a host of talented rivals to contend with during the event, including a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing standouts in Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Both Truex Jr. and Busch have earned four career road course victories in the Cup Series and will be on the hunt for more. Truex Jr. leads the series with wins this season as he has posted three in his No. 19 Toyota. Two-time series champ Busch also has scored a win, at Kansas, in his No. 18 Toyota.
All three of Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates have won races this season, with Alex Bowman leading the charge by picking up wins at Richmond in mid-April and last weekend at Dover in the No. 48 Chevy. Kyle Larson put the No. 5 in Victory Lane in Las Vegas and William Byron scored a win in the No. 24 at Homestead-Miami.
Bowman’s Dover win was historic as it led the first-ever Hendrick Motorsports 1-2-3-4 finish in NASCAR history. Bowman took the checkered flag in front of his teammates Larson, Elliott and Byron, respectively, at the finish line.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Bowman said. “I feel like we’ve been off for a couple weeks, but we’re still the same race team that won in Richmond. We’ve been probably a little down on ourselves. Just tried to get the guys back motivated after a rough week last week in Darlington. Our pit stops were incredible today. To run 1-2-3-4 for Hendrick Motorsports is so cool… Really, really cool to see it.”
Other drivers to watch this weekend are Christopher Bell, who won at the Daytona Road Course in February in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and several past Cup Series road course winners, including veterans Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. Atlanta winner Ryan Blaney has contended in road course races with three top-five finishes, as have veteran drivers Ryan Newman and Erik Jones.
Despite never winning on a road course, Team Penske’s Keselowski has come close on many occasions, posting seven top-fives in his No. 2 Ford, including a trio of second-place finishes at Watkins Glen. He feels like this could be his weekend to finally claim that first road course trophy. After testing at COTA in early March, Keselowski likes what he sees in the versatile circuit.
“I mean, it’s very wide,” Keselowski said. “In any of the high braking zones I expect significant, wild crazy moves, whether it be Turn 1 or the backstretch. You’ll see cars really fan out, which should be pretty interesting to watch. You know, you’ve got rhythm sections.
“It’s got all kinds of sections in it, it’s got your wide passing zone, it’s got your long straightaway. It’s got your very heavy braking zone. It’s got a carousel and a switchback. It’s really kind of got everything but a banked corner. So, I think it’s an interesting track.”
Road-course specialist A.J. Allmendinger, whose lone Cup Series victory came on a road course at Watkins Glen in 2014, will drive the No. 16 Kaulig Racing entry in the Cup race, pulling double duty along with his full-time job in the Xfinity Series. Austin Cindric, the defending Xfinity Series champ, also will do the COTA double, as he will run the Cup race in his No. 33 Team Penske Ford.
Several rising stars in the series should also be on fans’ radar, including Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell who has a road course racing background; Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto, who posted top-five finishes recently at Talladega and Kansas; and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who finished second at Homestead and has posted five top-10s in the last seven races in his No. 8 Chevy.
The hometown Texas fans will be cheering on Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher, a native of Prosper that is situated in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area. Buescher drives the No. 17 Ford and is the only Cup driver on the roster this weekend with roots in the Lone Star State.
Two other drivers that fans will certainly be interested in following this weekend are Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez, who both are backed by celebrity team owners. Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota is co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan while Suarez’s No. 99 Chevy is co-owned by Grammy-award winning entertainer Pitbull. Wallace had his best finish of the season this past weekend at Dover with an 11th-place effort and Mexico native Suarez led 58 laps at the Bristol dirt race to post his season-best finish of fourth.
Should rain fall on COTA this weekend, all races will go on as scheduled as Goodyear will provide wet weather tires to the teams if necessary. NASCAR Cup teams were challenged by racing in the rain most recently last November during the Charlotte ROVAL™ Playoff event. NASCAR’s road course rain rule does not allow competition during thunderstorms with lighting in the area or really heavy downpours.
Race weekend action gets underway Friday with practice sessions scheduled for the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. On Saturday, qualifying will be held for both Xfinity and Truck teams to set the starting lineups for their races later that day. The Toyota Tundra 225 Camping World Truck Series race starts at noon CT (FS1, MRN Radio) and will be followed by the Pit Boss 250, which takes the green flag at 3 p.m. (FS1, PRN Radio).
On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series teams will qualify in group qualifying at 10 a.m., with one 25 minute round with all drivers and one 10 minute round with the top 12 from the first round to set the starting lineups for the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix, which takes the green flag at 1:30 p.m. (FS1, PRN Radio).