Texas Grand Prix Preview: Circuit of the Americas

Texas Grand Prix Preview: Circuit of the Americas

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the Circuit of the Americas road course for its second visit after last season's NASCAR debut at the facility. The track is a 20-turn, 3.426-mile long road course in Austin, Texas. The event is 68 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 38 laps. Top speeds are limited by the highly technical layout and 20 challenging turns. 

The circuit is reminiscent of the many Formula 1 tracks that dot most of the landscape of Europe. In fact, the facility was created as venue to specifically host F1 events. The track is really unlike any other road course that NASCAR races on with the possible exception of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. IMSA and F1 races regularly at COTA and IndyCar just started racing at the circuit in 2019. NASCAR appears poised to make this facility a part of its annual Cup Series schedule.

Last season's debut at COTA was marred by terrible weather. Persistent rain over that weekend hampered practice, qualifying and most-especially the race. Rain tires were used to make the event possible, but at times the lack of grip and lack of visibility made the racing treacherous and extremely challenging. Hopefully, we'll have better weather for this installment of the Echopark Texas Grand Prix. Still, despite the dreadful conditions, the loop data from last season's race will still come in handy to a certain extent. Those who survived the tough conditions at COTA last year, should

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the Circuit of the Americas road course for its second visit after last season's NASCAR debut at the facility. The track is a 20-turn, 3.426-mile long road course in Austin, Texas. The event is 68 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 38 laps. Top speeds are limited by the highly technical layout and 20 challenging turns. 

The circuit is reminiscent of the many Formula 1 tracks that dot most of the landscape of Europe. In fact, the facility was created as venue to specifically host F1 events. The track is really unlike any other road course that NASCAR races on with the possible exception of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. IMSA and F1 races regularly at COTA and IndyCar just started racing at the circuit in 2019. NASCAR appears poised to make this facility a part of its annual Cup Series schedule.

Last season's debut at COTA was marred by terrible weather. Persistent rain over that weekend hampered practice, qualifying and most-especially the race. Rain tires were used to make the event possible, but at times the lack of grip and lack of visibility made the racing treacherous and extremely challenging. Hopefully, we'll have better weather for this installment of the Echopark Texas Grand Prix. Still, despite the dreadful conditions, the loop data from last season's race will still come in handy to a certain extent. Those who survived the tough conditions at COTA last year, should have a leg up on the competition this season, even in the dry. The loop stats in the table below are from last season's Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Joey Logano3.03621449124.6
Kyle Larson2.0513449122.8
Chase Elliott1.03312545121.0
Kyle Busch10.04291245114.7
Ross Chastain4.0413443110.0
Michael McDowell7.0372336107.9
Chase Briscoe6.044004392.8
AJ Allmendinger 5.041103392.7
Alex Bowman8.027033387.2
William Byron11.029002682.5
Chris Buescher13.027003376.5
Kurt Busch27.039003676.5
Tyler Reddick9.026002876.2
Austin Cindric25.018043774.6
Martin Truex Jr.35.020031374.3
Denny Hamlin14.020003074.2
Austin Dillon12.014002168.5
Bubba Wallace39.011001168.2
Erik Jones16.013001265.8
Ryan Blaney17.012001463.2

Last season we saw history made with NASCAR running their first-ever Cup Series event on the challenging COTA circuit. The event and weekend would be marred by bad weather, and the race would even be cut short of full distance, but the excitement and action would leave fans yelling for more. NASCAR renewed this event for 2022, so we'll see more action on the Texas road course this weekend. Assuming the weather cooperates this time around, we should be in for quite a show. The Circuit of the America's course is quite technical and will bring the best out in the best road racing drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Last season's Echopark Texas Grand Prix would come down to a battle of survival and attrition. The persistent rain and poor visibility made it a wild affair. Chase Elliott would overcome Alex Bowman late in the event and take the lead on lap 50. He would hold the point for the next 4 laps before a heavy rain would bring the contest to an early end, 14 laps short of full distance. It will be difficult to invest too much in that race in the rain last season, but we believe the common thread will be some of the names who raced up front for much of that slog in the wet. Joey Logano led the most laps with 14 and Kyle Busch led 12 circuits at COTA with a stage 2 victory. Ultimately it would be Elliott and Kyle Larson posting the 1-2 finish for Hendrick Motorsports. We'll look at the track, drivers and some parts of last season's race in order to give you the drivers you need to succeed in your fantasy racing games for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.  

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Chase Elliott – Coming off 29 laps led and a sixth-place finish at Atlanta, Elliott will be looking forward to COTA. He's been the gold standard of NASCAR in road racing the last few seasons. Seven of his 13-career victories have come on road circuits, including his win at Circuit of the Americas last season. Elliott led just 5 laps in this event one year ago, but he surged at the right time to take the lead late in the race. NASCAR would bring out the caution for the final time of the day on lap 54 and Elliott would be declared the winner. While the weather will hopefully be better this weekend, there's a lot we can take away from that race last year. If Elliott can master this challenging circuit in the rain, we can only imagine what he can do on it in the dry.

Kyle Larson – Larson showed a great deal of patience in this race one year ago. The reigning champion would fall back in traffic, but would rally back to the front in time for the final stage. Larson would battle it out among the leaders and be credited with second-place when NASCAR called the event short of full distance. That was one of three victories and one runner-up finish on the road circuits last season for the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet. He really stepped up his game on these winding courses last year. Those three wins were his first three victories on Cup Series road courses. Circuit of the Americas will welcome back Larson this weekend. If dry weather prevails, it could be this driver and team we see march in to victory lane. 

Joey Logano – Logano led a race-high 14 laps in this event one year ago and ran among the leaders all afternoon in the rain and mist. The Penske Racing star would win stage 1 and establish himself as one of the driver to beat in the inaugural Circuit of the Americas event. The event being called short of full distance robbed Logano of the chance to challenge for the win under the green flag, but he still claimed an impressive third-place finish in the Echopark Texas Grand Prix. While Logano is just a one-time winner on Cup Series road circuits, he showed tremendous potential in this style of racing last season. His runner-up finish at the Daytona road circuit and Top-10 finish late in the year at the Charlotte Roval are good illustrations of this point. Logano will love to have another crack at the COTA circuit. 

Kyle Busch – Busch was really a top performer on these winding circuits last season. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson monopolized most of the wins, but it would be Busch that was there nipping at their heels along the way. His four Top-5 finishes on these style track and 40 laps led can't not be over-stated. Busch would lead 12 laps and win stage 2 in this event last season. However, the changing fortunes of both the weather and the race would see the Joe Gibbs Racing star get shuffled back in the field a bit when the race was called short of full distance. Busch would still wind up a respectable 10th-place that rainy Texas afternoon. Coming off a disappointing crash and DNF at Atlanta this past week, Busch will be hungry to win in Sunday's Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Denny Hamlin – While Hamlin struggled a bit at COTA last year (14th-place), we're willing to chalk that up to the weather conditions. On road courses in general this past year, the Joe Gibbs Racing star was stellar. Hamlin nabbed four Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes last year in the seven road course events. He also led a surprising 65 laps, third to only Larson and Elliott last season on the winding circuits. Victories were tough to come by behind those two, but Hamlin was nipping right at their heels the entire 2021 season on these style tracks. This season has started poorly for the No. 11 team, but this is a driver's race. This should be the event that turns things around for Hamlin and company early in this campaign. 

Ryan Blaney – Blaney has started this season well, with two Top-5 finishes and a sixth-place ranking in the driver standings coming to COTA. The Penske Racing star should have no trouble tackling this Texas road course, assuming we have good weather this time around. The driver of the No. 12 Ford posted three Top 10's last season on the winding circuits and an impressive 12.4 average finish. Blaney wasn't a big lap leader on these tracks, but he showed the ability to stay on the lead lap and finish mainly in the Top 10. Road circuits have arguably been his best tracks since ascending to the Cup Series a few seasons ago. Blaney's one-career win (Charlotte Roval) and 12.9 average finish are good marks compare to his superspeedway racing success.

Alex Bowman – Coming off the win at Las Vegas three weeks ago and Top-10 finish this past week at Atlanta, Bowman is rolling along well coming to Texas. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet scored a ninth-place finish in the rain at COTA last season. That was one of four Top-10 finishes on the road circuits last year for this driver and team. He has to be optimistic in his return to the Circuit of the Americas course. Bowman has been pretty predictable during his Cup Series career on these tracks with eight Top-10 finishes and a respectable 15.7 average finish mark. This driver and team are racing well right now, and performing at top level on the tracks that Bowman has had past success. Last season's Top-10 COTA run will be valuable experience for this Sunday afternoon.

AJ Allmendinger – The Kaulig Racing veteran gets the nod this weekend in the team's No. 16 Chevrolet. Allmendinger is an obvious choice. Of the team's three-man driver rotation, he has the most experience and success in road course racing. Last season alone, Allmendinger grabbed one win (Indy GP) and three Top 10's on these style tracks. It only added to a strong career record for him in this style of racing. Allmendinger has two-career Cup Series victories on road circuits, and he also boasts six-career trophies on Xfinity Series road courses. In this event one year ago, the veteran driver peddled to an impressive fifth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas in the pouring rain. He'll be well-prepared for this installment of the Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history of road course racing & solid upside

Chase Briscoe – Things have gone pretty well for Briscoe to this point in 2022. A Top-5 finish at Daytona to start the season, and two weeks removed from his first-career victory at Phoenix, has Briscoe well positioned after five events. Now we come to a track where Briscoe can shine bright. Last season he slogged through the rain to an impressive sixth-place finish in the inaugural COTA race. Briscoe's road racing skills are well-documented. He has three Top 10's in seven-career Cup Series road course starts for a respectable 43-percent rate. Briscoe is also a two-time road course winner in the Xfinity Series, with a stellar 70-percent Top-10 rate in that division of NASCAR. Last season's experience at Circuit of the Americas should be a big help to Briscoe this weekend.

Ross Chastain – The veteran driver is off to a great start this season. Chastain is fresh off a pair of runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Atlanta, and rides a three-race Top-5 streak into Sunday's action in Texas. The Trackhouse Racing driver ran this event one year ago for his former boss, Chip Ganassi. Chastain battled the elements and other drivers last season to conquer the Circuit of the Americas with a strong fourth-place finish in the wet. We may not automatically think of Chastain when it comes to road course racing, but that performance was one of three Top 10's last season on the winding circuits for the veteran. Given how well Chastain has started the season, we're excited about seeing the possibilities for him at COTA.         

Tyler Reddick – Despite Reddick's crash and DNF at Atlanta last week, he's still off to a pretty good start this season. The Richard Childress Racing youngster will focus on a good run at Circuit of the Americas this weekend in order to get back in the right side of the ledger. Reddick raced inside the Top 10 the latter half of this race last season and posted a respectable ninth-place finish at COTA last year. The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet was a good road course performer in 2021. Reddick grabbed one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on these style circuits last season. That strong road racing performance led to an average finish of 15.3 last year on these style tracks. Reddick looks like a good bet for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is not a top threat to win on these style tracks in recent seasons, but its notable that he's a four-time winner on Cup Series road circuits with a Top-10 rate better than 50-percent. Truex has become more of a steady fantasy racing play at these style tracks the last couple seasons. His three Top 10's in 2021 work out to a respectable 15.1 average finish. Truex led 38 laps last season on the Cup Series road courses, so he wasn't exactly playing follow-the-leader, but he wasn't really challenging for wins either. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota is coming off a respectable eighth-place finish at Atlanta this past weekend, and very clearly gathering some momentum in the new car.   

Christopher Bell – Bell was outstanding last season on the NASCAR road circuits. He grabbed a big win at the Daytona road circuit early in the schedule and posted two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in total last season on these style tracks. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has proven to be a quick study on these challenging circuits. COTA was a challenge for Bell last season as he wrecked early on in the rain and was saddled with the DNF. He'll be ready for a rematch with the technical Texas road course. If the weather cooperates, Bell should easily show us what he learned last season at Circuit of the Americas.   

Austin Cindric – After his big Daytona 500 win to kickoff this season, things haven't exactly gone as expected for Cindric and the No. 2 team. Disappointing finishes, in particular the last two weeks, have dropped him to 17th in the driver standings. Cindric will embrace the opportunity to rebound at COTA this Sunday. The young driver has the road racing gift. He collected one road course Top 10 in three starts last year in part-time Cup schedule. When we look back at Cindric's Xfinity Series history, we see that he's a five-time road course winner in that division of NASCAR, and in just 20 starts (25-percent win rate). That's domination in that competitive division of NASCAR. We're very high on Cindric's chances this Sunday at COTA. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kevin Harvick – Last season's COTA race is more of a nightmare than a memory for Harvick. He would get rolled up in an early-race multi-car crash and finish 37th in his debut at Circuit of the Americas. It was one pitfall in what was a tough season on road circuits for Harvick. With two DNF's and an average finish of 21.0, it was not his favorite form of racing last season. Hopefully, COTA the sequel will go better for Harvick, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire so far in 2022. It's pretty clear that Harvick is still adapting to the physics of the new Next-Gen stock car. We consider the driver of the No. 4 Ford a high-risk fantasy play for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

William Byron – Last week's Atlanta winner is a check fantasy racing status driver this week. Byron is off and rolling this season but he could hit a speed bump this weekend at Circuit of the Americas. Last season he forged an 11th-place finish at the track, but a part of that was due to the attrition of the elements. In general, last season road course racing wasn't his cup of tea. Byron posted two DNF's vs. just one Top 10 on the winding circuits. There were four finishes outside the Top 30 on these style tracks, for an inflated 23.1 average finish. Byron has the current momentum to buck this trend this weekend, but we believe he's still learning the road course racing game. He's a high-risk driver for Sunday's COTA battle.

Aric Almirola –  Almirola is off and rolling well on the Cup Series ovals thus far, but his first real test will come this weekend at COTA. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has just two Top-10 finishes in 28-career road course starts (7-percent) and 20.7 average finish. Almirola was 0-for-7 in Top 10's on road courses last season and a similar 20.4 average finish. He's been a very rewarding fantasy driver on the ovals thus far in 2022, but this is a good weekend to give the driver of the No. 10 Ford a break and put him on the bench in weekly lineup and salary cap based fantasy leagues.   

Brad Keselowski – The new season hasn't exactly started well for Keselowski at his new race team. After his Daytona 500 Top 10, he hasn't visited the Top 10 since. Keselowski is a distant 16th-place in the driver standings and posting an average finish of 19.0. These are marks well off what we expect for this former champion. Keselowski found the Top 10 just once last season in the seven road course events, and it wasn't at COTA. He finished a distant 19th-place that Sunday afternoon in the rain. His career 32-percent Top-10 rate on these winding circuits is another indictment of his abilities. Given Keselowski's current struggles, and lack of historical performance on road courses, we can't recommend deploying him in fantasy lineups at COTA. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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