Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX — March 26, 2023
Lots of changes preceded the running of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas just outside of Austin, Texas. Today’s race will be the debut of the new low-downforce package on road courses after Cup Series drivers got a first taste at Phoenix Raceway.
Also, for the first time, the choose rule will be in effect before each restart, and while stage points will still be awarded, there will be zero stage cautions. Strategy will be important throughout the race for teams looking to make up ground on the track or maximize their points day. It will be a fine line and a big test when it comes down to racing for the win during the Final Stage.
This week is the first of six road & street courses on the 2023 Cup schedule – Sonoma Raceway (June 11), Chicago Street Course (July 2), Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen International (Aug. 20) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 8) follow.
NASCAR at the Circuit of the Americas
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.
The sprawling Circuit of The Americas road course has hosted two NASCAR Cup Series races (2021, 2022). The inaugural event was held on May 23, 2021, but was shortened from its scheduled 68 laps to 54 due to inclement weather. The race produced 11 lead changes among ten different leaders, but it was Hendrick Motorsports driver and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott who won the inaugural event under caution.
The series returned to the 3.41-mile track in 2022 and ran the full scheduled length (68 laps), producing 13 lead changes among nine different leaders. The final lead change of the NASCAR Cup Series March 27, 2022 race took place with two laps to go – Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain passed Tyler Reddick for the lead – and went on to win his first career Cup Series race.
Last season’s race was also the premiere of the Next Gen car on a road course, and it didn’t disappoint. Circuit of The Americas produced a NASCAR Cup Series record for green flag passes for the lead on road course tracks, with 30 green flag passes for the lead. The previous record was held by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course with 22 green flag passes for the lead in 2021.
The 68 laps in today’s race comprise 231.88 miles over (68 laps). Stages are set for 15/15/38 laps with no caution breaks between Stages. 1 (Ends on Lap 15),
Here are the specific changes included in the low-downforce package.
- Rear Spoiler reduced to 2”
- Remove the Engine Panel Strakes
- Remove the Center and Inner Diffuser Strakes. Only the Outer Diffuser Strakes will remain installed. Spacers will be installed between the diffuser flap and diffuser due to removing the inner diffuser strakes.
- Remove Diffuser Fences and Replace them with Baseline Fences.
- Splitter stuffers will remain unchanged from the current components.
So that teams and drivers had additional track time to adjust to these new components, NASCAR has made Circuit of The Americas an ‘extended practice’ weekend. A 50-minute practice took place on Friday.
Active Road Course Winners
With current active Cup Series road course wins leader Chase Elliott (with seven road course wins) sidelined with a broken leg, that leaves three drivers assuming the role this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas.
|Active Road Course Winners (12)||Total Wins||Sonoma||WGI||Charlotte||Daytona||Indy||COTA||Road America|
|Martin Truex Jr||4||3||1||0||0||0||0||0|
Button, Räikkönen, and Taylor join the Cup Series at COTA
Formula One champions Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen, along with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion Jordan Taylor join the NASCAR Cup Series stars to compete in the first road course race of 2023.
Rick Ware Racing and Mobil 1 have worked in conjunction to bring the 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button to NASCAR to compete in three races this season – Circuit of The Americas (March 26), Chicago Street Course (July 2), and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Aug. 13). This weekend, Button, a native of Frome, England, will attempt to make his series debut piloting the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet with crew chief Billy Plourde on top of the pit box.
“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” Button said. “But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100% in.” The 43-year-old driver has won 15 races in 306 career Formula One starts. His final start came in 2017, and his last full-time F1 season was in 2016.
Returning to the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend, after making his career debut at Watkins Glen International last season, is the 2007 Formula One world champion Kimi Räikkönen. The driver from Espoo, Finland, will be back in the Trackhouse Project No. 91 Chevrolet with crew chief Darian Grubb on the pit box.
This will be Räikkönen’s second stint in the Project 91 car. He helped introduce the program last season at Watkins Glen International. The 43-year-old driver started the race at The Glen in 27th but was caught in an incident exiting the bus stop that relegated him to a 37th-place finish.
“Last year was a great experience,” said Räikkönen. “Unfortunately, the result wasn’t what we were looking for because we got caught up in a wreck, but that’s part of racing. I am excited to have another go, and hopefully, we will stay out of any big issues. This will be tricky for sure, but the further we go into the weekend, the easier it gets. At least I have an idea of how we can approach the weekend. I think we did a good job last year. Is the car going to give us a better result? I don’t know, I hope so.”
Joining Button in making his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas will be IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car champion Jordan Taylor, who has been selected to replace an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports entry on road courses until Elliott is healthy enough to return. Taylor will be working with crew chief Tom Gray this weekend.
Taylor, from Orlando, Florida, has also been tapped as the fourth driver in the NASCAR Garage 56 project that will have an adapted NASCAR Next Gen car compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.
“Jordan is a world-class road racer and has recently been working with our Garage 56 team preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “He’ll be able to step in and do a great job at COTA.”
Seven-Time Makes His COTA Debut
Jimmie Johnson will check off a ‘bucket list’ item this weekend at COTA. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and current owner/driver at Legacy Motor Club, Johnson, will be returning to the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas – the second start of his 10-race part-time 2023 schedule.
“COTA has been on my racing ‘bucket list’ for a very long time,” said Johnson. “But my timing was off by a year or so. I was hoping it was going to be on the INDYCAR schedule – and it wasn’t – and then they added it to the NASCAR schedule after I left. I’m excited to finally be able to check this one off the list and thankful to Club Wyndham for making it happen. From everything I’ve heard, NASCAR drivers have had a lot of fun racing at COTA, so to say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement.”
Johnson made his return to the Cup series in the season-opening Daytona 500, where he started 39th and finished 31st.
Throughout Johnson’s NASCAR Cup Series career, he has made 40 starts on road courses posting one win (Sonoma, 2010), nine top fives, and 20 top 10s. His most recent NASCAR Cup Series start on a road course was on Oct. 11, 2020, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, where he started 30th and raced his way up to a 13th-place finish.
William Byron(24) started on the pole with Tyler Reddick(8) sitting next to him. Up the hill and into turn one, they spread out four-wide. Byron jumped out to a five-car-length lead as drivers shuffled for position throughout the field.
It did not take long for the banging to start. At the end of lap one, several drivers got together in turns 19 and 20. Cars stacked up, and a bump sent Ty Dillon(77) spinning. Dillon collected Jimmie Johnson(84), Todd Gilliland(38), Chris Buescher(17), and Brad Keselowski(6). Johnson and Dillon suffered the most damage. Both cars were forced to the garage.
On the restart, things got a bit crazy. Byron and Reddick went side-by-side into turn one and drifted wide. Austin Cindric(2) took advantage of the mistake and drove off the turn into the lead.
On lap seven, last week’s winner, Joey Logano(22), was penalized for leaving the racing surface in the esses. Logano had to make a drive through the pits at reduced speed before rejoining the race at the back of the pack. Corey LaJoie(7), Denny Hamlin(11), and Michael McDowell(34) were also caught shortcutting the circuit and suffered the same penalty.
On lap eight, Reddick passed Cindric, and a new number appeared at the top of the leaderboard.
There was action all over the track as drivers struggled with the twists and turns of the circuit. Bubba Wallace(23) overran turn 12. It appeared his brakes may have failed. He made contact with Erik Jones(43), and that broke something in the rear of Wallace’s car. He also ran into the back of Kyle Larson(5), sending him spinning.
It took Larson a moment to restart his race car, and when he got headed in the right direction, he slowed to come to the pit road for his crew to examine the car. The move, directly in front of Hamlin, initiated contact between the two cars, and Larson spun again with a bump from Denny’s car.
NASCAR was forced to display the caution flag. About a third of the field chose to take the opportunity to come to the pits for service. Including race leader Tyler Reddick.
Most of the cars near the front stayed on the track in an effort to earn Stage points. During pit stops, LaJoie was too fast exiting the pit road and was penalized by having to start at the rear of the field.
The damage to Bubba’s car was extensive, and he was forced to retire from the event.
As the field came to the line for the restart, it also completed the 15 laps in Stage One.
Stage One Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The top three remained the same as racing resumed at the start of Stage Two. Green flag pit stops began on lap 23 for those who did not come in under the caution. When all stops were completed, Reddick was back out front.
Names at the top of the leaderboard changed as the various pit strategies played out. Austin Dillon(3), McDowell, Kevin Harvick(4), and Larson followed Reddick as the laps wound down in Stage Two.
Reddick’s lead at the end of the Stage had grown to almost eight seconds.
Stage Two Results
|6||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||5|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Drivers on a three-stop strategy pitted early in Stage Three, shuffling the running order again. The top five of Byron, AJ Allmendinger(16), Reddick, Daniel Suarez(99), and defending race winner Ross Chastain(1) were all on the two-pit-stop strategy, with the exception of Reddick.
With 29 laps to go, Reddick resumed the lead by making the pass on Byron. Everyone will have to make at least one more pit stop to complete the race distance.
On lap 42, NASCAR was forced to display the caution for debris on the track. Cars cutting the corner in turn nine had thrown so much dirt onto the track it presented a safety hazard.
Almost everyone came to the pit road to get four tires and a full tank of fuel. While just outside the pit window, drivers may be able to conserve enough fuel with caution laps to complete the remaining laps without another stop.
The race off of pit road was won by Reddick. With Byron, Suarez, Chastain, and Austin Dillon following.
Logano was one of the drivers who did not pit, and he led the field up the hill to turn one. Byron, Chastain, and Reddick all passed the leader and began their own battle for the top spot. Reddick moved into second before they completed a lap. But, on fresh tires, Byron was able to keep the lead.
Reddick and Byron swapped the lead several times a lap, neither wanting to concede any position. The battle allowed Chastain and Alex Bowman(48) to join the top two. With 22 laps to go, Reddick took the lead, and Chastain engaged with Byron for second.
With 12 laps to go, Keselowski’s car went dead on the track, and the caution flag waved. This allowed teams concerned about fuel economy to come in and get enough Sunoco racing fuel to finish the event.
A few drivers had already pitted, and they stayed out, moving to the front of the field. Christopher Bell(20), Kyle Busch(8), Hamlin, Kimi Räikkönen(91), and Preece were the beneficiaries of the timing of the caution.
However, on the restart, it was Reddick who charged to the front from three rows back and took off, leaving the pack behind. Ross Chastain got bumped in turn one and stalled the car as he spun around. The caution came out again, and they lined up for the restart.
The two fastest cars all day long, Reddick and Byron, raced into turn one. This time it was Byron emerging with the lead as Reddick overdrove the corner. The duo quickly separated them from the rest of the field, and when Reddick passed for the lead with four laps to go, it seemed the race was over.
The caution flag waved again with four laps to go after Austin Dillon got slammed in the rear and began shedding parts on the track. With the debris cleaned, the race restarted in NASCAR overtime. Of the six Cup races run so far in 2023, four have gone into overtime.
Reddick and Byron are on the front row, followed by Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez behind them in row two. At the top of the hill, Reddick pulled away as Busch slid underneath Byron for the second spot.
Preece and Blaney got turned around amid the first turn shuffle as Reddick pulled away to a 10-car-length lead. Debris from the damaged cars littered the track, and the yellow flag forced the race into overtime number two.
On the restart, Reddick, Byron, and Busch ran three-wide through turn one. Reddick prevailed, but more debris from on-track push-and-shove incidents created another caution and overtime number three.
After all the position scrambling, Reddick, Busch, Bowman, Byron, and Chastain were the top five heading to the restart.
Reddick pulled away as Bowman and Bush bumped in turn one. The battle for second sent Reddick clear of the pack into the lead. Busch worked his way around Bowman for second, and Chastain finished ahead of Byron for fourth. It took seven extra laps to determine the winner, and Reddick was up to each challenge.
Jenson Button won the road racing specialist competition finishing in 19th. Jordan Taylor was 24th, and Kimi Raikkonen finished in the 27th position.
|1||William Byron||97||In Win(2)|
|2||Kyle Busch||188||In Win|
|3||Joey Logano*||185||In Win|
|4||Tyler Reddick||161||In Win|
|5||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||154||In Win|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||165||+46|
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4.237||75|
|17||19||Martin Truex Jr.||8.463||75|