The NASCAR Cup Series (NCS), Xfinity Series (NXS) and CRAFTSMAN Truck Series (NCTS) will converge on Austin, Texas for their first road/street course race of the young season with this weekend’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas (COTA).
All three of NASCAR’s National Series will tackle the challenging and technical 20-turn, 3.41-mile permanent road course beginning Friday. The NCS will have its opening practice session while the NXS and NCTS will conduct both practice and qualifying.
Saturday’s busy schedule will include NCS qualifying (10:30 a.m. CT) along with the NCTS XPEL 225 (12:30 p.m., TV: FS1, Radio: MRN, SiriusXM) and NXS Pit Boss presented by USA TODAY (4 p.m., TV: FS1, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM). The three-day race weekend culminates with Sunday’s third running of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM).
Here’s a look at the “Fast Five” Storylines for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix:
- Seven-time NCS champion Jimmie Johnson, after a two-year absence while racing in INDYCAR for Chip Ganassi Racing, will be making his second start of a very limited 2023 racing schedule in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.
Johnson, co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, will be driving the No. 84 Chevrolet for the organization in his first NCS appearance at COTA. It will be his second start of the season, following his 31st-place finish due to a late accident in the season-opening Daytona 500.
“COTA has been on my racing ‘bucket list’ for a very long time,” Johnson said. “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. … 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, who gained additional experience running road and street courses in his time in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, owns one career NCS victory on road courses (Sonoma, 2010) and 20 top-10 finishes in 40 career starts.
- The Formula One race at COTA may be in October, but the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix will have a distinctive F1 flair with two former world champions – Kimi Räikkönen and Jenson Button – competing in the event.
Räikkönen, the 2007 F1 champion with 21 career wins, will be driving the No. 91 Chevrolet as Trackhouse Racing’s third race entry. The race will mark Räikkönen’s second NCS race after debuting with the organization’s PROJECT91 program at Watkins Glen last August. Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks created PROJECT91 last year with the goal of expanding the organization’s global reach by fielding a NCS entry for renowned international racing drivers.
The 43-year-old Finnish driver is quite familiar with COTA, making eight F1 starts on the road course and earning a victory for Ferrari in 2018. It was the final win of his F1 career.
“I had a fantastic time in NASCAR,” said Räikkönen, who finished 37th in his NCS debut at The Glen. “There was a lot to learn in a very short amount of time, but everyone was very helpful, the competition was a big challenge. This time I get to race on a track I am familiar with so there won’t be as steep of a learning curve. I want to have fun, but also do as well as we can.”
Button, the 2009 F1 champion with 15 career wins, will be making his NCS debut driving the No. 15 Ford entry for Rick Ware Racing with support from Stewart-Haas Racing. The 43-year-old Brit also has experience at COTA with five F1 starts. He posted four top-10 finishes with a best of fifth (2012).
“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” said Button, whose last COTA start came in 2016. “It’s a lot heavier with a lot less power and, basically, no downforce. It’s got a sequential gearbox where you need to blip the throttle, so there’s lots of stuff to learn in a very short space of time.
“But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100 percent in. I’m not just doing it for fun in some one-off. I want to be competitive, and I know that to be competitive, it’s going to take a bit of time.”
Button also is scheduled to compete in the Chicago street race in July and Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August.
- Ross Chastain returns to the site where he ignited his career-best season and signaled the arrival of Trackhouse Racing.
Last March, Chastain earned his first career NCS victory in dramatic fashion at COTA as he outdueled A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman in a two-lap overtime shootout for a 1.331-second victory. The win also was the first for Trackhouse Racing and team owner Justin Marks.
Chastain would go on to earn another victory (Talladega), advance to the Championship 4 round and finish runner-up to Team Penske’s Joey Logano for the NCS championship.
He arrives at COTA this season third in the NCS points standings, five points behind Logano. He has posted four finishes of 13th or better through the first five races, including a season-best, third-place finish at Fontana.
During his COTA return, he will take his signature victory “watermelon smash” to new heights by dropping a few from the platform of the landmark, 251-foot-high COTA Tower. The media event will begin at 12 p.m. Friday followed by media availability with Chastain.
- Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott, the 2020 NCS champion and an 18-time race winner, will miss his fourth consecutive race following surgery for a fractured left tibia that resulted from a snowboarding incident. He previously missed Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta, respectively, and is expected to be out six weeks.
Champion sports car driver Jordan Taylor will handle driving duties for the No. 9 Chevrolet in his NCS debut. The 31-year-old Taylor competes for Corvette Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where he has won three championships.
Jordan made four IMSA starts at COTA from 2014-17, where he earned two wins, three podiums, two poles and led 146 of a possible 298 laps. He won from the pole in his last two appearances (2016, ’17).
“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."
- Joey Logano became the fourth driver from a different organization to win through the first five races of the season with Sunday’s victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Logano, the defending series champion, led a race-high 140 of the 260 laps to provide Team Penske with its first win of the season. The victory also moved Logano atop the NCS points standings by one over Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing.
The other organizations with wins this season are JTG Daugherty Racing (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), Richard Childress Racing (Kyle Busch) and Hendrick Motorsports (William Byron). Byron is the only driver with multiple wins, claiming Las Vegas and Phoenix, respectively, in consecutive weeks.
Interestingly, Logano and Busch (seventh) are the only race winners who rank among the top 10 in the series points standings heading into the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.
Tickets for the March 24-26 NASCAR at COTA tripleheader weekend are on sale now at NASCARatCOTA.com. Three-day weekend packages for adults including the Darius Rucker pre-race concert start at just $99 and just $10 for kids 12 and under. Further details can be found on the NASCAR at COTA website.
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