Three Big Stories: COTA (2022)

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NASCAR’s return to Circuit of the Americas left us with some morsels about which to talk.

Ross Chastain‘s journey to victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series gives those who yearn for a blue collar driver a horse onto which to hook their cart. Furthermore, Circuit of the Americas got a fair shake to prove it belongs on the schedule. Meanwhile, NASCAR had some “Only in NASCAR” moments, Sunday.

So without further adieu, let’s dive into the Three Big Stories of NASCAR’s return to COTA.

Three Big Stories: COTA (2022)

Ross Chastain gives those who yearn for a blue collar driver a horse to hook their cart onto

AUSTIN, Texas – MARCH 27: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 ONX Homes/iFly Chevrolet, celebrates by eating a watermelon after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

For those who lament the lack of down to Earth, blue collar drivers, Chastain’s the driver for you.

When he’s not at the track, he works on a watermelon farm in Florida. He’s weaved this into his racing career, too, as he smashes melons after every victory (minus a mallet, sorry Gallagher).

Of course, anyone who’s followed his racing for the last four years knows he was an underrated driver who didn’t have the best equipment. When he got in a top ride, however, he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick in an XFINITY Series race at Darlington Raceway. Then he won his first race a few weeks later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which landed him a full-time ride with Chip Ganassi Racing’s XFINITY car in 2019.

That was, until his sponsor, DC Solar, was exposed as a Ponzi scheme.

Fast-forward to 2021, he lands a full-time ride with Ganassi, again. This time, though, in the Cup Series. Fast-forward some more to July, Ganassi announces he’s selling his NASCAR operations to Trackhouse Racing. Once again, Chastain was left out to dry, as he wasn’t originally part of that move.

Fast-forward one more time to this season. After two DNFs to start off, he rattles off four straight podium finishes and goes toe-to-toe with road course ace AJ Allmendinger to win.

There’s a lot for fans to like about Chastain. Now, he’s got the performance and speed to bolster his fans support for him.

Three Big Stories: COTA (2022)

COTA gets its fair shake

AUSTIN, Texas – MARCH 27: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 3CHI Chevrolet, Cole Custer, driver of the #41 One Cure Ford, Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Llumar Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

Last season, NASCAR came to Circuit of the Americas for the first time. Unfortunately, a monsoon pounded the track and turned the first EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix into a shitshow.

Left and right, calls came for NASCAR to not return to COTA (and you know who you are).

Thankfully, NASCAR disregarded those voices and gave COTA another chance. Sunday, we had chamber of commerce weather and an amazing atmosphere to complement it.

All of which happened in Austin, Texas. A city with many of the key demographics that NASCAR desperately needs to appeal to, for future sustainability.

Sure, the racing at COTA can be lumbering at times, especially when it runs almost two hours longer than a Formula 1 race that ran in Saudi Arabia that same day. Furthermore, NASCAR reluctance to use local cautions compounded this (more on that, later).

But ask yourself this: Would you rather watch a race here or back at its original home, Texas Motor Speedway? A track that’s turning into a ghost town with each passing race weekend. Just look at last Sunday’s IndyCar race at Texas. The attendance was inexcusably bad.

At least COTA gives NASCAR an atmosphere-charged event.

Three Big Stories: COTA (2022)

Why no local cautions?!

AUSTIN, Texas – MARCH 27: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 CommScope Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

Twice in this race, debris brought out a caution.

On a 3.41 mile road course, a track where it takes over two minutes to complete a lap under green, we needed a full-course caution for debris.

NASCAR, what’s your aversion to local cautions? There’s no reason we should put a road course race under full-course caution for debris. Every major racing series in the world uses them for their events. Why can’t NASCAR?

That was excusable when the Cup Series race just two road course races a season. But Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International are no longer the only road courses, and the appetite for more road courses grew strong enough for six.

We run almost a quarter of the schedule on road courses. NASCAR has no excuse to not use local cautions.

TOP IMAGE: Logan Riely/Getty Images