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Podium Preview: Echopark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA

It’s a bluebonnet kind of day. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

It’s a bluebonnet kind of day. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

While NASCAR made the trek to Austin, Texas last year, the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix had less than ideal conditions.

However, it’s nothing but wonderful springtime weather in the heart of Texas. If anything, today’s 68 lap race promises to be a cracking road course race in this young NASCAR Cup Series season.

Circuit of the Americas is one of the most premier motorsports venues globally as an FIA Grade 1 track. This 3.426-mile, 20 turn offers plentiful challenges that’ll throw the best drivers and teams in stock car racing for more loops and turns than a Perry Mason mystery.

Nevertheless, it’s a great chance for road course ringers like AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. to make their presence known. Whether it’s trophy hunting or vying for maximum points for this year’s championship, it’s a race that has the prestige of a crown jewel event, except on a road course!

This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeJasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt Sisoler, Molly GastineauNathan SolomonSean Folsom,  Taylor Kitchen and yours truly ruminate over Kyle Larson’s turnaround from a two race skid and contenders outside of the Hendrick Motorsports camp!

Podium Preview: EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA
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Question 1
Remember me? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Remember me? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson’s struggling with finishes of 30th or worse in the past two weeks and three DNFs (Did Not Finishes) outside of his Fontana win and runner up at Fontana. Will Larson and his No. 5 team turn things around this Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA)?

Kitchen : Chase Elliott is not the only member of Hendrick Motorsports that has luck with road courses. 

Out of the seven road course races last year, Kyle Larson won three of them (Charlotte ROVAL, Watkins Glen International, and Sonoma Raceway). Also, when looking at the stats from the 2021 road course schedule, Larson had finished inside the top three around 71% of the time.

Needless to say, Larson is looking like he will have a good chance to rebound after a few rough weekends.

Tiongson : I think he’ll manage to turn things around. However, it’ll depend on Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team in terms of working on some steering issues and extracting the most out of their cars. Right now, Larson, as I’ll share in an upcoming piece, realizes he and his team are a little off, but they’re still competitive. He’s still optimistic and confident with himself and his team. If they can get on a similar streak from last year where he finished in the top 10 for a string of races like last summer, we all know how dangerous he and his team can be once they’re firing on all cylinders.

Solomon : Larson is always strong at road courses as he went to victory lane three times in 2021 on them. He’s had some bad luck to start the 2022 season, but that’s due to change. I’m not sure if he’ll be going to victory lane, but I’d expect a strong run for Larson and the No. 5 team.

Lambeth :  Hendrick Motorsports always brings fast Chevrolet Camaros to the road course races. Therefore, I think Kyle Larson has a great shot at getting a decent finish at COTA. He already has a win, secured his spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and HMS is one of the top teams in the series. It’s still early in the season so I don’t think there’s anything for the No. 5 team to worry about. In my opinion, it’s better to get all his bad luck out of the way now, instead of waiting until the final 10 races of the season.

Gastineau : I’d like to think that Larson has a strong chance of turning things around at COTA, but I truthfully do not see it happening. With the way that we’ve seen the cars racing this weekend things could very well get messy. I think it will be hard for the No. 5 team to make a turn for the better. 

Sisoler :  I think there’s a solid possibility that Larson does turn it around this weekend. He’s been fairly solid on the road courses and has shown that he can break a string of bad finishes with authority in the past.

Plus, he ran fairly solidly at COTA last time out, so this would be as good a place as any for him to rebound.

Question 2
Remember me? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Remember me? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Outside of the usual favorites like Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Martin Truex, Jr., which driver stands the best shot at winning on Sunday?

Folsom : I know he has been doing great on the ovals but I would pick Ross Chastain! He has been doing some really great things for Trackhouse Racing and I feel he will do great this weekend as well.

Shoppe : There are quite a few standouts I wouldn’t have considered, say, last week in Atlanta. Austin Cindric has been in free fall through the standings since his bug Daytona win. I expect him to turn it all around in COTA as he’s phenomenal on road courses!

I’d also keep an eye on Christopher Bell! Another guy in desperate need of a good run and very well could get it Sunday! The 2021 Daytona road course winner is a quiet contender for sure. 

Torres : I’m giving my race pick away by answering this question, but keep your eyes on Austin Cindric. With his background being on road racing, there’s no telling how he’ll fare on the road courses. Even last year when he drove at Road America, he had an amazing showing. I think that’s where I can see the Penske racer shine even more in 2022.

Cindric may be those guys’ greatest threat going forward and I don’t think we’ve seen his peak on road courses just yet. But if his efforts in his previous divisions tell me anything, he’ll be tough to beat when in the right position to win.

Sharpe : The lads over at Trackhouse Racing have shown themselves this season to be able to keep up with other top teams. During qualifying, both Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain yet again proved themselves, with Suarez snagging second place, while Chastain fought and grabbed 16th.

If both are able to stay out of trouble and can stay consistent with their pace and hitting marks, either driver has a huge chance of winning at this renowned track. 

Hobbs :  All stats based on this one, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch are in the top when it comes to road course average finishes – outside of the favorites. To narrow it down even further, if we look at the average finish for this year, Kurt Busch has the best average finish – not just between Blaney and himself but the entire field. I would say Kurt Busch is one to keep an eye out for this weekend at COTA.

That’s two laps around COTA which tells us we’ve got a good car for awesome racing here in Austin. Let’s rewind back to last Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, round five of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season with our race and points reports!
Sean Folsom and Kobe Lambeth survived a wild race at Atlanta.

Sean Folsom and Kobe Lambeth survived a wild race at Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the battle between the podcasters continues into Austin!

Meanwhile, the battle between the podcasters continues into Austin!

Next, Ashley Hobbs considers some statistics worth considering as she’s Crunching the Numbers: EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA style!

 

Now, we consider the top 10 starters for today’s EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA!
Row 1
Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Row 2
Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Row 3
Alex Bowman and Joey Logano (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Alex Bowman and Joey Logano (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Row 4
Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Row 5
Justin Haley and Austin Cindric (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Justin Haley and Austin Cindric (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Last but not least, here’s our picks for today’s EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA!
It's our magnificent seven for COTA. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

It’s our magnificent seven for COTA. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Tiongson : Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team stand a great chance at ending their two race skid of 30th or worse. They’ve had race winning or top five capable speed but either have a mechanical ailment or an accident ending their day.

Larson came within a position of winning the inaugural Cup race at COTA if Mother Nature had not deprived us of a potentially exciting duel with Chase Elliott. Look for Larson to score a much needed second win of 2022.

Folsom : With Kyle Larson have a 2nd place finish to Chase Elliott last race at COTA, I see Larson trying to win it this go around!

TPF Stats : Why did the machine choose the best driver on road courses? You can ask Chase Elliott this in victory lane on Sunday.

Hobbs : Why would I not choose Chase Elliott? Elliott is the best when it comes to road courses, plain and simple.

Conley : A road course, and you’d chose anyone else?

Kitchen : With this being the first road course race of the season, I need to play it safe. For that reason, I am picking the driver that has the most road course wins out of the rest of the field. Though he may be starting the race in 12th, that will not stop him from reaching the front of the pack (hopefully).

Chase Elliott will win the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA.

Lambeth : Three drivers from Hendrick Motorsports have been to victory lane in 2022. By the end of the day at COTA, Chase Elliott will defend his COTA win from last year and become the final HMS driver to reach victory lane this year.

Torres : When it comes to road racing, Austin Cindric is pretty darn good. We saw that at Road America last year and with COTA coming up, don’t count him out. He’ll have a real strong showing and bounce back on what’s been a skid since winning the Daytona 500.

Shoppe Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric is right at home on road courses! Even as a part time driver in the fourth Penske car last year, Cindric was strong in COTA!

Sharpe : This entire season has been full of surprises, one being of how well Trackhouse Racing is doing overall. Ross Chastain, aka the Watermelon Man, this season has stepped up his game. After last week’s performance at Atlanta, he’s looking better than ever to snag a win.

Solomon : Neither Toyota nor Martin Truex Jr. are off to they starts they have wanted in 2022, so I feel that luck will change. Truex Jr. is one of the best in the field at road courses and he’ll win on Sunday at COTA.

Gastineau : Daniel Suarez was good in practice and qualified well.

Sisoler : He was fast in practice and qualifying, and he nearly won the Trucks race. Give this one to Rowdy Kyle Busch, to take the checkers at COTA.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the 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 and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine!

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, use coupon code TPF2022 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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