Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX — March 27th, 2020
The NASCAR Cup Series garage was abuzz this weekend after news of the L2-Level Penalty levied on Roush Fenway Keselowski racing was announced Thursday. According to NASCAR the No. 6 Ford Mustang, driven by Brad Keselowski, was penalized 100 driver points and 100 owner points under Sections 14.1 and 14.5 in the NASCAR Rule Book, both of which pertain to the modification of a single source supplied part.
In addition to the points penalties, crew chief Matt McCall was fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four NASCAR Cup Series points races. Should the team qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, it will be penalized with the loss of 10 NASCAR Playoff points.
Prior to the penalty, Keselowski was 17th in the standings, four points out of the final playoff position. After the deduction, he is 35th, the lowest of any team holding a NASCAR Charter.
NASCAR Returns to the Circuit of The Americas
The first five races of the 2022 season have been action-packed, and now the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) for the first of six road courses on the schedule COTA, Sonoma, Road America, Indianapolis Road Course, Watkins Glen, and the Charlotte Roval.
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.
Chase Elliott is the defending champion. The victory was his seventh NASCAR Cup Series road-course career win moving him solely into third on the all-time series road course wins list behind NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (nine) and Tony Stewart (eight). In 2022 Elliott is still looking for his win of the season.
In last year’s race, a horrendous downpour created havoc and unsafe racing conditions that NASCAR says will be corrected by the new diffuser design at the rear of the new Next-Gen race car. Fortunately, the forecast for today’s race is rain-free.
Hendrick Motorsports is off to a fast start in 2022 with three of the organization’s four drivers already winning and securing their spots in the Playoffs this season – Kyle Larson (Fontana), Alex Bowman (Las Vegas), and William Byron (Atlanta).
Byron’s victory at Atlanta last weekend made Hendrick Motorsports just the second team in series history to win with three different drivers in the first five races of a NASCAR Cup Series season; joining car owner Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Marine Team who accomplished the feat in 1956 with drivers Tim Flock (Hickory), Fonty Flock (Charlotte) and Buck Baker (Phoenix).
Today’s race, the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, is for 231.88 miles around the COTA course. The 68 laps are divided into stages of 15/15/38 laps.
In addition to Elliott, other drivers to keep your eye on include Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr with four road course wins each. Busch finished 10th at COTA last season and Truex was caught in an incident and finished 35th. But watch for both to be towards the front this weekend as Truex ranks fifth among active drivers in series career average finish on road courses with a 13.8 and Busch ranks eighth with a 14.3.
Last but not least is Team Penske’s Joey Logano, who finished third in last season’s Circuit of The Americas race behind Elliott and Larson. Logano looked to be the car to beat last season leading the most laps (14) in the event. Logano already has one road course career win at Watkins Glen and has the sixth-best career average finish on road courses among active drivers with a 13.9.
The teams of Harvick, Elliott, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Josh Bilicki were penalized for pre-qualifying inspection infractions. Each team lost a crew member and pit selection privileges.
Ryan Blaney(12) won the pole, Daniel Suarez(99) starts next to Blaney on the front row. Road-course specialists AJ Allmendinger(16), Boris Said(66), Andy Lally(78), Joey Hand(15), and Loris Hezemans(27) are in the field for the first venture away from an oval for the Cup drivers this year.
Blaney took the lead at the drop of the green flag, but before the field made it back to the flag stand Suarez moved past to take over the top spot. The guy on the move in Stage One was Austin Cindric(2). The Daytona 500 Champion started 10th and moved to the third position in the first 12 laps of the race.
Chase Elliott(9) got into the rear bumper of Kyle Busch(18) and turned the No. 18 car around late in the Stage as they were fighting for position.
Several drivers opted to pit early before pit road was closed two laps from the end of the Stage. Suarez led every lap of Stage One with Blaney in his rearview mirror.
Stage One Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Cindric, Tyler Reddick(8), Ross Chastain(1), and Cole Custer(41), all of who stopped on Lap 12, led the field back to green flag racing. Suarez restarted in the 20th position, as the pack jumbled up five wide into Turn One on the restart, Suarez made contact and spun resulting in a flat left rear tire. He had to nurse the car around the entire course to get back to pit road for service. The incident dropped Suarez to the back of the pack, he was able to remain on the lead lap.
Kyle Larson(5) also spun on the first lap after the restart, dropping him deep into the field. Just like in Stage One, once out front the leader is able to pull away.
With five laps to go in Stage Two, Chastain made a run at Cindric but could not pull even. AJ Allmendinger(16), moving efficiently through the top 10 worked his way into the third position, but laps were running out to challenge the top two.
Most teams again opted to pit early before the end of the stage including the leaders. Allmendinger had just taken the lead away from Cindric as they all dove onto pit road. Denny Hamlin(11), Kyle Busch, Joey Logano(22), and Blaney opted to stay out and pick up the available Stage points.
Last week’s winner, William Byron(24) was caught speeding entering pit road and will have to start the Final Stage from the rear of the field.
Stage Two Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Logano and Blaney did not stop at the end of the Stage and they led the field back to green on the restart. Whether it was worn tires or overdriving into Turn One, both cars were hard on the brakes, sliding, and ended up losing positions. Chastain, Cindric, and Allmendinger resumed their battle at the front of the field.
Cindric got loose when his car bottomed out and spun around on one of the trickier portions of the track. The incident brought out a full-course caution giving everyone, if they chose to, an opportunity to pit for service.
The lead group stayed on the track with Chastain, Allmendinger, Reddick, Blaney, and Chase Briscoe(14) the top five taking the green for the restart.
With 27 laps to go, Erik Jones stalled on the track bringing out the fourth caution of the afternoon. The entire field is likely to head to pit road. The remaining laps put everyone just outside the fuel window to finish without another stop. Crews will be making sure they get the tank full of Sunoco racing gasoline and drivers will be expected to save drops of the precious fluid during the caution laps.
The Final 25 Laps
The race restarted with 25 laps to go with Chastain, Briscoe, Reddick, Alex Bowman(48), and Allmendinger as the top five. Chastain and Briscoe swapped the lead, seemingly at every corner. The tight side-by-side racing was suspended temporarily as Bubba Wallace(23) lost a wheel bringing out the caution again after just one lap of green flag racing.
The caution allowed Erik Jones to get back the lap he lost when he had the engine electrical problem. Wallace will lose at least one lap as he is towed back to the pits for the wheel replacement.
On the restart, it was Chastain out front and Briscoe in second having his rearview full of Allmendinger in third. That trio was able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack with 19 laps to go. Crew chiefs reported to some drivers they were right on the number for laps remaining versus fuel in the tank. Other teams felt they might be a lap short of being able to make it to the end.
With 15 laps to go Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) coasted to a stop on the track. NASCAR was a little slow to throw the caution waiting to see if Stenhouse could get moving again or safely exit the racing circuit. A broken driveshaft idled the No. 47 and the yellow was displayed so a safety truck could be dispatched and push Stenhouse back to the garage.
Sharp-eyed spotters saw the potential for the caution and called their drivers to pit road just before the yellow waved and closed the pits for further service. Others feared they would not have enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag and came in when pit road was opened.
The leaders, using the slower laps to save fuel, believed they had enough gas to make it and they stayed out to preserve track position. With Chastain, Allmendinger, and Briscoe the front three, Bowman, Elliott, and Kyle Busch followed.
Chastain drove away and Reddick made a big move going deep into the first turn on the inside to move into second. Briscoe got knocked off the course and was flagged for short-cutting a corner. His crew appealed to NASCAR and they rescinded the penalty that would have required him to drive through pit road at reduced speed while the field raced on. He lost positions and settled into eighth place when the caution waved again for fluid on the track causing two cars to spin out.
With nine laps to go the race restarted with Chastain and Allmendinger running one-two. Reddick and Elliott were followed by Bowman at the drop of the green. Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who both had problems earlier in the race, ran in the top 15.
With six laps to go, the caution came out again as Loris Hezemans spun and stalled out just off the racing surface. The pits opened with four laps to go, there were no takers among the top 10.
The restart with three laps to go was total chaos. Reddick drove around the top two to take the lead. Almost immediately after the green flag was waved NASCAR announced the restart was under review. Logano, Larson, and Kurt Busch(45) had slid off turn one and scattered stones across the racing surface bringing out the ninth caution and sending the race into overtime.
No penalties were assessed as a result of the review, the track was cleaned and they line them up again with Reddick, Chastain, Allmendinger, Bowman, and Blaney the top five. As the leaders fanned out three-wide, Chastain pulled away to a five-car-length lead over Allmendinger with Bowman just behind. On the final lap, Allmendinger used the bump and run to take the lead, Bowman followed him past.
However, Chastain was not going to be satisfied with another third-place finish. He dove inside Allmendinger who had given up first place to Bowman. A return bump from Chastain got Allmendinger loose and he spun into Bowman allowing Chastain to drive underneath both of them and take the win.
Bowman recovered to hold onto second, Allmendinger dropped to 33rd, the last car on the lead lap. Boris Said, the 59-year old veteran, finished 26th to top all the road course specialists in the race.
Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, and Michael McDowell were the 16 playoff drivers in 2021.
Through the first six races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, six different winners have likely secured their spot in the Playoffs by virtue of their victory. Three of them, Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe, and Austin Cindric were not on last year’s list.
More surprising Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, and Michael McDowell would not be in the Playoffs if they started next week. All sit below the cut line and Kyle Busch is only five points to the good at this point of the season.
|1||Ross Chastain||177||In Win|
|2||Alex Bowman||175||In Win|
|3||William Byron||175||In Win|
|4||Chase Briscoe*||163||In Win|
|5||Austin Cindric*||150||In Win|
|6||Kyle Larson||143||In Win|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||172||+32|
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix from Circuit of the Americas
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr.||3.874||69|
|37||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-17||52|