Elliott wins rain-shortened, inaugural Cup event at COTA

The inaugural EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, featured wet, slick conditions, wild racing and major milestone victories for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet after Chase Elliott emerged victorious for the first time this season on Sunday, May 23. The reigning Cup Series champion took the lead on Lap 50 and retained the top spot by Lap 54 while on low fuel when NASCAR made the race official due to late, inclement weather that ended the race 14 laps from its scheduled distance.

Qualifying occurred on Sunday, May 23, prior to the main event. Tyler Reddick started on pole position with a pole-winning qualifying lap at 92.363 mph and was joined on the front row with Kyle Larson. Aric Almirola, rookie Chase Briscoe, Chris Buescher, Erik Jones, Cody Ware, James Davison, rookie Anthony Alfredo, Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.

Prior to the race, the competitors made a pit stop to change for slick tires with reports of precipitation nearing the circuit. During the pit stops, teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski was forced to start at the rear of the field due to having tape pulled from their cars, which was not permitted at the time.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Cindric made a move on Reddick in the first turn to take the lead while the field fanned out and jostled for positions early in the race through the first two turns and the esses. For one full lap, the competitors made their way through the 20-turn circuit in a calm, consistent pace as Cindric led the first lap.

Under the first lap, names like Byron, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Kevin Harvick pitted early for wet tires. 

At the front, Cindric was leading followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Kyle Busch, teammate Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Reddick, meanwhile, was back in sixth place followed by Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch.

By the second lap, Allmendinger pitted for fresh tires along with Reddick. A lap later, names like Kyle Busch, Larson, Bell, Matt DiBenedetto and James Davison made their pit stops for tires.

Through the first five laps of the event, Cindric, who continued to run on slick tires, was in a commanding lead over Truex. Shortly after, he made a pit stop as Truex, who started the race on rain tires, took over the lead followed by Michael McDowell, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and teammate Ryan Preece. Cindric, following his pit stop, fell back to ninth place behind Logano.

Three laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Daniel Suarez, who went off course in Turn 13 but managed to continue, stalled on the course due to a mechanical issue and needed a wrecker to have his car pushed to the garage.

Under caution, some like leader Truex pitted while the rest led by McDowell remained on the track.

The race restarted on Lap 9 with McDowell and Wallace on the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out, McDowell retained the lead. From Turn 3 through Turn 10, the field continued to navigate through the rain as McDowell led Logano and Cindric. Behind, Denny Hamlin spun in Turn 9, but he continued. 

By Lap 10, McDowell was still leading followed by Logano, Cindric, William Byron and Kurt Busch. Stenhouse was back in sixth followed by Chase Briscoe, DiBenedetto, Wallace and Chris Buescher. In Turn 12, Logano made his move beneath McDowell and as McDowell’s car wobbled, the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang driven by Logano muscled to the lead.

With the laps in the first stage dwindling, Garrett Smithley went off course and drove his car through the gravel before returning on the track and continuing. Not long after, Corey LaJoie spun off course entering Turn 12. Then, DiBenedetto ran into the right-rear quarter panel of Byron’s No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, damaging both competitors as Byron pitted.

Back at the front, Logano continued to lead. Through the turns and the slick conditions, Logano was able to come back around and claim the first stage on Lap 15, which marked his third stage victory of the season. McDowell crossed the start/finish line in second place followed by Kurt Busch, Larson and Cindric. Buescher and Briscoe were scored in sixth and seventh. Ross Chastain, who slid off course in Turn 11, crossed the line in eighth followed by Kyle Busch and DiBenedetto, who continued despite the damage on his car. 

Under the stage break, some like Cindric pitted while the rest led by Logano remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 18 with Logano and McDowell retaining the front row. At the start, Logano retained the lead followed by Kurt Busch as the field fanned out again. In Turn 4, Ryan Newman spun after getting loose underneath Ross Chastain, but he prevented the car from sustaining any damage.

Through the twists and turns from Turn 3 through 10 and the long straightaway in Turns 11 and 12, Logano continued to lead followed by the Busch brothers, McDowell and Chastain. 

Behind, Ryan Blaney, who got hit by Christopher Bell, spun and went off course as a result of a cut right-rear tire. In the ensuing chaos, the caution flew when Kevin Harvick, who lifted off the throttle through the long straightaway, got hit from behind by Wallace’s car, which sent Harvick into the guardrails and with heavy damage. Stenhouse also received damage following the contact. The damage knocked Bell and Wallace out of contention along with Harvick, who car was leaking fluid, while Blaney and Stenhouse continued. 

Under caution, some like Larson, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Truex, Newman and Byron pitted while the rest led by Logano remained on the track.

When the race resumed on Lap 24, Chastain moved a bold three-wide move on Logano and Kyle Busch entering Turn 1 to take the lead followed by Ryan Preece. Through Turns 9 and 10, Preece overtook Chastain for the lead and he retained the top spot entering Turn 11. Kyle Busch was in third followed by Cindric, Chase Elliott and Logano.

Then, the caution returned when Truex ran into the rear of McDowell, which sent Truex’s hood up and blocked his view. With Truex off the pace, Cole Custer rammed into the rear of Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry at full speed, which nearly sent Truex’s car upside down before coming back to rest on all four wheels while Custer made contact with the SAFER Barriers before coming to a stop on fire. Truex and Custer were able to exit their respective machines following the wreck. Following the incident, the race was red-flagged for nearly 21 minutes. At the time of the incident, Chastain was leading Preece, Kyle Busch, Cindric and Elliott.

When the red flag was lifted following a lengthy cleanup, the field made their way to pit road under caution and the teams were allowed to service their respective cars with the driver’s vision. Later on, Chastain led a handful of competitors down pit road while the rest led by Preece remained on the track. Prior to the start, NASCAR announced that all restarts for the remainder of the event will be single-filed.

Following a delay, the race restarted under green on Lap 28. At the start, Kyle Busch took the lead followed by Cindric while Preece fell back to third. Behind, Austin Dillon, who was in sixth, was assessed a drive-through penalty for cutting through the esses. 

Back at the front, Cindric returned to the lead by the time the field returned in Turn 11 before Kyle Busch took it back in Turn 12. When the field returned to the straightaway heading towards the start/finish line, Kyle Busch retained the lead followed by Cindric, Preece, Elliott and Reddick. 

With the laps in the second stage dwindling, the battle for the lead continued to heat up between Kyle Busch and Cindric, though Busch refused to relinquish the top spot. With Busch prevailing, Chase Elliott started to challenge Cindric for the runner-up spot. By then, names like Newman, Erik Jones and Quin Houff encountered on-track issues of their own.

With a clear track in front of him, Kyle Busch, winner of Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series event at the Circuit of the Americas, was able to come back around and win the second stage on Lap 32, which marked his second stage victory of the season. Elliott was scored in second place followed by Reddick, Cindric, Corey LaJoie, Larson, Preece, A.J. Allmendinger, Briscoe and Alex Bowman.

Under the stage break, some led by LaJoie pitted while the rest led by Kyle Busch remained on the track.

With 33 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Kyle Busch retained the lead followed by Cindric, Reddick, Briscoe and Elliott. With the field navigating its way through the esses and through Turns 9, 10 and 11, Busch remained in the lead while the field fanned out. Behind, Brad Keselowski spun in Turn 11 following contact with Newman.

Under the final 30 laps of the event, Kyle Busch was leading by less than six seconds over Larson. Elliott was in third place followed by Logano, Reddick and Allmendinger. Cindric and Chastain battled for seventh followed by McDowell and Kurt Busch. Behind, Stenhouse spun following contact from Quin Houff. In addition, Davison and LaJoie went off track separately. Soon after, Reddick spun in Turn 20.

With 27 laps remaining, the leader Kyle Busch pitted along with Elliott. Busch’s move handed the lead to Larson followed by Logano and Chastain. Two laps later, Chastain overtook Logano for the runner-up spot. Not long after, Kurt Busch, Chastain’s teammate, moved into third place. At the front, Larson continued to lead by three-and-a-half seconds.

Behind, more pit stops ensued as Allmendinger pitted along with Reddick, DiBenedetto, McDowell and others, By then, rain started to make its way back on the circuit.

With 24 laps remaining, Chastain moved into the lead as Larson pitted under green. Kurt Busch joined Larson on pit road for service along with Logano, Briscoe and Ty Dillon. The following lap, Preece and Buescher pitted. Another lap later, Chastain, who last pitted on Lap 27, pitted along with Byron.

Back on the track, Alex Bowman, winner of last weekend’s event at Dover, took the lead as Kyle Busch moved back into second place. Elliott was in third place followed by Hamlin and Larson.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event and with light precipitation falling on the circuit, Bowman continued to lead while Elliott remained in front of Kyle Busch, Larson and Hamlin for the second-place spot. Logano was in sixth followed by rookie Anthony Alfredo, Chastain, Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch. Allmendinger was in 12th in front of Briscoe, Reddick and Cindric were in 16th and 17th and Byron was in 19th.

Two laps later, Elliott took the lead entering Turn 20 while Bowman pitted for fresh tires along with Hamlin. Larson, who trailed teammate Elliott by six seconds, moved into second place followed by Kyle Busch, Logano and Chastain. Shortly after, radio chatters about the fuel window between Elliott, Larson and Busch started to occur, with Elliott and Busch reportedly not having enough for the finish while Larson had enough to complete the race to its distance.

With 16 laps remaining, Kyle Busch brought his No. 18 M&M’s Mix Toyota Camry into pit road for fresh tires and enough fuel for the scheduled distance.

Back to the front, the No. 9 LLumar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE piloted by Elliott continued to lead by more than 12 seconds over the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE piloted by Larson. Behind, Kurt Busch overshot Turn 12, nearly clipping his brother Kyle and Austin Dillon, where he drove his car through the gravel and grass, spun the car to the right direction and continued without getting stuck in the wet mud.

With 15 laps remaining, the caution flew due to visibility and the current track conditions with the circuit wet and light precipitation making its way on the track. Not long after, the field was brought down to pit road and the race was red-flagged.

As rain continued to fall, NASCAR made the race official 14 laps shy of its scheduled distance and Elliott, the leader at the time, was declared the winner. The victory in the inaugural Circuit of the Americas event marked Elliott’s 12th NASCAR Cup Series career win and his six road course career victory as he became the 11th different driver to record a victory this season. In addition, Elliott recorded the 268th Cup win for Hendrick Motorsports, moving the team to a tie with Petty Enterprises for the most all-time Cup victories, and the 800th Cup victory for Chevrolet.

“Man, I couldn’t be more excited,” Elliott said on FS1. “I’ve never won a rain race before, so that’s kinda cool. Just super proud of our team for just continuing to fight. We kinda starting the day, we weren’t very good and just kept pushing myself, kept making some good changes throughout the day and got to where I thought we were on pace with those guys at the end. So, really proud of that. It’s not the greatest thing ever to have a rain race win if it’s your first one, but I think it’s okay if it’s down the road, so I’m pretty excited about that. Looking forward to next week and trying to keep it rolling.”

Larson settled in the runner-up spot for the fourth time this season while Logano finished in third place. Chastain notched his first top-five result in the Cup Series by finishing fourth while Allmendinger concluded his run with a strong fifth-place result, thus recording the first top-five result in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing.

Rookie Chase Briscoe recorded his first top-10 career result by finishing sixth while McDowell, Bowman, Reddick and Kyle Busch finished in the top 10.

Byron settled in 11th, Hamlin finished 14th, teammates Blaney and Keselowski finished 17th and 19th, Ty Dillon finished 21st, Cindric came home in 25th and Kurt Busch fell all the way back in 27th.

There were 11 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 12 laps. 

Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 98 points over Byron, 110 over Larson, 111 over Logano and 116 over Elliott.

Results.

1. Chase Elliott, five laps led

2. Kyle Larson, four laps led

3. Joey Logano, 14 laps led, Stage 1 winner

4. Ross Chastain, four laps led

5. A.J. Allmendinger

6. Chase Briscoe

7. Michael McDowell, three laps led

8. Alex Bowman, three laps led

9. Tyler Reddick

10. Kyle Busch, 12 laps led, Stage 2 winner

11. William Byron

12. Austin Dillon

13. Chris Buescher

14. Denny Hamlin

15. Ryan Preece, two laps led

16. Erik Jones

17. Ryan Blaney

18. Anthony Alfredo

19. Brad Keselowski

20. Corey LaJoie

21. Ty Dillon

22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23. Matt DiBenedetto

24. Ryan Newman

25. Austin Cindric, four laps led

26. Aric Almirola

27. Kurt Busch

28. Garrett Smithley

29. James Davison

30. Josh Bilicki

31. Kyle Tilley

32. Cody Ware, one lap down

33. Daniel Suarez, eight laps down

34. Quin Houff – OUT, Dvp

35. Martin Truex Jr. – OUT, Accident, three laps led

36. Cole Custer, – OUT, Accident

37. Kevin Harvick – OUT, Accident 

38. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident

39. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Accident

40. Justin Haley – OUT, Steering

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, during Memorial Day weekend. The event is slated to occur on Sunday, May 30, at 6 p.m. ET on FOX.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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