Podium Preview: EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA

As shown above, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin showcase the thrills of COTA's stadium section for Sunday's EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

As shown above, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin showcase the thrills of COTA’s stadium section for Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

By and large, Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, or COTA, shakes up the status quo. Overall, COTA proves unlike other road courses providing a sense of familiarity of comfort.

On balance, this 3.41-mile, 20 turn road course evokes characteristics of famed Formula 1 venues like Hockenheim, Silverstone and Istanbul Park. In any event, the City of Austin welcomes the NASCAR Cup Series with a track that keeps things weird – in a cool way.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorStephen Conley, Taylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly consider who thrives under a near normal race weekend and our excitement for COTA!

Podium Preview: EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA
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Question 1
All things considered, does a near normal race weekend benefit someone like Kyle Busch? (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

All things considered, does a near normal race weekend benefit someone like Kyle Busch? (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

After weeks of show up and race weekends, COTA’s race weekend features a full schedule. Which teams likely benefit even the slightest with practice and qualifying ahead of the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix?

Lambeth : To be honest, the return of practice and qualifying will be a huge benefit to all teams in the garage. This is the very first trip to COTA for NASCAR, so everybody entered the weekend without a notebook to fall back on. This is very beneficial to start building that notebook and figuring out setups, especially if COTA is going to be on the schedule for the foreseeable future. Some of the drivers have laps at this track in other vehicles, but nothing beats making laps in your own stock car.

Hobbs : Honestly, I think every team will benefit; I don’t see this benefiting one team over the field. Though, now that I think about it, new teams will be the ones who can benefit because they have the least amount of track time. They have relied on statistics and data from their own races and any alliances they have, but nothing beats tires on the track, turning the laps, and getting that raw data on your own car.

Additionally, I think Kyle Busch will benefit. He is a driver who loves practice and track time and the more time he can get, the better for him – but not better for the field.

Raynor : I think it will benefit all to a point. I do think it’s not enough time to really get a feel on what the car is doing or handling. The lessers teams will try and run without wrecking their cars and we might see one lap qualifying runs. The guys that will really benefit is the few that are running Xfinity and Cup races. Especially Kyle Busch. This is where him and his team have been so well in the past and need practice and qualifying. The rain might be a factor Saturday for practice.

Lucas : The midfield group of teams will benefit the most! Even though the top teams will flex their muscle and might, the midfield will be able to get a better grip on where their programs have progressed or regressed from the start of the season.

I’m anxious to see exactly how much time is spent on qualifying pace versus race pace during practice. It’ll probably be a chess match of who can maneuver through the final sector of COTA the smoothest to see who gets a better starting spot.

Frontstretch and backstretch speed will have to be fast. But so will rotation through the rolling corners. It’s gonna be a fun weekend of practice, qualifying, and then the races! Almost feels like pre pandemic NASCAR, which is where we all want to be again! 

Sisoler : I think everyone benefits, especially considering no one had driven a lap there in a NASCAR, but none more than Kyle Busch. Kyle didn’t have a lot of luck last year without his team being able to adjust the car to his liking, and while it got better towards the end of 2020 and into 2021, I’m pretty sure he’s glad to be able to get the car dialed in to his liking. Judging by his performance in the Xfinity race Saturday, him with a dialed in car could be big on Sunday.

Shoppe: With nobody having any laps of knowledge and data at the Circuit of the Americas, every team stands to gain so much information in practice this weekend. Like many crew chiefs have mentioned, since they have been used to starting with what you brought, it’s easier then ever to dial yourself out too.

Question 2
Generally speaking, racing at COTA yields general enthusiasm from the team and road course aces like Chase Elliott. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Generally speaking, racing at COTA yields general enthusiasm from the team and road course aces like Chase Elliott. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

While Circuit of the Americas hosts its first NASCAR race weekend, how excited are you about the series taking on a completely new track and market?

Tiongson : Although I am bummed to not be there personally for this weekend, I am pumped. This weekend serves as a great trip into the unknown for NASCAR. From a unique new marketplace in Austin, where we keep things “weird” to a renowned venue like COTA, I cannot wait to see what happens. I’ll be more excited covering this race hopefully next year and more as I miss being at the track and getting the stories there in batches versus one at a time.

Torres : While I’ll be at Indianapolis for Indy 500 qualifying, I think it’s a neat treat that COTA will continue to have racing. I was very concerned that this unique road course would go by the wayside. Yes, the United States Grand Prix is still held in Austin. But with Miami locked in and maybe IMS as future F1 venues, I was worried.

If this event succeeds and gets a strong crowd along with a great race, COTA may be saved. This event must excel so this track has any future because I’m still cautiously concerned.

Jones : It’s no secret that I’m the team member at TPF that isn’t a road course fan. So in all honesty, I’m not super excited about the number of road courses added to the schedule, starting this weekend. With that being said, I hope it goes well for the series and fans that do enjoy this style of racing enjoy it to the max. 

Conley : This a major step for NASCAR. Bringing on a track that has international recognition in a state that we race in already, but an area that really hasn’t been served. The continued growth of road racing in NASCAR is a welcome change to many and I think COTA is going to fill the need for many in this sport. 

Kitchen : Road courses present pretty interesting racing that many fans are not used to seeing. COTA is a very demanding track with 20 turns, almost guaranteeing more entertainment than we see from the other road courses in the schedule. We are not used to seeing stock cars race at this track so it will be interesting to see how the drivers do. 

I am personally not the biggest fan of road courses. However, I am excited to see all three series back in action this weekend taking on this new and unique track. 

By all means, all of us panelists nailed two great laps at COTA and avoided the traffic of I-35! Now, let’s rewind last week to Round 13 for last Sunday’s Drydene 400 with our race and points reports!
As seen above, panelists benefitted with a Hendrick pick.

As seen above, panelists benefitted with a Hendrick pick.

Moreover, the midfield battle looks quite exciting heading into COTA.

Moreover, the midfield battle looks quite exciting heading into COTA.

Now, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA! In this case, the numbers consider the 33 prior road course races providing general trends worth considering.
First, consider the trends at road courses in the past 10 years.

First, consider the trends at road courses in the past 10 years.

Next, consider the trends in the past five years at road courses.

Next, consider the trends in the past five years at road courses.

Quite considerate, the machine favors manufacturer parity.

Quite considerate, the machine favors manufacturer parity.

Lastly, we unveil our picks for Sunday’s inaugural EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA!
Definitely, maybe these are great COTA race picks.

Definitely, maybe these are great COTA race picks.

Tiongson : Some might say or call this a strange pick. Others might think I’m banking on this driver continuing his incredible top-10 streak. In this case, I’m going with William Byron simply because he’s having a breakthrough season. I’m going different against the grain with a supersonic pick.

Jones : Road courses seem to fit Chase Elliott‘s style, so prepare to sound the si-reeeeen.

TPF Stats : A new track means stats are almost meaningless. Almost. In this case, one must examine the type of track COTA is. In this case, a road course. And who is the current road course king? None other than defending champion, Chase Elliott.

Hobbs : Better safe than sorry when I have no statistics to see for COTA – yet. So, I am going for Chase Elliott. It’s time to break through in 2021!

Torres : Chase Elliott has had a quiet season. No secret that he’s had good runs, but the weakest link of Hendrick Motorsports. He remains winless while everyone else has won, but that’ll change this Sunday. Elliott is one of those must-see drivers on a road course and COTA will be no different. The title defense will really kickstart in Austin with a big W.

Kitchen : With too many unknowns this weekend, I feel I have to go with a safe pick. That is why I am choosing Chase Elliott to win at COTA. However, we have to keep an eye on Kyle Busch who did great in practice and won the Xfinity race.

Shoppe : Chase Elliott wins another road race!

Sisoler : Kyle Busch dominated the Xfinity race Saturday. With a dialed-in race car on Sunday, expect Rowdy to be competing for the win at Circuit of the Americas.

Raynor : Kyle Busch as he seemed strong in practice.

Conley : A win on the ROVAL plus the near win at Daytona RC makes Ryan Blaney one of the few that can keep the 9 car in check on the Road Courses.

Lambeth : He won the wild inaugural road course at the Charlotte ROVAL. So there is nothing stopping Ryan Blaney from winning NASCAR’s first trip to COTA!

Lucas : Even though Chase Elliott would be the fan favorite due to his ability to pick up new course quickly, I’m going in a different direction. Somebody finally gets to deliver on time at the checkered flag. And that delivery will be made by the FedEx guy Denny Hamlin. He wins the inaugural Grand Prix at COTA.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the inaugural EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family, and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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