The NASCAR Cup Series (NCS), Xfinity Series (NXS) and CRAFTSMAN Truck Series (NCTS) return to Texas’ capital for the fourth consecutive season with this weekend’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas (COTA).

The visit to Austin will be the first road course event of the young season for all three of NASCAR’s national series on the demanding 20-turn, 3.41-mile layout. Beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT, the action opens Friday with practice and qualifying for both the NXS and NCTS.

Saturday’s schedule begins with NCS practice and qualifying (9 a.m.) and followed by a race doubleheader featuring the NCTS XPEL 225 (12:30 p.m., TV: FS1, Radio: MRN, SiriusXM) and NXS Focused Health 250 (4 p.m., TV: FS1, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM). The three-day race weekend culminates with Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM).

Here’s a look at the “Fast Five” storylines for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix:

1. Joe Gibbs Racing is showing strength in numbers as all four cars in the organization have been outstanding heading into the sixth NCS race of the season at COTA.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Interstate Batteries Toyota) provided JGR its second consecutive win of the season Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway in what was an extraordinatory team performance. All four drivers placed in the top 10 with Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota) finishing second, Ty Gibbs (No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota) ninth and Christoper Bell 10th (No. 20 DEWALT Toyota). Every driver led at least 29 laps and the group combined to lead 383 of the 500 laps, led by Hamlin’s 163.

JGR’s success was not limited to the display they put on at Bristol, but has been percolating over the last few races in particular. Hamlin’s win comes on the heels of Bell’s victory at Phoenix and all four drivers have secured a top-three finish through the first five races. Truex Jr. finished a season-best second at Bristol while Gibbs posted a career-best third at Phoenix and led a career-high 137 laps at Bristol.

Heading into the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, Gibbs has reeled off four consecutive top-10 finishes; Truex Jr. has finished seventh or better in his last three; Hamlin has finished 11th or better in his last three with a win; and Bell has a pair of top-10 efforts in his last three starts including a win.

The recent run has moved all four into the top eight in the NCS point standings, with Truex Jr. tied on top with Kyle Larson (No. 5 Chevrolet) of Hendrick Motorsports, Gibbs in third, Hamlin fifth and Bell eighth.

Will the success carry over to the first road course event of the season at COTA, where the group has had limited success with one top-five finish – third by Bell in 2022 – in a combined 10 starts?

Keep a particular eye on Gibbs, who finished ninth last season at COTA as a NCS rookie and had success in the NXS. He won the NXS pole in 2022 and qualified and finished third last year while performing double duty.

2. 2020 NCS champion Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports is looking to break a personal 39-race winless streak and COTA may provide the ideal haven to rid himself of the drought.

Elliott (No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet), who missed seven races last year including the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix due to injury, has not visited Victory Lane since Talladega in October of 2022. However, he arrives at a permanent road course where he has enjoyed success and also is ranked among the best alltime for this discipline.

Seven of Elliott’s 18 career wins have come on road courses, including at COTA in 2021. His road-course win total ranks first among active NCS drivers and third all-time, trailing only Jeff Gordon (9) and Tony Stewart (8). In 30 career road course starts, he has recorded 21 top-10 finishes, including 17 among the top five.

Add in that he has been outstanding in his two appearances at COTA with a win in ’21 and a fourth-place finish that following season. He also has qualified among the top 12 in both, with a best of eighth when he won.

3. Three-time Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen will be making his NCS season debut in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix driving the No. 16 WeatherTech Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.

The 34-year-old New Zealander burst upon the NASCAR scene last season when he won the inaugural Chicago street race in his NCS career debut for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91. He is quite well known on the other side of the globe, where he won the Australian Supercars championship in 2016, ’21 and ’22 to go along with three wins in the prestigious Bathurst 1000 (2020, ’22 and ’23).

COTA will be the first of seven NCS races that van Gisbergen is schedule to compete in, with the others being both races at Talladega (April 21, Oct. 6), Charlotte (May 26), Chicago (July 7), Watkins Glen (Sept. 15) and Las Vegas (Oct. 20).

“After winning in Chicago, I could not stop thinking about racing full-time in NASCAR,” van Gisbergen said. “I am still stunned at how quickly this has all come together. I must thank the NASCAR industry and fans for embracing me and allowing me to chase this dream. I respect every driver who has put in the work to make it to the Cup Series, and I am ready to put in that same effort. I am anxious to get started.” 

Van Gisbergen is also running a full-season NXS schedule with Kaulig Racing, which includes Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA.

4. Six drivers, led by 2021 NCS champion Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, will be performing double duty during the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix tripleheader weekend.

Five of those will be running the NCS/NXS double, including Larson in the No. 17 Chevrolet. It will be the first of two NXS starts for him this season, with the other coming in the same entry at the Chicago street race in July.

Joe Gibbs Racing will have a former NXS champion along with a 10-time series race winner in their entries for the Focused Health 250. Ty Gibbs , the 2022 NXS champion and a 12-time winner in the series, will be in the No. 19 He Gets Us Toyota. Legacy Motor Club rookie John Hunter Nemechek, who recorded seven of his 10 series wins last season, will be in the No. 20 Dial entry.

AJ Allmendinger, running fulltime in the NXS for Kaulig Racing, will make a NCS appearance as well, driving the No. 13 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet for the organization. He will be joined by teammate van Gisbergen, who also is running fulltime in the NXS and making his NCS season debut in the team’s No. 16 entry.

The lone NCS/NCTS double will be by Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain. He will be in the No. 45 TXAPA Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports in the XPEL 225. He competed for Niece last season as well, winning the pole en route to a fifth-place finish.

5. Chastain (No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet) has taken quite a shine to the COTA layout. The 2022 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix race winner is the only NCS driver to have recorded top-five finishes in each of his starts since this event debuted in 2021.

In addition to his victory, he also had a pair of fourth-place finishes. Despite having an average starting position of 16th, his average finishing position is third, which ranks first among drivers who have competed in all three events.

Fans can purchase tickets and camping for the 2024 NASCAR at COTA weekend by visiting Three-day weekend packages start at $79 for adults and just $10 for kids 12 and under. Further details can be found on the NASCAR at COTA website.

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