NASCAR Cup Series News & Notes – 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 RC, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval) for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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 first NASCAR Cup Series race held at the Circuit of The Americas was last season on May 23, 2021, but the event was shortened 14 laps from the scheduled distance due to weather. The inaugural Cup event at COTA saw 10 different leaders and 11 lead changes. Hendrick Motorsport’s driver Chase Elliott took the checkered flag by passing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman with just five laps before the race was called. 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).

This weekend’s on-track activity for the NASCAR Cup Series begins with practice on Saturday, March 26 at 10 a.m. ET followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 11 a.m. ET. Both will be televised on FS1.


NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix

The Place: Circuit of The Americas

The Date: Sunday, March 27

The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

The Purse: $8,799,709

TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 231.88 miles (68 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 15),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 30), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 68)

2021 Race Winner: Chase Elliott


Standings leader Chase Elliott heads to COTA looking for first win of 2022

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). Last season’s Circuit of The Americas winner and current NASCAR Cup Series point standings leader, Chase Elliott, is the lone Hendrick driver looking for his first win of 2022 as the series returns to the 3.41-mile road course this weekend for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Though winless this season, Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team have been impressive. In five races this season, Elliott has collected three top-10 finishes and currently holds a seven-point lead over Team Penske’s Joey Logano in second in the standings. Elliott is not only the defending winner of this weekend’s race, he also leads the series among active drivers in road course wins with seven.

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).

Last season, Elliott and Larson finished first or second together in three of the seven road course races and the duo led the series in top-five finishes on road courses with five each.

Road course aces to watch this weekend

Heading into this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas, the NASCAR Cup Series has 11 former road course winners entered in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and 10 of them are looking for their first win of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott (seven road course wins) and Kyle Larson (three) have been the two hottest road course drivers over the last few seasons. Elliott, who leads all active drivers in road course wins, is currently ranked third on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time road course wins list behind Jeff Gordon with nine road course wins and Tony Stewart with eight. Elliott’s teammate, Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, became the first driver in series history to win at three different road courses in a single season last year (Sonoma, Watkins Glen and Charlotte Roval).

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell (Daytona RC) and Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger (Indianapolis RC) were the only drivers not in the Hendrick camp to win on a road course in the NASCAR Cup Series last season. Allmendinger finished fifth at the Circuit of The Americas in 2021 and Bell was caught in an incident and finished 38th.

Active Road Course Winners in the NASCAR Cup Series

Active Road Course Winners Total Wins Sonoma WGI Charlotte Daytona Indy COTA Road America
Chase Elliott 7 0 2 2 1 0 1 1
Kyle Busch 4 2 2 0 0 0 0 0
Martin Truex Jr 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Larson 3 1 1 1 0 0 0 0
Kevin Harvick 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
AJ Allmendinger 2 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
Joey Logano 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Kurt Busch 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Blaney 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Christopher Bell 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Denny Hamlin 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0

Right behind Elliott on the active NASCAR Cup Series road course winners list are 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.

Playoff Bubble: Four of last season’s Playoff drivers are outside the points cutoff

Through the first five races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, five different winners have secured their spot in the Playoffs by virtue of their victory. At the other end of postseason outlook, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick holds the 16th and final transfer spot into the Playoffs by a slim four-point lead over RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is one of four Playoff contenders from last season currently outside the 2022 Playoff’s point cutoff as the series heads to the Circuit of The Americas for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix this Sunday, March 27 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

2022 Driver Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 5 – Drivers Outside Looking In
Rank Driver Points Wins Stages Playoff Pts Pts From Cutoff
16 Tyler Reddick 126 0 2 2 4
17 Brad Keselowski 122 0 0 0 -4
18 Bubba Wallace 120 0 0 0 -6
19 Erik Jones 115 0 0 0 -11
20 Chris Buescher 113 0 0 0 -13
21 Austin Dillon 99 0 0 0 -27
22 Justin Haley 94 0 0 0 -32
23 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 91 0 0 0 -35
24 Corey LaJoie 87 0 0 0 -39
25 Ty Dillon 86 0 0 0 -40
26 Denny Hamlin 79 0 0 0 -47
27 Michael McDowell 78 0 0 0 -48
28 Cole Custer 76 0 0 0 -50
29 Todd Gilliland # 72 0 0 0 -54
30 Christopher Bell 69 0 0 0 -57

RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski is currently 17th in the driver standings, just four points back from Tyler Reddick in the final postseason transfer position. The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Keselowski, joined RFK Racing in the offseason and with new crew chief Matt McCall, the duo has led 70 laps and posted one top-10 finish (Daytona) this season. In last season’s race at the Circuit of The Americas, he finished 19th. Among active drivers, Keselowski ranks 12th in series career average finish on road courses with a 15.4.

One of the most surprising drivers to find on this side of the Playoff cutoff is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin. The Chesterfield, Virginia native was the series’ point standings leader for 20 straight races last season but this year through five races he is ranked 26th in points. Hamlin is 47 points behind Tyler Reddick, who is the 16th and final Playoff position. Look for Hamlin to turn his season around this weekend, he has a road course win at Watkins Glen International, finished 14th at the Circuit of the Americas last season and is ranked 10th in series career average finish on road courses with a 15.1. Plus, he finished in the top-five four times on road courses last season (third-most).

The 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell was looking to be on another hot start this year with a top-10 finish to open the 2022 season but since Daytona, he hasn’t finished better than 24th and finds himself mired in the standings (27th) heading to COTA. McDowell is currently 48 points behind Tyler Reddick who is in the final Playoff transfer position (16th). But McDowell will look to right his ship this weekend on the first road course of the season. McDowell started 23rd and raced his way up to a seventh-place finish at the Circuit of The Americas last season. It was one of two top 10s he put up on road courses last season.

Teetering on the very last spot eligible to make the Playoffs (30th), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell sits 57 points behind Tyler Reddick in the 16th and final postseason transfer spot. Last season, Bell earned his spot in the Playoffs by winning his first career NASCAR Cup Series race at the Daytona Road Course. Bell managed to put up two top-five finishes on road courses last season and looks get his 2022 season headed in the right direction this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas. At COTA last year, Bell’s race was short lived. He was caught in an incident on Lap 20 and was relegated to a 38th-place finish.

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

NASCAR Cup Series Featured Matchups: 2022 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas – Below is a close look at the featured matchups fans can bet on heading into this weekend’s event.

  • 9 – Chase Elliott vs. 16 AJ Allmendinger
    • Much has been made in recent years about Chase Elliott’s dominance on road courses, and the stats bear that out – Elliott has won a stunning 6 out of the last 12 races on road courses and possesses an average finish of seventh at the track type (best among active drivers).
    • While it would be tempting to match Elliott up with his Hendrick Motorsports counterpart Kyle Larson this week (who won three road course events in 2021), the clean slate offered by the Next Gen race car makes road course specialist AJ Allmendinger the most intriguing matchup for Elliott heading into the weekend.
    • Allmendinger, who is on a part-time Cup Series schedule, has far and away the most experience on road courses outside of NASCAR – having an illustrious career outside of stock car racing that saw him win many races on road courses in circuit-based series like IMSA, IndyCar and others. Plus, don’t forget he won at the Indianapolis Road Course last season.
  • 24 – William Byron vs. 5 – Kyle Larson
    • For the first time ever, NASCAR.com fans voted for their preferred matchup of the week, and Byron vs. Larson was the top choice. Fans certainly voted wisely, as both of these Hendrick Motorsports drivers have shown incredible speed on road courses in recent races.
    • The last time the series visited a road course (Charlotte Roval last fall), Larson won the race, but Byron arguably had the best car late in the event – leading 30 laps in the final stage before an untimely late caution and contact with Tyler Reddick on the ensuing restart spoiled Byron’s shot at a surprise win.
  • 2 – Austin Cindric vs. 19 – Martin Truex Jr.
    • Reigning Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric gets his first crack at his bread-and-butter track type as a full-time Cup driver this weekend. Cindric is a classically-trained road racer at heart who came up through sports cars prior to transitioning to stock cars – and that road course acumen has yielded strong road course results for Cindric in his young NASCAR career – five Xfinity road course wins and one Truck Series road course win.
    • Truex makes for a strong matchup for Cindric, as the JGR veteran has one of the best stat-lines in the sport in recent years on road courses – he has the fourth best driver rating on RCs since 2019 (105.9) and the fourth best average finish in the same span (10.50).
  • 11 – Denny Hamlin vs. 18 – Kyle Busch
    • The final matchup for COTA is an intriguing one that matches up two JGR superstars with similar records on road courses.
    • Hamlin has the third highest average finish since 2019 on the road course track type (8.92) among active drivers but has had a miserable start to the 2022 season, where he currently sits 26th in points.
    • Busch has had poor luck and unusual circumstances bite him in road course races in recent years, culminating in what currently stands as the 19th best average finish (16.50) on road courses since 2019. That said, Busch is a four-time road course winner at the Cup level and collected a surprise victory in the 2021 Busch Clash, which was contested on the Daytona Road Course.

GRAMMY nominated band Midland to perform pre-race concert at COTA – GRAMMY Award-nominated Midland, the band that hails from nearby Dripping Springs, Texas, will perform a pre-race concert prior to Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Rooted in tradition, the trio, Midland, initially garnered attention playing clubs in the Texas region. Their critically acclaimed sophomore album Let It Roll from Big Machine Records earned the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Top Country Album Sales chart upon release. Midland was also named New Vocal Group of the Year at the 2018 ACM Awards and was nominated for Vocal Group of the Year at the 2020 CMA Awards


 

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