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 their third visit after NASCAR's 2021 debut at the facility. This track is a 20-turn, 3.426-mile long road course that is located in Austin, Texas. The event is 68 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 38 laps. Top speeds (92 mph pole) are limited by the highly-technical layout and 20 challenging turns. The circuit is very reminiscent of the many Formula One 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. F1 races regularly at COTA and IndyCar and IMSA have raced at the circuit in the recent past. NASCAR has worked hard to make this facility a part of its annual Cup Series schedule.

The first season 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. When NASCAR returned to Austin last season, fair weather would give us quite an entertaining race that would come down to literally the last lap. Those drivers who did well in last season's dry conditions will have a leg

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the Circuit of the Americas road course for their third visit after NASCAR's 2021 debut at the facility. This track is a 20-turn, 3.426-mile long road course that is located in Austin, Texas. The event is 68 laps, divided into three stages of 15 laps, 15 laps and 38 laps. Top speeds (92 mph pole) are limited by the highly-technical layout and 20 challenging turns. The circuit is very reminiscent of the many Formula One 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. F1 races regularly at COTA and IndyCar and IMSA have raced at the circuit in the recent past. NASCAR has worked hard to make this facility a part of its annual Cup Series schedule.

The first season 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. When NASCAR returned to Austin last season, fair weather would give us quite an entertaining race that would come down to literally the last lap. Those drivers who did well in last season's dry conditions will have a leg up on the rest of the field with that experience. The loop stats in the table below are from the last two Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Ross Chastain2.5752035112125.8
Chase Elliott2.572125100109.3
Alex Bowman5.055438899.7
Kyle Larson15.580548797.5
Joey Logano17.0473167697.4
Austin Cindric16.5478158996.1
Tyler Reddick7.050029595.8
AJ Allmendinger 19.063428693.9
Kyle Busch19.08091210292.4
Ryan Blaney11.540417285.5
Chase Briscoe18.071328483.2
William Byron11.545006083.0
Michael McDowell10.052235482.2
Martin Truex Jr.21.052035981.7
Denny Hamlin16.042037779.9
Ryan Preece15.028023779.2
Christopher Bell20.538105471.3
Chris Buescher17.044004871.1
Erik Jones12.537004669.3
Austin Dillon11.033003967.8

Two seasons ago 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 last year, and the weather would cooperate. The clear skies and dry weather would give fans a race finish they would not soon forget.

Last season's Echopark Texas Grand Prix would come down to late caution and NASCAR overtime. Ross Chastain would overcome Alex Bowman after a three-way battle with he and AJ Allmendinger would bring the fans to their feet. Contact between the leaders would send Allmendinger spinning within site of the finish and would also crown Chastain the victory. That race was largely dominated by Chastain, although it would feature nine different lap leaders. It should be highly representative of what we witness this weekend in Austin. The road racing talents who often succeed were the usual faces at the front at the end. 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

Ross Chastain – Chastain was a hit or miss performer on the road courses last season, but he certainly has a proficiency at Circuit of the Americas. The Trackhouse Racing star cracked the Top 5 there in the rain two seasons ago, and he won an epic three-way battle at the Texas track last season to capture the win. Chastain is one of only two drivers with Top 5's in both COTA starts. The other is Chase Elliott, and he will not be racing this weekend due to injury, which gives Chastain a big edge. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet is the current lap leader at this facility with 35 total laps led. Chastain is off to a bit of an inconsistent start to the 2023 season, but this could be the race that propels him into victory lane for the first time this year.          

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing star is coming off the momentum of a big win at Atlanta last Sunday. Logano will look to keep it rolling in Austin Sunday in the Echopark Texas Grand Prix. The veteran driver of the No. 22 Ford was a steady performer on road courses last season. Logano grabbed one pole position, led 48 laps and claimed two Top-10 finishes on these winding circuits. Two seasons ago, he would qualify well at the COTA circuit, lead 14 laps and finish an impressive third-place in the pouring rain. That experience will serve Logano well coming back to Texas this week. He is a one-time winner at Watkins Glen and finished third-place at that facility last season in the Next-Gen car. It's probably the best comparable road course to the characteristics of COTA. 

Alex Bowman – Bowman has started the season strong with two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes to this point. The Hendrick Motorsports veteran was a part of the three-way battle for the win in this event one year ago, so it's hard to forget Bowman's face when it comes to Circuit of the Americas. He also slogged through the rain to a strong eighth-place finish at COTA two seasons ago during NASCAR's debut at the track. It would seem that this style of racing really plays to Bowman's strengths. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is not really known for his road racing prowess, but for some reason the uniqueness of this course plays well to Bowman. He'll be racing among the leaders again Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Kyle Busch – While road course racing isn't really his big niche, Busch has certain courses where he shines. The Richard Childress Racing star led 12 laps and finished 10th-place here in NASCAR's debut at COTA. When we look at the historical stats, surprisingly, Busch is a four-time winner on NASCAR road circuits. Two of those have come at Watkins Glen and the other two at Sonoma. The Glen is more fitting comparison to Circuit of the Americas because of its long winding straights and high speed corners. It comes as no surprise that the Glen is statistically Busch's best road course and a good barometer for this track. Coming off a struggled-filled Top 10 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

Kyle Larson – Larson showed a great deal of patience and skill in his road races of one year ago. He'd qualify well with an average start position of 9.8, thanks to his pole at Sonoma and outside pole at Watkins Glen. Larson would grab the victory at the Glen and Top-5 finish at Road America. With 31 laps led, the Hendrick Motorsports star did a lot of racing at the front in these road course events last season. Two years ago when NASCAR debuted at Circuit of the Americas, Larson would qualify on the outside pole, lead 4 laps and finish an impressive runner-up in the inaugural Echopark Texas Grand Prix. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet should be a strong performer on this high-speed, twisting road circuit.   

Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing youngster was a pretty steady performer on the road circuits last season. Blaney would grab sixth-, sixth- and 11th-place finishes at Austin, Sonoma and Road America. The sixth-place at Austin is noteworthy as he won the pole position, led 1 lap and grabbed the strong Top 10 that afternoon in Texas. With 22 laps led on road circuits last season, we were used to seeing the No. 12 Ford running up front in these races. Blaney is a one-time winner on the Charlotte Roval and his career stats indicate that road circuits are among his most consistent tracks in the series with a respectable average finish of 13.8. Additionally, Blaney's 12 Top 10's in 25-career road course starts works out to a strong 48-percent Top-10 rate.  

Tyler Reddick – Reddick is getting his season turned around with Top-5 finishes in each of the last two events. He's coming to Circuit of the Americas at the right time. The 23XI Racing youngster was one of the more consistent and impressive performers last year on the series' winding courses. Reddick nabbed two victories (Road America & Indy GP), three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes last season on these style tracks. His outing at COTA was particularly impressive with a fourth-place qualifying effort and fifth-place finish here last year. In just two starts at the challenging Austin circuit, Reddick now owns one pole position, two laps led and a pair of Top-10 finishes. These are very encouraging statistics heading into this week's battle at COTA.

AJ Allmendinger – The Kaulig Racing veteran gets the fantasy racing nod this weekend in the No. 16 Chevrolet. Allmendinger is an obvious choice. The veteran driver has a lot of experience and success in road course racing. Last season alone, Allmendinger grabbed two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes 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 two years 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

William Byron – Byron had his two-race win streak snapped with a crash and DNF last weekend at Atlanta. We can't forget the heater that Byron was on before his misfortune at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We expect the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to rebound well this week at COTA. Byron earned steady 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two appearances at the Austin circuit. Road racing in general was kind of a mixed bag for the talented youngster last season. However, Byron did earn an eye-catching Top 10 at the very tough Sonoma road course. Additionally, he qualified extremely well in the last two road course events of last season (fourth at the Glen and outside pole at the Charlotte Roval). Given the momentum and speed of this driver and team right now, COTA seems like a huge opportunity and we believe Byron has a high ceiling this weekend.

Christopher Bell – Bell was outstanding last season on the NASCAR road circuits. He grabbed a big win at the Charlotte Roval late last season and posted two Top-5 and three 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 high point in that performance in 2022 with a seventh-place qualifying effort and brilliant third-place finish in this event one year ago. Bell and the No. 20 Toyota team have started the season well with three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes, including his strong third-place performance at Atlanta this past weekend. We believe Bell is a driver who can fetch big returns in the Echopark Texas Grand Prix.  

Austin Cindric – The Penske Racing youngster had a tough time here two seasons ago in the rain, but he did qualify well that weekend with a brilliant third-place effort. Cindric would slog to a 25th-place finish in the downpour, but he did lead 4 laps that day. The driver of the No. 2 Ford returned last season and took advantage of the good weather to lead 11 laps and finish a strong eighth-place in last year's Echopark Texas Grand Prix. Cindric was a top performer and consistent finisher in these road course events last season. He fetched two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on these style tracks in 2022. Given Cindric's success at COTA and in road racing generally speaking, we believe the No. 2 Ford team is lock for success in Austin this Sunday.    

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star struggled immensely at COTA in the rain two years ago, but when he got a crack at it in the dry last season the results came. Truex drove from 17th-place on the starting grid up to a very impressive seventh-place finish in last season's Echopark Texas Grand Prix. He didn't have a good season in total on road circuits, but COTA was a stand out. The performance was a reminder that Truex and the No. 19 team have top road racing ability. The veteran driver has 3 Sonoma and 1 Watkins Glen victory to his credit. While Truex may not have the ability to win on these winding circuits any more, he still has the gift to turn in a gritty performance and crack the Top 10.

Chris Buescher – The driver of the No. 17 Ford hasn't started the season well, but we have to remember that road course racing is a reset and a bit of an equalizer in terms of leveling out slumping drivers. Buescher was simply flawless on the road circuits last season. He piloted the new Next-Gen car very well on these tracks. Buescher would nab five Top 10's and post an impressive 9.0 average finish in the six road racing events of 2022. The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing driver didn't have top performance at COTA in his two prior starts, but his 17.0 average finish wasn't half bad. It showed he could stay on the lead lap and compete on the challenging Austin circuit. Buescher needs a boost and you can bet he and the No. 17 team will be focused Sunday in the Echopark Texas Grand Prix.

Michael McDowell – McDowell is another slumping driver looking for a boost or equalizer race this weekend. The Front Row Motorsports veteran certainly did some damage on the winding circuits last season. McDowell grabbed one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on these style tracks in 2022. His COTA performance wasn't exactly a highlight, but it wasn't half bad either. McDowell would pedal the No. 34 Ford to a respectable 13th-place finish in Austin last year. The preceding year in the rain, the veteran driver plowed through the downpour and earned an impressive seventh-place finish in the inaugural Echopark Texas Grand Prix. McDowell has a strong history of road course performance and shouldn't disappoint this Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has had some very limited success over the years on road circuits. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time winner at Watkins Glen (2016), but his 42-percent Top-10 rate on these style tracks is a bit lower than we'd like to see. Certainly since moving to the Next-Gen car, the numbers are a bit unsettling. Hamlin's six starts last year on road courses netted just two Top-15 finishes and an average finish across the span of 18.8. Those aren't awful numbers, but they fall way short of the expectations you should have for Hamlin in most fantasy racing formats. His 14th- and 18th-place finishes at COTA the last two seasons seem to fall in line with those statistics. We believe keeping the driver of the No. 11 Toyota on the bench this week is the best move in salary cap and weekly lineup leagues.   

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson is on the entry list and will make his second Cup Series start of the season in the No. 84 Chevrolet at COTA. The 47-year-old veteran didn't exactly have a banner performance in his return to NASCAR, crashing out and finishing a distant 31st-place in the Daytona 500. Johnson will look to have a bigger impact Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. In just his second Cup Series start in the Next Gen car it will be a tall order. The seven-time champion isn't a bad road course driver (20 Top 10's in 40-career starts) but he's never raced a stock car at COTA and he's been out of NASCAR for two years. That unfamiliarity with the current equipment stands out and his unfamiliarity with this circuit is concerning as well. Johnson spent much of the last two seasons competing on road circuits in IndyCar, but struggling mightily. That's a look we just can't forget easily.  

Aric Almirola –  What more could be said of Almirola's struggles to start this season? He has no Top-10 finishes through the first five events and a lowly 27.0 average finish to this point. He limps into Austin this weekend a distant 27th-place in the driver rankings. It's pretty much a disaster to this point for the Stewart Haas Racing veteran. The bad news gets worse in terms of road racing performance. Almirola has just two Top-10 finishes in 34-career road course starts (6-percent) and an average finish of 21.2 on those tracks over his career. The driver of the No. 10 Ford finished 26th- and 19th-place in his opening two starts at the COTA circuit. Almirola is a driver to not consider this weekend for fantasy purposes.    

Bubba Wallace – Wallace got involved in an early-race crash last week at Atlanta and it would put a damper on his day, finishing a distant 27th-place. The 23XI Racing driver will look to rebound at Circuit of the Americas this week, however, it will be a tall task for the veteran driver. Wallace has just two Top-10 finishes in 21-career road course starts for a lowly 9.5-percent rate. The average finish is also higher than we'd like to see at 24.9. That's not even the start of the bad news. Wallace crashed out of both COTA starts to this point, finishing 39th- and 38th-place the last two seasons. He's yet to finish one of this races on the winding Austin circuit. We advise you keep Wallace benched this week and look for your fantasy racing help elsewhere.

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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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