Chase Elliott wins in Austin when NASCAR race at Circuit of the Americas is called for rain

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AUSTIN, Texas – The Road Warrior conquered new territory on a wet and wild day like few NASCAR has raced in before.

Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott won the inaugural EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas on a soaked Sunday, his fifth victory in the last six road-course races.

Austin's first-ever Cup race was called by rain and low visibility with 14 laps to go. Kyle Larson finished second, and Joey Logano took third place.

"It's too hard to win to get picky on how," said Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Llumar Chevrolet. "This one was certainly a little different, with so many changing track conditions. By late in the race, the puddles were so big, cars were actually starting to hydroplane."

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NASCAR rarely races in steady rain, but America's most popular motorsports circuit was determined to let the show go on in its Austin debut.

Drivers were slip-sliding around most of the day, leading to calamity and crashes that took out former Cup champions Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, along with Bubba Wallace and a host of others.

"You're going into a straightaway just hoping and praying nobody's gonna be there because you're wide open and you can't see anything," said Truex Jr., who was submarined by Cole Custer in a smash-up that left Custer's car in flames. Custer said, "I could not see a foot in front of my car."

Harvick, smashed by Bubba Wallace in a no-vision incident, told a reporter, "I've never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career. Period."

Chase Elliott drives during the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
Chase Elliott drives during the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

The Gulf Coast disturbance that dumped so much rain on Austin put a damper on an otherwise successful ATX opening.

NASCAR does not release attendance numbers, but the crowd appeared to be in the 45,000 to 50,000 range. It is easily the largest Austin gathering during the pandemic, topping the restricted audiences of roughly 20,000 at Longhorns football games.

The rain much of the weekend didn't help, but race officials said they were pleased.

"Amazing turnout by the fans," Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith said. "We hit our numbers. They were more than appropriate for the (pandemic) situation we're in. A lot of people still have trepidation to come out."

When presented with a reporter's Sunday estimate of 45,000 to 50,000, Smith said, "That's in the ballpark. Maybe a little low."

Smith sang Austin's and COTA's praises.

"This checked all the boxes with our sponsors, TV partners and the race teams," he said. "People enjoyed Austin. The market and the region responded. The sports world was talking about NASCAR going to Austin."

The front-stretch grandstands were sold out, Turn 1 was packed, the Grand Plaza area buzzing and a COTA-record 1,000 camping sites were sold.

About 45 minutes before the race, NASCAR announced that COTA parking lots were full and cars needed to go to Del Valle High School, where fans would be taken to the track.

"More than full on those lots. We were shuttling from remote auxiliary lots," Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein told the American-Statesman.

"Huge turnout. The enthusiasm overpowered the forecast."

So did Hendrick Motorsports, whose drivers finished one, two, eight (Alex Bowman) and 11th (William Byron). It was the 800th Cup win for Chevrolet and the 268th for HMS, tying Petty Enterprises for the most in NASCAR history.

"It's cool to come to a new place and be the first to win," said Elliott, the top-heavy favorite who surprisingly hadn't won in 2021 entering the day. "I kept pushing myself harder and harder, knowing who was behind me."

Larson wished the race had stayed green.

"I think Chase was short on fuel, and we were strong on long runs," the No. 5 Chevy driver said. "But I can't fault NASCAR for stopping it. The visibility was bad, and there were some pretty scary crashes."

Ross Chastain, a long shot with 250-to-1 odds, pressed the leaders most of the way and finished fourth. Road course standout A.J. Allmendinger grabbed fifth. Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick took ninth, and stage two winner Kyle Busch was 10th.

The majority of fans hung in there through the monsoon. Before the rain started, they formed lines sometimes 5 to 6 deep at souvenir trailers.

"I didn't realize there would be this many people out here, especially with the weather," said Tom Westcott of Cedar Park, attending the race with his family. "The Fan Stand area is quite big. Looks like people bought into this. It also was nice surprise to have free parking. I hope this isn't a one-shot deal."

Stay tuned.

"I don't want to put odds on it," said Smith, the SMI chief who had a one-year contract with Epstein. "We do have a renewal option with COTA. We're encouraged by this weekend."

EchoPark Texas Grand Prix Results

Sunday At Circuits of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Lap length: 3.41 miles (Start position in parentheses):

1. (8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 54 laps, 49 points.

2. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 54, 47.

3. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 54, 44.

4. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 54, 36.

5. (7) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 54, 0.

6. (27) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 54, 37.

7. (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 54, 39.

8. (12) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 54, 30.

9. (1) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 54, 36.

10. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 54, 39.

11. (5) William Byron, Chevrolet, 54, 26.

12. (16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 54, 25.

13. (28) Chris Buescher, Ford, 54, 29.

14. (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 54, 23.

15. (36) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 54, 26.

16. (29) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 54, 21.

17. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 54, 20.

18. (37) Anthony Alfredo, Ford, 54, 19.

19. (24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 54, 18.

20. (25) Corey Lajoie, Chevrolet, 54, 23.

21. (33) Ty Dillon, Toyota, 54, 0.

22. (22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 54, 15.

23. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 54, 15.

24. (34) Ryan Newman, Ford, 54, 13.

25. (3) Austin Cindric, Ford, 54, 0.

26. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 54, 11.

27. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 54, 18.

28. (38) Garrett Smithley, Ford, 54, 0.

29. (32) James Davison, Chevrolet, 54, 8.

30. (31) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 54, 7.

31. (39) Kyle Tilley, Ford, 54, 6.

32. (35) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 53, 0.

33. (15) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 46, 4.

34. (40) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, garage, 38, 3.

35. (17) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 24, 2.

36. (14) Cole Custer, Ford, accident, 24, 1.

37. (11) Kevin Harvick, Ford, accident, 19, 1.

38. (10) Christopher Bell, Toyota, accident, 18, 1.

39. (18) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, accident, 18, 1.

40. (30) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, garage, 12, 0.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: NASCAR at COTA: Chase Elliott wins rain-shortened race in Austin