The first NASCAR road course weekend of the season is here.
All three NASCAR series head to Circuit of the Americas in Austin as Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, Fox) is the first of six road course races this season in the Cup Series.
Ross Chastain got the first win of his career at COTA a season ago in bumper-car finish with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. After Allmendinger bumped Chastain out of the way for the lead on the final lap, Chastain returned the favor and shoved Allmendinger into Bowman to get the lead back.
Last year’s race was the first chance drivers got to race straight up at the track. The 2021 race at COTA was a mess thanks to rain that ultimately shortened the race. Drivers had a hard time seeing as NASCAR tried to run the race in the rain and the weather even led to a massive crash on COTA’s backstretch.
Sunday’s race will be significantly different than the 2022 race for two main reasons. NASCAR has made car changes from 2022 to lessen the amount of downforce that cars have on road courses. This will hopefully make it easier to pass and also force drivers to slow their cars down more in the corners.
The race will also be the first road course race since stages were implemented in 2017 not to have stage breaks during the race. NASCAR has finally gotten rid of stage cautions at road courses in 2023 and that’s a big deal for team strategies.
Thanks to the planned cautions for the stages, teams had entered road course races building their strategies around those yellows. Unlike most tracks, where fresh tires are of the utmost importance, track position is generally the biggest priority at road courses. Minimizing time on pit road is key.
Without stage cautions on Sunday, teams will have to go back to managing road course racing like they did in the mid-2010s. And that should be good for fans. One of the main appeals of NASCAR road course racing is the varying pit strategies teams employ.
The stage cautions had gotten rid of a lot of that strategy variance. Ideally, that variance will be back in play as teams work their fuel mileage backwards from the end of the race and hope to avoid an ill-timed caution.
Kyle Larson (+600)
Kyle Busch (+700)
Ross Chastain (+700)
Tyler Reddick (+900)
William Byron (+900)
It’s reasonable to assume that Chase Elliott would be the betting favorite if he was racing this weekend. But with Elliott out because of a fractured tibia, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson gets that status. Larson won at Watkins Glen a season ago after his best season ever on road courses in 2021. Busch hasn’t won a Cup Series race on a road course since 2015. You already know about Chastain’s win at COTA a year ago and Reddick has shown speed at COTA before. Plus he got some laps earlier this season in a tire test. Byron is the only driver with two wins so far this season.
Good mid-tier value
Austin Cindric (+1200)
Joey Logano (+2500)
Cindric started 10th a season ago and finished eighth. He also led eight laps. He should be near the front of the field again this weekend. Logano finished 31st but he’s the points leader so far this season and is a decent road course racer. Especially at those odds.
Don’t bet this driver
Kimi Raikkonen (+4000)
Raikkonen has experience at COTA in an F1 car but it takes a lot to envision him winning at the track in a Cup Series car. A top-20 finish will be a good result in his second career Cup Series start.
Looking for a long shot?
Justin Haley (+10000)
Two of Haley’s eight career top-10 finishes have come at road courses and he’s teammates with AJ Allmendinger. Kaulig Racing should have fast cars this weekend and he’s worth a flier at these odds compared to everyone else.