Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX — May 23, 2021
The NASCAR Cup Series makes its first start at the Circuit of The Americas(COTA) today in the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. The track on the outskirts of Austin, Texas is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course sure to test the best race car drivers in the world.
The race will consist of 68 laps totaling 231 miles with Stages of 15/17/36 laps. Practice and qualifying were held to give the drivers an opportunity to experience the layout for the first time. Tyler Reddick and Kyle Larson will start on the front row.
A host of drivers will drop to the rear of the field after making unapproved adjustments to their cars including series points leader Denny Hamlin(11). Joining Hamlin at the back of the pack Aric Almirola(10), Chase Briscoe(14), James Davison(15), Chris Buescher(17), Anthony Alfredo(38), Erik Jones(43), Cody Ware(51), and Daniel Suarez(99).
Adding to the challenge of an unfamiliar racetrack, rain is a possibility for portions of the event. Yes, the rain tires and wipers are ready to go racing on a wet course if necessary. Cars were staged with rain tires and NASCAR allowed teams the option of changing to slicks during the warm-up laps.
Despite an ongoing sprinkle and clouds covering the speedway, 35 of the 40 teams took the opportunity to change tires. Teammates Ryan Blaney(12) and Brad Keselowski(2) were sent to the rear for the start after removing tape attached to the grill of their cars, NASCAR considered that an unapproved adjustment.
Austin Cindric(33) and AJ Allmendinger(16), two drivers with loads of road course experience, drove to the front on Lap 1.
By Lap 2 the pavement was slick enough to bring most of the field back into the pits for a switch to rain tires.
Cindric was the last to pit for the rain tires, giving up the lead to Martin Truex Jr.(19) who started the race on treaded wet Goodyears. The five drivers who did not pit pre-race were the leaders. Behind Truex, Michael McDowell(34), Bubba Wallace(23), Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), and Ryan Preece(37) set the pace.
Suarez brought out the first caution of the day on Lap 7 when the transmission of his car locked up and he stalled on the track. Several drivers, including the leader, took the opportunity to pit and get a full tank of fuel that will carry them to the end of Stage 2.
McDowell, Wallace, and Stenhouse stayed out. They were followed to the green flag by Cindric and Joey Logano(22). With five laps to go in the Stage, Logano moved to the top spot which he held to the finish of the Stage.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Logano led the field to the restart, followed by McDowell, Kurt Busch(1), Larson, and Chris Buescher(17). On Lap 18 the caution waved again as Kevin Harvick(4), Blaney, Christopher Bell(20), Wallace, and Stenhouse were all involved in an incident causing significant damage to their vehicles.
Drivers involved in the accident said they were essentially racing blind with the water spray coming off the track while in traffic. Blaney and Stenhouse were the only drivers able to continue. Harvick, Bell, and Wallace all took their cars to the garage.
After track crews cleaned up the mess the race restarted on Lap 25 with some new names at the front. Logano was followed by Kyle Busch(18), Ross Chastain(42), Chase Elliott, and Preece.
Visibility on restarts is where the rain presents a serious problem. On the backstretch, Truex ran into the back of McDowell who had checked up, presumably unable to see. Cole Custer hit the back of Truex, vaulting the #19 car up into the air and destroying the front end of Custer’s Ford Mustang. The race was red-flagged as a result of the debris all over the track from the wreck.
Addressing the Rain Conditions
NASCAR used the stoppage to run the track drying vehicles around the circuit. The good news is the rain appears to be letting up. Prior to sending the race back to green, the cars were brought down pit road, single file in order, and three crew members were allowed to clean windshields. NASCAR also changed the restart procedures to single file lineups.
The restart came with 4 laps to go in Stage 2, Preece led them to the green flag. Kyle Busch and Cindric both moved past and staged a back and forth battle to the green and white checkered. Busch earned the Stage win as Elliott advanced to 2nd.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Pit strategies are all over the board as only a portion of the field came in for service.
The Final Stage
Kyle Busch, Elliott, Tyler Reddick(8), Cindric, and Larson are the Top 5 at the start of the Final Stage. Busch pulled away and built over a 6-second lead.
With 26 laps to go, Busch and Elliott were the first to make their final pit stops. Larson inherited the lead, while Chastain, Kurt Busch, and Logano swapped positions behind the leaders. The rain began to increase and may again be a factor.
Larson gave up the lead when he and Kurt Busch pitted with 23 laps to go. Chastain held the lead by 13-seconds over Alex Bowman(48) when he pitted with 21 to go. With Bowman out front, Kyle Busch moved into 2nd until he was passed by Elliott. Bowman is off-cycle with most of the field and ran further until he needed to stop for fuel with 18 to go.
Radio communications with the leaders indicate Elliott and Kyle Busch may not have enough fuel to complete all 68 laps of the race. Busch decided to pit with 15 laps to go in the hopes fresh tires would allow him to make up time on the leaders. He exited the pits in 11th place.
The rain intensified and turned into a downpour and NASCAR brought out the caution with 14 laps to go. Busch’s decision to pit turned out to be a bad one as it is not certain the race will return to green flag conditions.
NASCAR brought the field down pit road and stopped just before the start/finish line. The red flag was displayed again.
It was determined the rain was unlikely to subside before darkness enveloped the racecourse. Elliott was declared the winner, becoming the 11th different driver to capture a victory in the Cup Series for 2021.
Not even halfway through the 2021 season and playoff spots available to drivers hoping to point their way in are getting scarce. Denny Hamlin is running away with the regular-season points championship and earns a playoff spot based on that accomplishment if he does not post a win this year.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||474||In Win(3)|
|2||Alex Bowman||362||In Win(2)|
|3||William Byron||499||In Win|
|4||Kyle Larson||487||In Win|
|5||Joey Logano*||486||In Win|
|6||Chase Elliott||481||In Win|
|7||Ryan Blaney*||458||In Win|
|8||Brad Keselowski*||422||In Win|
|9||Kyle Busch||422||In Win|
|10||Christopher Bell||337||In Win|
|11||Michael McDowell*||329||In Win|
|NASCAR Playoff Cut Line|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||281||-53|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix from the Circuit of The Americas
|22||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||110.201||54|
|35||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-30||24|