Cup Series travels to Texas for Austin road course

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas for the first time this season with strong momentum on its side at the Circuit of the Americas’ road course.

That’s right: The series is riding high, even higher than Bristol winner Denny Hamlin.

With the sanctioning body arriving in the vibrant state capital of Austin, NASCAR and Goodyear are realizing they helped make a very special Sunday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend.

But the reality is that the duo backed into that one a bit.

With the teams assigned nine sets of tires and burning through three of those at the quarter-point of the 500-lapper, there was a growing concern that Goodyear would run out of tires, prompting a few drivers to wonder over the radio if the event was possibly going to be red-flagged until reinforcements arrived.

Simply put, the tire Goodyear brought failed to heat up and did not put rubber down onto the half-mile track, though tire fall-off was severe as some cars shredded theirs during an extremely loose racing condition.

“It’s the same package (as last year),” explained Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker mid-race as teams watched their cars slide around the concrete in 50-lap max runs. “It’s the same tire combination. It’s still a bit of an unknown.”

Whatever those unknowns were, NASCAR and its fans came out big winners as Hamlin beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. for his fourth win at the high-banked Tennessee speedway.

In all, the top three finishers, which included third-place Brad Keselowski, are the sport’s most seasoned trio and have competed in a combined 58 campaigns.

So, no surprise there that the sport’s true grizzled veterans, who learned tire management skills at tiny bullrings around the country as 20-year-olds on balmy, slick summer nights, had the best rubber at the end and came home 1-2-3.

“All in all, I thought it was one of the best short-track races I’ve ever seen,” NASCAR chief racing development officer John Probst said. “We’ll go back and look at it all. But, man … I would not want to change much at all honestly.”

Fifth-place finisher Kyle Larson felt “it was a little too extreme in tire wear,” yet added, “But overall, you can’t deny that it was a fantastic race.”

Sunday’s 68-lap EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix will be the season’s first road race, and the 3.41-mile track’s small sample size has revealed that hard chargers hold an edge.

In the three COTA races since 2021, Chase Elliott (weather shortened), Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick have pocketed wins, with Reddick’s No. 45 Toyota setting a track record by a Cup driver with a lap of 2:12.706 seconds last year.

A three-time Supercars champion, Shane van Gisbergen will compete in the first of his seven Cup events and third career race on Sunday, driving the No. 16 Chevrolet of Kaulig Racing, a partnership with the Trackhouse Racing team that signed him.

The 34-year-old New Zealand road-course ace, nicknamed SVG, won the inaugural Chicago Street Course race in the waning daylight in his first Cup start on July 2.

NASCAR will hold an extended practice session Saturday due to a new aerodynamic package.