Some Enjoying Playing In The Rain At COTA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 23 2021

Martin Truex, Jr. sends water flying during Saturday’s Cup Series practice at Circuit of the Americas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – Traversing Interstate 35 through the Texas Hill Country during a May rainstorm can be a white-knuckle experience for, say, the typical NASCAR fan. But hot-lapping around a rainswept Circuit of The Americas in a NASCAR Cup Series car _ basically, driving while blind _ apparently is a blast. 

“Yeah, I hope it rains (Sunday),” Cup regular William Byron said after pacing Saturday’s lone 55-minute practice for the inaugural EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at COTA. “It was really weird at first, just getting used to where the best line was and getting used to the way you get around there.

“Yeah, it was fun. It was a blast. I don’t know how it was to watch, but it’s so much fun driving.”

Byron topped the speed chart at 77.847 mph around COTA’s rain-soaked 3.41-mile/20-turn natural terrain layout, a track specifically designed to meet FIA Formula One World Championship standards. 

“I’ve watched some Formula One races in the rain and I think for the fans, it would be awesome if it rains,” said Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. Byron likely will get his wish, as Sunday’s forecast calls for a 60-to-70 percent chance of rain and/or thunderstorms beginning in the morning and lasting into the afternoon.

Cup teams are scheduled to qualify at 10 a.m. (CDT, FOX Sports 1), with the green flag set to fall at 1:30 p.m. (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The posted distance is 115 laps/231 miles of white-knuckle driving.

“Yeah, you can’t see the guy in front of you, for sure,” Byron said. “You’re kind of looking at how much spray he’s got and judging how far away you are in that aspect. So, if the spray is higher, typically you’re closer to a certain degree. It almost exactly simulates what aero does to the cars. It creates that wake behind a car and that’s almost exactly what it’s like when we’re racing with air; you can just see it now. For me, I just try to trust my spotter and if he said somebody was checking-up or something or if there was a slow car in front, I’d try to plan for that. But honestly, I kind of tried to put it in the right spot and hope that nobody was stopped in front of me.”

Team Penske’s Joey Logano, whose No. 22 Ford Mustang paced the Blue Oval camp, said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to nail a lap time. “The whole thing is a head game,” Logano said. “It’s a mental strain out there of how hard you can push, how hard you can drive in the corner and being able to see behind cars.

“That’s probably the hardest part, is visually down that long straightaway between (Turns) 11 and 12. The spray off the back of a car _ you can’t see. You straight-up can’t see and you’re going really, really fast and the car is hydroplaning through that section. I think it’s newer asphalt there or something. The water sits on top more and the car is just jumping out of nowhere on you. The first time it scares you and then really the third and fourth time it still scares you, but you kind of catch yourself quickly.

“It’s entertaining, believe me. I could have stayed out there making laps all day. I was having a good time.”

Kyle Busch _ who practiced in his Cup car before winning Saturday’s inaugural Pit Boss 250 Xfinity Series race _ agreed racing stock cars in the rain is fun, challenging and yes, ridiculous.

Kyle Busch heads into Turn 1 en route to his Xfinity Series victory at COTA on Saturday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“Is it optimum conditions? No, certainly not, but it’s the same for everyone,” said Busch, who will wheel the No. 18 Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday. “Obviously if you are the guy out front, you have the cleanest track, but you’ve earned that. I just wish there was a better way to see through the spray. Our cars put up such a spray and the windshield, I haven’t even run a windshield wiper because I know it doesn’t do anything, so you’re just trying to keep your windshield as clean as you can and find your way without being able to see around everything.“

Sunday’s forecast figures to create all-day headaches throughout the garage area for drivers and their crew chiefs.

“I feel like the track, I’m pretty comfortable with it,” said Byron, who is working with crew chief Rudy Fugle. “The biggest thing for us is just setup-wise. We tried that second run to setup for the rain a little bit. I honestly felt like we were better the first run with our dry setup. I felt like I just got more comfortable with the racetrack. So, you have to take all that into account going into Sunday. Do you want to prepare for a ‘rain race’ or do you want to prepare for getting a dry line and having to switch to slicks?”

Logano said he and crew chief Paul Wolfe feel at the mercy of the local TV weather folks and their colorful radars. “I don’t think we know what to do,” Logano said. “Paul and I were just talking about it. We’re like, ‘What’s the weather gonna be?’ It could rain and it may not rain. It may rain for a little bit and dry up. I don’t know. There are definitely things you can change in the car to make it better in the weather either way and that’s gonna be part of the game here _ which way do you want to go?

“It’s really hard to be a crew chief or driver in these situations where you have to be a weatherman to some extent. We’re all in the same boat. If it dries up and we’re all trying to figure out how hard to drive when it’s dry, it’ll be the same for everyone.”

Busch said he and crew chief Ben Beshore are operating on the notion there is no ideal setup in the rain. “It’s all about how you work the rain, how you work the lines, how you work the brakes, the gas,” Busch said. “You can improve your setup a little bit, but it’s so hard to know if it’s going to be a dry race or a wet race. It doesn’t look good to be a dry race, but you never know. Yesterday (Friday), it was supposed to rain all day and it was dry all day. It’s just a matter of working through all of that stuff.”

Goodyear Racing has brought its wet weather radials to COTA, where Cup teams will have up to five sets for the race. The last time Cup teams ran on wet weather tires featuring “Goodyear” and “Eagle” markings in white lettering on the sidewalls was at the Charlotte Roval in October.

“The tire change is the greatest change,” Busch said. “When you put those slicks on, you just get way more grip and you get so much more weight transfer in different corners that you can really work the setup a lot more versus in the rain, you’re going so slow that it’s like ice trying to keep it going straight. I think the biggest thing that kind of plays into the craziness and the strategies of road racing is the weather _ guys going off, guys running into guys, guys trying to out-brake guys, contact here _ whatever. We will see how that goes.”


Kyle Busch prepped for Sunday’s inaugural COTA Cup race by schooling the field in the Pit Boss 250, the first Xfinity Series event in the track’s history. Busch, who qualified on-pole in wet conditions earlier in the day, posted a massive 11.024-second margin of victory over road-course specialist A.J. Allmendinger en route to his record 98th Xfinity Series win. 

“It’s really, really cool to come here for the first race at a new track and to win,’’ said Busch, driver of the No. 54 Skittles Gummies Toyota Supra fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “Real proud of the effort. I think the biggest thing is just all the resources and stuff we have and being able to get laps on the track today, feel the tire, everything like that and then being able to get back out there (Sunday) and do everything all over again with the Cup car. Thanks to Toyota and TRD, we’ve got some really cool tools we’ve been able to use and I feel like it was a plus for us today.’’

Busch led a race-high 36-of-46 laps around COTA’s 3.41-mile/20-turn natural terrain layout. No other driver led more than three laps. The only laps Busch failed to lead were when he either pitted or made a brief rally after stage breaks.

“It’s shocking _ Kyle Busch is actually pretty good,’’ Allmendinger deadpanned. “It’s always fun to race Kyle. Did everything we could _ got a stage win, got a lot of points and finished second. That was as good as we were going to do.’’

Allmendinger, an Xfinity Series championship contender, placed second in the No. 16 Pit Boss Grills Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing. He was joined on the podium by Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 BRANDT Camaro fielded by JR Motorsports. Cup regular Kevin Harvick was fourth in the No. 105 Rush Truck Centers Camaro fielded by B.J. McLeod Motorsports.

Reigning Xfinity Series champion and point-leader Austin Cindric rounded-out the top five in the No. 22 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang fielded by Team Penske. Cindric exited Texas with a 77-point lead over Harrison Burton, who finished sixth Saturday in the No. 20 DEX Imaging Toyota Supra fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. Allmendinger is third, 81 points behind the leader through 11 races.

The victory marked the 17th season in which “Rowdy” Busch has won at least one Xfinity Series race and the 27th different NASCAR track where he has hoisted a trophy and taken his signature bow.

The majority of the field opted to pit for Goodyear’s slick tires during the parade laps, and by the race’s midpoint, the sun finally appeared in the Texas Hill Country. 

Next up on the Xfinity schedule is the Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29.


Todd Gilliland was so fast and determined while leading Saturday’s Toyota Tundra 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race that his Front Row Motorsports team had to remind him to slow down and take care of his wet-weather Goodyear tires during the closing laps at Circuit of The Americas.

Gilliland barely eased-off en route to a comfortable 7.941-second margin of victory over Kaz Grala. It was Gilliland/s second career series win and first since 2019.

“I definitely did a lot of stuff wrong but that’s what I love about road-course racing _ there’s 20 turns here, 20 opportunities to pass but also make mistakes,’’ said Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Crosley Brands Ford F-150. “Last year we didn’t quite have the season we knew we could and just to come out here and win early, we’ve been building momentum and for my team to get this win is just amazing.’’
Gilliland and the field ran Goodyear’s wet-weather tires flag-to-flag as the race began in a steady rain. As conditions dried out, crew chief Chris Lawson reminded him to keep those tires working by finding wet spots on the track. Gilliland dutifully hit his marks and the puddled water on the 3.41-mile/20-turn circuit to nail the victory. Gilliland led the final six laps and earned an extra $50,000 incentive in the second race of the series’ Triple Truck Challenge.

Grala was runnerup in the No. 02 Young’s Building System Chevrolet Silverado fielded by Young’s Motorsports followed by pole-sitter Tyler Ankrum in the No. 26 Circle B Diecast Chevy fielded by GMS Racing. Grant Enfinger was fourth in the No. 9 Good Sam Club Chevy fielded by CR7 Motorsports with reigning series champion Sheldon Creed fifth in the No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet. Creed led a race-high 14-of-41 laps.

Championship leader John Hunter Nemechek finished 12th in the No. 4 ROMCO Toyota Tundra fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Through nine races, Nemechek has a 31-point lead over Ben Rhodes, driver of the No. 99 Bombardier LearJet 75 Toyota fielded by ThorSport Racing. Creed is third, 69 points behind the leader.

Gilliland won Stage 1 _ his first stage win of 2021 _ and was first out during the ensuing pit stops. However, NASCAR’s Pit Road Police ruled that one of his crew members jumped over the wall too soon and Gilliland was penalized by being sent to the rear of the field on the restart. With Gilliland forced to play catch-up, Creed led most of Stage 2.

Creed and Ankrum battled up-front _ at one point passing each other three different times during one lap _ before Gilliland rallied to take the lead for good with six laps remaining. Grala passed Ankrum with two laps remaining to tie his best series finish.

The victory marked Gilliland’s fifth top-10 result in the last six races. Gilliland is the fourth fulltime Truck Series driver to win this season, joining two-time winners Nemechek, Creed and Rhodes.



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 23 2021
No Comment