With Circuit of The Americas making its debut on this season’s NASCAR Cup Series schedule, there are no past performances to determine which drivers should be pegged as pre-race favorites for Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix.
There also was no full-field test on this demanding 20-turn, 3.41-mile layout prior to the race to gauge who could have an early edge and just one points-paying road course event up to this point of the season. The last visit to a road course for the Cup drivers was February in Daytona when Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing earned his first career Cup win.
The field, however, does feature an impressive pedigree of drivers who have paced the competition on permanent road courses and could once again at the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix. The group consists of six Cup Series champions and a three-time Daytona 500 winner.
Let’s take a look at our “Best Bets” to win the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix.
- Chase Elliott (No. 9 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports) – The 25-year-old defending NASCAR Cup Series champion emerges as the favorite given his recent dominance on road courses. He had won four consecutive road course races heading into this season, but Bell ended the run with the win at Daytona. Elliott finished 21st in that event, but don’t be quick to discount him after that result. He did win the pole, led a race-high 44 of the 70 laps and was running among the top five when some misfortune led to a spin that doused any hopes of victory. His five career road-course wins rank first among active drivers, and he has accomplished that in just 13 starts. His average finish of 9.8 is tops among active full-time Cup drivers and he figures to be the odds-on favorite here.
- Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing) – The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champ is tied for second among active drivers with four career road-course wins, with his last coming in 2019 at Sonoma just before Elliott went on his tear. Truex Jr. has recorded 11 top-five finishes in 33 career starts and has been equally impressive in recent seasons. In his last 10 road-course starts dating to his 2017 win at Watkins Glen, he has six podium finishes and finished outside the top seven just twice. One of those, however, did come in February at the Daytona road course where he finished 12th. Don’t let that hold you back from picking Truex Jr. since he always works his way into contention on the road courses.
- Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing) – The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is tied with Truex Jr. for second among active drivers with four career road-course wins, his last coming at Sonoma in 2015. He did win the non-points-paying Busch Clash on the Daytona road course in February, but surprisingly that has been his lone bright spot in recent road-course starts. He has finished 30th or worse in his last four points-paying road-course events, including 35th at Daytona. Don’t make a mistake and count out the aggressive Busch due to his recent transgressions. In addition to the four wins, he is the active leader for laps led on road courses with 364 and owns 11 top-five finishes in 35 career starts.
Worth Keeping An Eye On
- Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford, Team Penske) – The 2018 Cup Series champion has not won on a road course since 2015 at Watkins Glen, but his recent success could translate into victory at COTA. Logano has finished runner-up in his last two road-course starts – the Charlotte ROVAL in 2020 and Daytona in February – and he also finished third on Daytona’s road course in the non-points-paying Busch Clash. He has strung together top-10 finishes in his last four road-course starts, five if you include the Clash, and is trending upward heading into this race.
- Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing) – The three-time Daytona 500 winner is searching for his first road-course win since 2016 at Watkins Glen, but he quietly has remained in the contention mix. He finished third on the Daytona road course in February and added a sixth-place finish on that same layout in the Busch Clash. He led laps in both events, including 21 of 35 in the Clash. Since his win at The Glen, he has registered six top-five road-course finishes in his last 11 starts, including a runner-up effort at Daytona in 2020. Hamlin should be right up there with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.
- Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Ford, Stewart Haas Racing) – The 2014 Cup Series champion is a two-time road course winner, with his most recent coming in 2017 at Sonoma Raceway. The interesting fact on Harvick is that he ranks second only to Elliott among active full-time drivers with an average road-course finish of 12.4. He has seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 road-course starts, including sixth at Daytona in February, and could emerge as a challenger.
- Kurt Busch (No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing) – The 2004 Cup Series champ only has one road-course win to his credit a decade ago (Sonoma, 2011), but leads all active drivers with 13 top-five finishes in 43 career starts. He has an average finish of 14.1 but the reason to keep tabs on Busch is his most recent success. He has finished fourth in his last two road-course starts – Charlotte’s ROVAL in 2020 and Daytona this season – and a break or two could put him in podium conversation at COTA.