Mike Forbes examines the Circuit of the Americas!!
Here we go again. After a couple of weeks where NASCAR went back to tracks that have been a staple of the series, we are once again venturing off into unknown territory as all three top series will race near Austin Texas and the Circuit of the Americas road course. This will be a rare opportunity for drivers to engage in practice and qualifying prior to the race. NASCAR is allowing this at tracks that the series has not run on before.
With all three series on the track this weekend, there will be plenty of action to keep an eye on as we go through our lineup builds for this week. We are going to want to pay close attention to how these teams dial in their cars during practice and where they eventually start on the grid. We do not have that information going into the week like we normally would, so that means we may need to wait until practice and qualifying are done before we can lock in our drivers.
First, let’s look at the track that will host the drivers this weekend. COTA is a 3.426-mile track that has hosted Formula 1 as well as IndyCar races in the past. The track was originally built to host the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix back in 2012. The current layout involves 20 turns in that 3 plus mile configuration. Multiple elevation changes will cause a few challenges, as the drivers navigate the track for the first time.
We will, of course, have a race-by-race breakdown, but I want to point out some of the things we need to be paying attention to as we race towards the weekend. First, let’s start off with the Camping World Truck Series.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (COTA)
Here is the schedule for the Truck series. There are 44 entries and only 36 starting spots available, so 8 trucks will not make the race. Those positions will be determined during qualifying.
- Practice starts at 2:05 PM Central and runs through 2:55 PM
- Qualifying Saturday at 8:05AM
- Toyota Tundra 225 goes Green at 1:30 PM
- Stage lengths are 12/26/42 for a length of 143 miles
Notable drivers racing in this race include Paul Menard, who retired from full-time racing, in the number 66 ThorSport Racing Toyota. Kaz Grala will be running in the 02 Truck for Young Motorsports. Parker Chase will be in the 51 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports. There will also be a host of drivers with various backgrounds making an attempt to race their way into this event. We will have more on those drivers in the full field breakdown out later this week.
NASCAR Xfinity Series (COTA)
Here is the schedule for the Xfinity racers this weekend. There are 43 drivers entered and 40 available starting spots, meaning three teams will not qualify for the race.
- Friday 3:05-3:55 PM practice
- Saturday 10:05 Xfinity qualifying
- The Pit Boss 250 goes green around 4 PM Saturday
- The stage lengths are 14/16/16 for a total of 44 laps
Notable drivers entered in this race include Kevin Harvick, who will pilot the number 5 car for BJ McLeod, Kyle Busch, who will run in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Cole Custer in the number 27 for Rick Ware Racing, Tyler Reddick is entered, Austin Dillon, Miguel Paludo, Spencer Pumpelly, and former road course ringer Boris Said will run in the 13 car.
Sean Engel will have you covered for this race with his race article later this weekend.
Finally, let’s look into the Cup series as they finish off the weekend Sunday afternoon.
NASCAR Cup Series (COTA)
There are 40 drivers entered in the race, which means all drivers who attempt to qualify will start the race Sunday.
- Saturday 9:05-9:55 AM practice
- Sunday 9:35 AM Qualifying
- Sunday 1:30 PM Green flag for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix (All times central)
- Stage lengths for this race are 15/32/68 for a total of 231 total miles
Notable drivers entered in this race include Austin Cindric, who makes another start for Penske in the Cup series, Ty Dillon, who has had some success on road courses in the past, Kyle Tilley, who will drive the 78 car for Live Fast Motorsports and AJ Allmendinger, who is entered in a Kaulig Racing Chevy.
Road course racing has become a much more important skill than it used to be even ten years ago. With road courses taking up more and more spots on the schedule, drivers have to be prepared to capture the moment when they strap in for right and left-handed turns. Some drivers in the Cup series do this better than others. Let’s spotlight some of these drivers before we run the full field rankings.
When it comes to road course racers, we have to start with Chase Elliott. Hendrick Motorsports had a historic race in Dover where they finished 1st through 4th. The Hendrick Chevies are fast this year after having a couple down years. Last year’s series champ, Chase Elliott, is the only HMS driver without a victory this season. That could all change this Sunday. Chase has five out of the last nine road races. He won four in a row between 2019 and 2020. This year, he finished 2nd in the clash but had a disappointing 21st place finish in the points-paying race in February. He did, however, lead 44 laps in that race before falling back to 21st. Chase is my favorite this week, and I think he has a great chance to break through and join the rest of his teammates in victory lane.
The other driver who loves racing on these road courses is Martin Truex Jr. His average finish in his last nine road courses is 5.44. He finished 12th at the Daytona Road Course earlier in the year, but he should be a lock for a top-five this weekend.
Christopher Bell surprised a lot of people with his win in Daytona earlier this year. That win gave us one hell of a start to the season as we had him as our longshot bet that weekend. That victory showed just how much of a difference racing in a premier car makes. This is his first year in the 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he made the most of it on the road course.
There are two other drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing who we have not talked about yet. Both of those drivers should be a factor come Sunday afternoon. Denny Hamlin has better overall numbers recently, with an average finish of just over 9 in the past nine races. He has won before at Watkins Glen, and that team is really strong this year. Depending on where he qualifies, Denny could be a driver who winds up in victory lane this weekend.
I mentioned Kyle Busch, and his recent races at road courses have not been all that memorable, except for his victory in the clash. As a matter of fact, the other 5 races around that victory all resulted in 30th or worse finishes. This is a week where I stay away from Kyle and the 18 team.
Ryan Blaney leads the Penske group this weekend in terms of upside at COTA. Don’t get me wrong. Any Penske driver has a chance to jump up and grab a victory here this weekend, but Ryan comes from the younger group, who has more experience coming up racing on these road courses. He won in 2018 on the Charlotte Roval and has been up front in most of the road races in his career. He finished in the teens earlier this year, but he should be a top-five or ten driver Sunday.
I talked about Chase Elliott earlier in the article, but he is not alone in his potential coming from the Hendrick camp. The driver who I think is primed to break through is last week’s winner Alex Bowman. He has been steadily getting better and has finished 10th or better in most of the past 6 races. The entire HMS team has potential to get in victory lane, but I like Alex’s chances of going back-to-back this weekend.
Anytime AJ Allmendinger enters a race on a road course, he will be a guy to watch. I would have liked him more had there not been qualifying, and he had to race from the back, but if we can get him anywhere in the middle of our lineup, we have to use him.
I want to go through and give you full field rankings in this article, but this is one of those races where we need to keep an eye on what happens in practice and qualifying before we talk about lineup construction and how we want to attack. We will talk a little bit about it after the rankings, but you are going to want to keep checking back with us and follow Sean Engel’s article as we get closer to the race. We don’t have a ton of time after qualifying to lock in lineups, but we will have you covered.
Here are my full field rankings.
- Chase Elliott
- Martin Truex Jr.
- AJ Allmendinger
- Kevin Harvick
- Ryan Blaney
- Denny Hamlin
- Christopher Bell
- Alex Bowman
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Larson
- Kurt Busch
- William Byron
- Kyle Busch
- Austin Dillon
- Brad Keselowski
- Aric Almirola
- Daniel Suarez
- Ryan Newman
- Michael McDowell
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Ty Dillon
- Matt DiBenedetto
- Cole Custer
- Chris Buescher
- Austin Cindric
- Tyler Reddick
- Chase Briscoe
- Bubba Wallace
- Erik Jones
- Corey LaJoie
- Kyle Tilley
- Justin Haley
- Ross Chastain
- Anthony Alfredo
- Ryan Preece
- James Davison
- Josh Bilicki
- Cody Ware
- Quin Houff
- Garrett Smithley
When we talk about how we want to build our lineups for this race, we are going to have to find some value with guys who struggle in qualifying. Drivers at the top who we have to look at include Chase Elliott and a mixture of Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. I think the top two should come from that group, and then we dig a little deeper for our values.
AJ Allmendinger may be priced out of our value slot, but if we can afford him in the third spot, we want to lock him in there. Christopher Bell should be given some consideration, as well as whatever Hendrick driver is offered at the lowest salary on the site you play on. Austin Dillon would fit nicely in the middle, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
At the bottom, Kyle Tilley jumps out as a guy who can jump up and surprise some people. His ownership will probably be lower than a lot of other guys down here, so if we can get anything out of him, we will be in the money. I also love Daniel Suarez, which should be no surprise to regular readers of my articles. He will most likely be above 7k on both sites, which may put him out of reach, but if he isn’t, we want to jump all over him Sunday. Michael McDowell and Ryan Preece are other possible options at the bottom.
There is no optimal lineup until we see how things shake out with qualifying Sunday morning.
In regard to picking a winner for the Echopark Texas Grand Prix, I am going to avoid the favorite in Chase Elliott because there isn’t enough value in it for me. At 2.5/1, he may be a solid choice if you are making one wager, but for me, I like Denny Hamlin at 8/1. I love a bunch of mid-pack drivers, including Kyle Larson and William Byron at 14/1. If I had to choose one, I would go with Larson and hope he breaks free of finishing 2nd and improves one spot better. My longshot is going to be Matt DiBenedetto at 60/1.
I will be back later in the week with my Truck series preview, and you can follow along all weekend long on Twitter @mikejforbes for updates.