NASCAR: Debut at Circuit of the Americas a mixed bag

The three NASCAR national touring series raced at Circuit of the Americas for the first time ever this past weekend and the results were mixed.

NASCAR, and its efforts to diversify its national touring schedules, rolled through Austin, Texas this past weekend to compete at the Circuit of the Americas.

The treacherous 3.4-mile track has been a staple of the Formula 1 and GT World Challenge calendars since 2014, but this weekend was NASCAR’s first trip. To complicate matters, Goodyear brought a healthy supply of rain tires to deal with Saturday and Sunday’s forecast. NASCAR’s stock cars and trucks already aren’t designed with road course racing in mind, and Circuit of the Americas in dry conditions is an ultra-challenging track.

If this was COTA’s audition for a permanent spot on NASCAR’s calendar, it certainly had to overcome a lot of hurdles.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series shines in the rain

From start to finish, the Camping World Truck Series put ona great show despite the nasty conditions. Todd Gilliland ran away with the victory, but his 7.9-second margin doesn’t illustrate how competitive the Toyota Tundra 225 was. The race featured six different leaders and a constant battle within the top three, especially when Gilliand, Sheldon Creed and Kaz Grala were up front.

The Toyota Tundra 225 was more than just a race for first place however. Position battles took place all over the field. NASCAR officially counted 1,646 green flag passes. The race was largely incident free besides a few spins. The only cautions were for stage breaks, meaning 95-percent of the race took place under green.

Kyle Busch dominates Xfinity Series race

NASCAR’s No. 2 series failed to put on a show to compliment the Truck Series. By the time the the Pitt Boss 250 began, the sun started to shine and the track was much drier. Kyle Busch led 35 of 46 laps and had an 11-second margin of victory. No one really challenged Busch who led the first 11 laps after starting on the pole.

There were plenty of battles elsewhere in the field however, especially between championship favorites Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier and Harrison Burton inside the top 10.

Hard-to-watch crashes mire NASCAR Cup Series race

The Echo Park Texas Grand Prix was a fun, competitive race. Unfortuetelty, two scary collisions during stage two have and will continue to dominate the conversation about the race.

NASCAR started the race in the rain, but conditions weren’t awful. In fact, the Cup Series drivers performed very well in the wet weather, managing to still engage in competition for positions. Austin Cindric, making his fifth Cup Series start this year, impressed by leading the fist four laps on slick tires. He never regained the lead after pitting for wet tires on lap five, but he did hang around the top 15.

As the race wore on, conditions worstened and during stage two, the drivers could barely see anything in front of them on the back stretch. This led to disaster on lap 20 when Bubba Wallace failed to see Kevin Harvick slowing down in front of him. Wallace plowed through the back of Harvick’s car at full speed, destorying both machines in the process. Three more drivers crashed as a result.

Despite the severity of the wreck, NASCAR decided to continue the race. On lap 26, one lap after a restart, Martin Truex Jr. rear-ended Michael McDowell’s car. McDowell was able to continue, but Truex’s hood popped up and covered his windshield. Before he could pull off into a safer area, Cole Custer ran into Truex, sending the #19 machine into the air. Fortunetely, Truex landed on Custer’s car, cushioning his blow somewhat. Custer’s car spun hard into an inside wall, but the padding kept the second-year driver from sustaining any injuries.

NASCAR finally waved the red flag to dry the track and to allow teams to clean their windshields. When action resumed on lap 29, the race went back to normal with competition that resembled what we watched in stage 1. Busch took the lead when the race restarted and it looked like he was on his way to victory, but after pitting on lap 41, he was informed the car was two laps short on fuel. Chase Elliot pitted with him from second-place and was also short.

Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman’s took turns leading before each ventured down pit road. Elliot, who passed Busch saving fuel, inherited the lead on lap 50. From there, it was a race against the weather. Another downpour could end the race, giving Elliot the victory. Meanwhile, Larson and Joey Logano, sitting in P2 and P3 were in position to pounce, especially if a caution merely delayed the race.

Ultimately, rain did cover the track. Without lights, NASCAR was forced to end the race after 54 laps, Elliot secured the victory, his first of 2021.

NASCAR’s future at Circuit of the Americas

Will NASCAR return to Austin, Tex.? You can count on it. Formula 1 is likely leaving Circuit of the Americas after this season and IndyCar hasn’t raced there since 2019. COTA is a state-of-the-art facility, and the stars and stipes imagery that lines the tracks fits NASCAR’s patriotic image. More importantly, the track produced solid racing during its first outing.

Most of the good racing taking place in wet conditions is certainly a topic to discuss. Would the Truck Series or Cup Series races have been as compelling in dry conditions? Who knows? As it pertains to the Cup Series, we’ll never know the answer because the series is switching to the Next Gen car in 2022. When the top touring series returns to the Circuit of the Americas next season, it’ll bring a racecar that was designed with road course racing in mind.

TOP IMAGE: Chris Graythen/Getty Images