NASCAR viewer’s guide: Circuit of the Americas


The Next Gen car makes its official road course debut at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Five races at five unique tracks have provided five different winners, a list most recently dotted by William Byron, who won at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend.

The inaugural Cup Series race in Austin, Texas was run in sopping wet conditions in May 2021. This weekend’s forecast is vastly different and should make for a more accurate test of Cup drivers’ ability around the 3.41-mile, 20-turn course than a year ago.

How will the Next Gen perform on a road course?

By all accounts, the newest generation of car in the Cup Series is meant to handle much better on road courses than its predecessor.

With rack-and-pinion steering now in play along with independent rear suspensions — both of which contrast from all previous iterations of NASCAR vehicles — drivers expect a completely different feel around COTA.

“This car is absolutely designed more for a road-course race type situation,” Aric Almirola said in a press release. “It’s a more symmetrical car. Our cars used to be offset, and they were more designed to go just left-hand only, so it was more of a big deal to swap over to go road racing. Now, these cars are more symmetrical. So because of that, it is more specifically designed to go left and right, which suits it very well for road racing.

“The car is a very capable car. It handles well, it brakes very well. It’s got much bigger brakes than what we used to have on the old car, so it stops way better and the brake zones are way more compressed. It is a little bit more thrilling of a car to drive on the road courses.”

That agility was something most drivers were able to experience in a two-day test session at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in October. During that test, Byron noted what sort of difference the brakes could make in passing zones.

“With this (Next Gen) car, it’s just go as fast as you can into that braking zone, be as aggressive as you can, get the downshifts done whenever you have time to,” Byron said. “It’s going to make for a lot more aggressive passing because I think guys are going to dive-bomb. If you’re close to a guy you’re, obviously, going to try to out-brake him.”

Hendrick Motorsports’ dominance continues

The new car has brought many new faces to the front of the field, including but not limited to Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain. But the powerhouse that is Hendrick Motorsports still reigns supreme.

Byron’s Atlanta victory is Hendrick’s third win in five races this season, leaving Chase Elliott as the lone winless driver in the four-car stable. Kyle Larson went to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway and Alex Bowman won at Las Vegas.

In all, HMS has won eight of the last 11 races. The only three outliers in that span were first-time winners Bubba Wallace (Talladega, October 2021), Cindric (Daytona 500) and Briscoe (Phoenix).

Larson (three) and Elliott (two) combined to win five of the seven road-course races on the schedule in 2021, and the organization has won nine of the past 11 such events. Elliott, who has won seven of his 19 starts on road courses, was the winner at COTA in its inaugural event a season ago and Larson finished second. The Next Gen may change some things, but expect members of the Hendrick foursome to be in the mix for the win.

Kurt Busch on the rise

Not only has Kurt Busch snuck his way into two consecutive top-five finishes (fifth at Phoenix, third at Atlanta); he’s also notched the best average finish in the series after five races at 9.6.

His high finishes come as the whole of Toyota struggles. Joe Gibbs Racing has earned only one top-five finish among its four drivers this season, scored by Kyle Busch‘s fourth-place effort in Las Vegas. Two of JGR’s drivers sit outside the top 25 in points — Denny Hamlin (26th) and Christopher Bell (30th).

Kurt Busch has yet to show significant, consistent bursts of speed to make the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing feel like a threat to win. On average, NASCAR’s loop data statistics show Busch has generally run toward the back-half of the top 20 through the majority of the race.

But his finishes are carrying the team — and the manufacturer — forward, sitting fifth in points as the highest Toyota in the standings.

Champions’ downturn

As a whole, past Cup champions are off to a slow start in 2022.

Of the eight active title winners competing, Larson is the only one to have won a race this year. In total, the past champions — Larson, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch — have combined for six top fives (of a possible 25) and 19 top 10s (of a possible 50).

The season is young, and the notebook on the Next Gen car is small. But perhaps the historic parity on display this season is in part thanks to drivers’ collective inexperience, taking away the advantages of long-time veterans who spent decades driving the previous generation’s style of cars.

Entry list

As the new car harkens features from the sports-car world, familiar names from other road-racing disciplines can be found scattered across the Cup Series’ 39-car entry list for COTA.

AJ Allmendinger, who won the Cup Series’ inaugural race on the Indianapolis road course last year, is back behind the wheel of the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. Andy Lally, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, will pilot Live Fast Motorsports’ No. 78 Ford. Kaz Grala finished seventh in his Cup debut at the Daytona road course in 2020 and returns to wheel the No. 50 Chevrolet for The Money Team Racing, owned by famed boxed Floyd Mayweather.

Other road racers in Sunday’s field include Joey Hand (No. 15 Ford), Boris Said (No. 66 Ford) and Loris Hezemans (No. 27 Ford).

Forty-three cars are on the Xfinity Series entry list. Auto Club winner and Cup regular Cole Custer returns to the No. 07 Ford for SS Green Light Racing, while Parker Chase, a Texas native, makes his Xfinity debut in the No. 26 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing. Bubba Wallace will pilot the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Miguel Paludo will attempt to make his season debut for JR Motorsports in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Five cars will fail to qualify.

Forty trucks make up the entry list for Camping World Truck Series. Alex Bowman will make his first series start since 2017 driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports. Kyle Busch will drive his No. 51 Toyota, and NBC Sports broadcaster Parker Kligerman returns for his first race since the season opener at Daytona in the No. 75 Chevrolet. Four trucks will fail to qualify.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Circuit of the Americas

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Circuit of the Americas

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Circuit of the Americas

Qualifying order

Road-course practice and qualifying procedures take on a new form in 2022.

Cup Series teams will have a 20-minute practice session and will practice in two separate groups — Group A and Group B — based on a calculated metric that factors results and fastest laps from the previous week in addition to points position. Those groups will then prepare for qualifying, with each group receiving one 15-minute timed session. The five fastest drivers from each group will advance into the second round of qualifying, a 10-minute timed session in which the fastest lap earns the pole.

Xfinity and Truck series teams will each get a 20-minute practice session for all entries, but their qualifying sessions will mirror the Cup procedures. Groups A and B will qualify in separate 15-minute sessions, and the top five from each group advance to the next round to compete for the pole.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Order — Circuit of the Americas

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying Order — Circuit of the Americas

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying Order — Circuit of the Americas

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, March 25

Forecast: Sunny, high of 83 degrees, low of 48 degrees

  • 3 – 3:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 -5:30 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 26

Forecast: Sunny, high of 84 degrees, low of 54 degrees

  • 10 – 11 a.m.  — Cup practice (FS1)
  • 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1 p.m. — Truck race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 27

Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 87 degrees, low of 57degrees

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

MORE: NASCAR’s $1 million question is can the culture change?

“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy


LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)