NASCAR viewer’s guide: Circuit of the Americas

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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)

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.