What drivers are saying about inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA


Here’s what some drivers have said about Circuit of the Americas going into the track’s inaugural NASCAR weekend.


AJ Allmendinger

“It’s always fun going to a new race track, so I’m looking forward to something new. It’s a doubleheader weekend for us, so it’s going to be busy. I’m excited to be back in the Cup car after a really fun race at the Daytona road course earlier this year. Overall, I think it’s a technical race track – weather is going to be a factor, so there will be a lot of challenges that we will have to face. I’m confident that Kaulig Racing will have a solid weekend.”

Aric Almirola

“Personally, I feel that I have improved in my road course abilities over the years. In the Busch Clash and the Daytona road-course race in February, I was much more confident behind the wheel and found more speed than 2020. I think our Smithfield Ford team has found more speed in the car, too, with the 750-horsepower package. Circuit of the Americas is going to be a completely different challenge for everyone, but we’re going into the weekend with more road-course confidence than years prior.”

Chase Briscoe

“I think it’s gonna be hard. The thing is there, I don’t think you can necessarily try stuff that’s gonna work at other places with it being a road course, but I will say that it’s probably gonna be a challenge to go and do a practice environment. That’s something that normally doing a shock change or doing whatever is so second nature and they can do it so quickly to really maximize that practice time, where we haven’t done that a lot in the last year and a half, so I think the team guys might be a little rusty when it comes to that, but I think the other thing at COTA as far as I know there’s only a 50-minute practice and by the time you do an out lap, do an in lap, and do whatever lap you’re doing, you’re probably not gonna get but maybe eight to nine laps of practice at the most, so it’s gonna be really hard to make changes and figure out what kind of works because you’re probably only gonna get two or three changes at the absolute most.

“So, you’re still gonna have to unload very quick from a speed standpoint and a balance standpoint, so it’s gonna be hard. I’m glad we’re gonna have some practice just, for me, to get back in the rhythm of especially road course racing to see what I need. I felt like at the Daytona road course at the very end of the race we were pretty good, it just took us three or four adjustments to get to that point, so hopefully at COTA we can kind of start where we ended Daytona and have some good speed.”

Kurt Busch

“I laugh a little bit when I think about going to COTA. That track was designed for Formula 1 cars, cars that can cut around tight apexes like turn 1, turn 11 and 12. Our big heavy stock cars are going to struggle with that; but it’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward it. With the asphalt being abrasive at COTA, it’s going to wear out the tires, so your strategy is going to have to evolve on the fly. It’s going to be quick movements that you make and commit to, so with all that being said, I’m ready to attack course, find the right rhythm with the lap time but also find the right tire strategy bring us to Victory Lane. It’s a cool place with 20 corners; lots of action coming!”

Kyle Busch

“They’ve had a little bit of history there with Formula 1, IndyCar and other racing series there, but obviously the first time for NASCAR Cup Series cars there this weekend. There are a lot of flat turns on that circuit and a little bit of elevation change, which could make for some interesting moments. Our big heavy stock cars with not a lot of downforce running around that road course is going to take a lot. We’ll see how it goes. There’s some experience like that with the NASCAR Xfinity Series guys running Road America, with its long road course, as well. Some of the young guys in our series who have run at Road America will have a little bit of an advantage there, and also when we go to Road America in the summer. But I was able to visit a couple of times in April, it was even in the same week. We went there for a Toyota media event and announcement and then I was back there in another type of car just trying to learn the circuit and what it takes to get around there. We’ve also had plenty of simulator time, too, so hopefully we can be on top of things when we arrive there this weekend.”

William Byron

“It’s going to take a really long time to make one lap. So, we’re kind of nervous about practice and how that’s going to go and how many laps you’re going to get legitimately. That’s going to be tough. There’s not a lot of walls there so there’s a lot of runoff, which is probably a good thing for our cars because we usually run into each other a lot on road courses. Usually, guys make big mistakes. Hopefully I’m not one of those that’s making a big mistake. But at least if I do at COTA, I feel like I can get away with it, which is nice. Typically, if there’s a lot of grass around the race track for us, it doesn’t work well for our cars. This is one of those tracks where there’s just a lot of asphalt where you can run off. That might make it a more aggressive race, maybe; knowing that you can get away with it. But for me, I feel like it’s just like every other road course. You’ve got to figure out how to get in and off the corners. Like the same old things, be good at shifting and down shifting and all those things.”

Cole Custer

“It’s a very technical track and a little bit awkward. Not a ton of flow because there are long straightaways and how tight the corners are and every single corner is different. It’s a very hard track – I can see some people doing really well in parts of it and struggling in others. There will be a lot of passing zones, I think, and it’s going to be racey as hell.”

Austin Dillon

“I think the best passing zones are probably on all the big straights. The esses are pretty tight; you can’t really gain anything there. Turn 11 (a hairpin turn) is probably the best. … Obviously, lengthening the straightaways as much as you can is huge and in the final corner. … Into the stadium section on the downhill braking zone, leaving the last corner, and then the one before the big straightaway are the three that I see that will be the most important. Turn 1, up the hill, you can out-brake someone into there, but it gets tight quick. I think the first three I named are probably the big ones. But Turn 1 is a struggle to really get off of that corner sometimes, in what I’ve noticed. You can maybe get someone on entry, but it’s probably going to put you in a bad position leaving.”

Ty Dillon

“To me, it will be an equalizer race. We do have the opportunity to get some practice in, but I’m looking forward to a race where no one has any experience at before. I think that lends a hand to someone like myself. I really strive on adapting quickly to new situations and road courses have been a good place for me to capitalize on that.”

Chase Elliott

“It’s a super neat facility – super nice facility, number one. The track’s fun. It has a lot of character to it, I feel like. I’ve never been here, never seen it before in person before (doing the Goodyear tire test) and really haven’t watched a ton of races here, so it’s really been a pretty steep learning curve for me, trying to piece together all the different parts of the track and understand where you need to be good and how to make it flow.”

Brad Keselowski

“One of the things about this track here in Austin, it’s got a couple of key action spots. Turn 1 is designed as though a fan said, ‘how can I have the most calamity in that corner on the start?’ So, there’s a couple of things – first off, it’s uphill, which helps the car stop, so it encourages the driver to try to out-brake another driver, which is big on a restart or a start because all of the cars are already so close together. Second thing is, it’s really wide on entry, so it’s almost impossible to block because there’s just a lot more racetrack. And then, of course, the third part is it’s a super slow corner meaning you have to use a lot of brakes to get through there. So, like I said, almost like it was intentional – I’m sure it was intentional – to create some epic starts. I think you’ll see that here.”

Erik Jones

“I think it is just technical as far as COTA is concerned. From what I’ve done on the simulator, there’s just a lot of technical portions of the race track. A lot of slow-speed stuff and a lot of really tight hairpin corners. It’s a matter of taking your time and being easy with it. Our cars are really heavy and got a lot of power and not a lot of grip so you just have to be easy with the race car and get it to do its work and not really force it to do anything.”

Corey LaJoie

“There’s not a whole lot of elevation change besides that big uphill climb into Turn 1. I ran a BMW down there, which was a WRL (World Racing League) race and there were about eight different classes. The speed discrepancy was big. So, I was right there in the middle. My point being if I’d gone off Turn 1 and there was a GT car behind me and he didn’t get around me through that right-hand sweeper, up until the esses, he was stuck behind me because the course is so slow and those esses tighten-up so much. I think if you are somebody who might not be as fast as somebody in front of you, if you can just maintain your position on a restart through (Turns) 1 and 2 and get to the esses, you can maintain that position all the way down into (Turn) 11 and into the hairpin and it’ll single out and you can probably maintain for a long time. There are only three passing zones, I think. Beyond that, there’s going to be a lot of sliding around because that track is pretty racy.”

Tyler Reddick

“One thing in particular, that’s like ‘wow, I haven’t experienced that before’ – maybe aside from how after you exit Turn 9 and you’re going into (Turn) 10, is you have a very important and slightly downhill hairpin right ahead of you. You can’t afford to underdrive it and you can’t, obviously, afford to blow through it. And then right after you get done doing that, one of the most important acceleration zones is after that hairpin. You pretty much follow it up with, yet again, another very critical, high-speed, really important braking zone into (Turn) 12. I don’t say we have a lot of tracks that I’ve ever experienced or I’ve ran in NASCAR that has two corners that are kind of back-to-back exactly like that. I think maybe at Road America, you have turn one that’s the high-speed, right-hander; you have that little short chute, if you will, into (Turn) 2. And then you haul back down into Turn 5 – I can’t remember the nickname for that corner. That’s the only place that’s somewhat like that, that I’ve experienced.”

“This track, just for me, has a little bit of everything from other road courses that I’ve been to and experienced. The amount of run-off that we do have, I was really excited about. The big turtles (curbing) that we’re putting in – I think we’ll still be able to, if you can get over the turtles without destroying your race car, there’s a lot of track you can use to save it and get back going. But those turtles are definitely going to tear some stuff up. There’s a lot of room for error, if you do make a mistake. I think that will promote drivers to be aggressive and race hard with all the run off that this track does have.”

Martin Truex Jr.

“I feel like there’s a handful of really good passing zones. Obviously, as usual, after the long straightaways and the front straightaway and back straightaway are both really long going into really hard braking zones that are low speed, first gear. Those are definitely good areas. There’s a little short chute on the back, about halfway around the track that should be pretty good. Then I think coming out of the last corner onto the front straightaway is a good one as well. I think there’s going to be plenty of opportunities there with it. Especially the fact that it’s got older pavement and it’s going to have pretty decent tire wear. That’s going to open up a lot of opportunities as well and should be fun.”


Austin Cindric

“I think the restarts are gonna be wild. You have a very wide inviting front straightaway. You even see it in the (Formula One) races there. I mean, guys will drive it off in there and collect three or four cars, so I think restarts are definitely going to pretty crazy in all three series — a lot of opportunities to pass at this racetrack, a lot of tire fall off, which obviously provides a bit of a dynamic to the race, whether if it’s on strategy or on the racetrack, so, otherwise, you kind of have every type of corner at this racetrack. There’s a lot to look forward to, I think for the NASCAR fans and a lot of unknowns for us as drivers.”

Daniel Hemric

“I am blown away. You cannot fully appreciate COTA for itself until you actually come and have a chance to run a lap. We can all have simulation and look at film and do all kinds of stuff, but being on the racetrack, seeing all the elevation, seeing how fast some of the high-speed stuff is, how hard some of the braking zone are and how tight some of the switchback corners are, it’s going to be incredible to see how everybody, all of us – the whole field – can navigate that together. It’s going to be a challenge for these race teams, a challenge for the drivers, but I’m sure we’re up for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”


John Hunter Nemechek

“All in all, this place is amazing. It brings a lot of different road courses together and kind of throws a lot of different components in to it and I think it’s going to be fast, it’s going to be technical, it’s going to be a mixture of a bunch of different road courses, and as a driver, I like to see that.”

Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

MORE: Dr. Diandra: 600 tests man more than machine

And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”







Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine


This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup