The Cup Series will compete for the first time this year on a road course and it will not be like the races from the 2022 season. NASCAR is bringing a new area package, eliminating the Stage breaks and adding the choose lines to the race this week at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Add in a bunch of “ringers” and we have the ingrediants for what should be a pretty entertaining race. The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix can be seen Sunday at 3:30 pm ET on Fox.
STRATEGY FOR COTA
This is not a normal race weekend for the Cup Series. The teams were allowed 50-minutes to practice Friday to get familiar with the new aero package. This will be the same aero package used at Phoenix. The cars will have 30% less down-force and the drivers who tested the package at COTA in January (Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric) all said the cars are more difficult to drive.
We cannot ignore what the drivers have done in the past on the road courses, but most of my picks this week will be based on the practice speeds and what the drivers said about their cars. Tyler Reddick said on the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “On Track Show” that the gap between the good road course racers and the drivers who struggle at these tracks is going to be much wider than what we saw last year.” For that reason, I want the drivers with a history of running up front on the road courses in the previous generation of cars and the drivers who had speed in practice. If a driver checks both boxes, he will be in my lineup.
Here are the picks for the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix …
DRIVER GROUP GAME LINEUP
GROUP A DRIVERS
ROSS CHASTAIN (9): There is a lot to like about Chastain this week. He won this race last year and he will get a lot of track time to get his rhythm down for Sunday’s race. Chastain will run the Truck Series race Saturday and he posted the third-fastest speed in practice with the second-fastest long-run speed. Chastain proved last year that he is not afraid to move drivers out of the way in order to get to Victory Lane. I would not be surprised if Chastain muscled his way to Victory Lane again this week.
KYLE LARSON (7): It is hard to justify using another allocation with Larson at a road course track, because Hendrick Motorsports has been so good at the intermediate tracks. It is also hard to ignore the speed the No. 5 car had in practice. Larson posted the second-fastest speed in practice with the fourth-fastest long-run speed. Larson should be a threat to win the race. Chase Elliott gets all of the hype as the best road course racer in the Cup Series, but Larson has won just as many races as Elliott at these tracks over the last three seasons.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) CHRISTOPHER BELL (9): Bell is never talked about when the Cup Series competes at the Road Course. People then say at the end of the race, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting Bell to win.” Bell won the last road course race in the Cup Series at the Charlotte Roval last October. That gives him two wins on road courses in the Cup Series on his resume. Bell finished third in this race last year. His car was fast enough in practice to give Bell a good chance to finish in the top-five again Sunday.
GROUP A DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Ross Chastain 2) Kyle Larson 3) Ryan Blaney 4) Christopher Bell 5) Joey Logano 6) William Byron 7) Denny Hamlin
GROUP B DRIVERS
TYLER REDDICK (8): Reddick participated in a two-day test at COTA in January, so he had extra track time to work on his road course setup with his new team. Reddick was the best driver in the Cup Series at the road courses last year. He won the races at Road America and the Indy Road Course. He also finished fifth at COTA last year. The switch from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing didn’t slowed him down. Reddick posted the fastest speed in practice, with the fastest long-run speed. I need to save some allocations for the oval tracks where Reddick can run up against the wall, but I do not mind using him at one of his best road course tracks when he has the fastest car in the field.
KYLE BUSCH (7): Was it Busch or was it the car that sucked at the road course tracks last year? We will find out Sunday. Busch had a 22nd-place average finishing position on the road courses last year. This is a new aero package and Busch has a new team. He will be driving the car that won this race last year. It also helps that Busch is competing in the Truck Series race Saturday and he tested this aero package at COTA in January. Busch posted the fourth-fastest speed in practice and he had the third-fastest long-run speed. I am not fading Rowdy when he gets this much track time and he has one of the fastest cars in the field.
DANIEL SUAREZ (8): Suarez is a good road course racer and he looked good at COTA last year. The No. 99 car was leading the race after Stage 1. Suarez got spun out and fell to the back of the pack. His car had top-five speed and it looks fast again this week. Suarez posted the fifth-fastest speed in practice. It is not a bad idea to use your allocations with Suarez at the road course tracks.
MICHAEL MCDOWELL (9): It would sure be nice to have the guts to use an allocation with McDowell this week. I usually do not trust McDowell enough to pull the trigger and use him in my starting lineup. The numbers suggest there is no reason to be afraid. McDowell averaged a top-10 finish in the five road course races last year and he has averaged a top-10 finish in his two races at COTA. McDowell posted the sixth-fastest speed in practice, with the seventh-fast long-run speed. I just need the guts to use him in my lineup and save the top drivers for the oval tracks.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) CHRIS BUESCHER (9): Buescher is one of the most underrated drivers in the Cup Series on the road courses. He had the best average finishing position in the Cup Series on the road courses last year. I doubt the new aero package is going to slow him down. Buescher was good in the previous generation of cars too. If you want to be different from everyone else in your league, Buescher could be a good choice this weekend.
GROUP B DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Tyler Reddick 2) Kyle Busch 3) Daniel Suarez 4) Michael McDowell 5) Austin Cindric 6) Alex Bowman 7) Martin Truex Jr. 8) Chris Buescher 9) Kevin Harvick 10) Brad Keselwski
GROUP C DRIVERS
AJ ALLMENDINGER (8): Allmendinger is one of the best road course racers in the Cup Series. Giving him 50 minutes to practice and the Xfinity Series to get his rhythm down is like giving Patrick Mahomes the ball on your five yard line. Allmendinger did not look great in practice. His car was only 18th fastest on the speed chart. Allmendinger complained that his car was too tight. I just cannot fade him on a road course. I will trust that they will get the No. 16 car fixed up for the race Sunday.
TY GIBBS (9): Gibbs won a lot of road course races in the Xfinity Series. So, how will that success translate into the Cup Series? Gibbs has not been great in the Cup Series, but he is showing some signs of improvement. He gets some extra seat time this week since there is a 50-minute practice and Gibbs is competing in the Xfinity Series race. I plan to use Gibbs for qualifying points this weekend.
(OTHER CHOICE) JORDAN TAYLOR (9): We know Taylor is going to have one of the fastest cars in the field. Chase Elliott has dominated the road course races for years in the No. 9 car. Taylor did not test the Gen-7 car but he has been working with Hendrick Motorsports in their Garage 56 car (The 24 Hours of Le Mans car). Chad Knaus from Hendrick Motorsports said that car is similar to the Gen-7 car and Taylor practiced at COTA in the Garage 56 car. Taylor also got a 50-minute practice Friday, where he posted the 10-fastest speed. This is a good race to use Taylor and save your top drivers from Group C for other races. * Taylor is not available in my league. If he was available, I would use him with AJ Allmendinger.
GROUP C DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) AJ Allmendinger 2) Ty Gibbs 3) Jordan Taylor 4) Jimmie Johnson 5) Ryan Preece
* Be sure to check back Saturday after qualifying for my updated starting lineup.
TRUCK SERIES PICKS
XFINITY SERIES PICKS
*AJ Allmendinger, William Byron and Ty Gibbs were not available in my league. If you can use them, do it.
Good Luck This Weekend!
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