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The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA

The 2024 Cup Series season continues to find ways to impress.

Entering a short track race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, many storylines around the sport spoke of the lack of excitement the Cup Series experienced the week prior at Phoenix Raceway.

“Hard to pass,” “Aero dependent” and “Need more horsepower” were some common quotes uttered throughout the week, and rightfully so. The Cup Series short track package has taken a hit under NASCAR’s Next Gen banner.

What used to be the kind of racing that brought hoards of fans to the track had suddenly lost its luster. Short track racing over the past two seasons took a back seat in the overall excitement category to intermediate and road course racing. An inability to pass, a new gear ratio that involved more shifting, and an overall lack of horsepower among other things rendered short track racing nearly unwatchable.

Perhaps that all ended Sunday, because for whatever reason, uncovering the dirt and hitting the concrete once again for the spring Bristol race was just what the doctor ordered to get everyone back jonesing for the next short track race.

Some combination of track conditions, ambient temperature, and tire compound proved to be the secret sauce that NASCAR was missing, as Sunday’s Food City 500 produced a race unlike any other in at least the last 30 years of NASCAR.

Tires wore out at an incredible pace, with many drivers struggling to complete 40-50 laps around the 0.533 high-banked oval of Bristol Motor Speedway. This caused drivers to have to adapt and run slower lap times in order to keep rubber on their tires for as long as possible. This also opened the doors for drivers to put the race into their own hands. They could drive up through the field as fast as they wanted to, or they could bide their time and race patiently, hoping the leader’s tires would eventually wear out and they could reel them back in.

The race not only set a Bristol Motor Speedway record, but an all-time NASCAR short track record with 54 lead changes. The previous record for lead changes in a short track race was 40.

It turned out to be Joe Gibbs Racing that won the day. Their four cars ran in the top-5 for much of the day, and at the end of 500 laps it was Denny Hamlin that outdueled Martin Truex Jr. to earn the win and hoist the trophy for the second consecutive Bristol race.

Hamlin led a race-high 163 laps, while all four Joe Gibbs drivers combined to lead 383 of 500 laps.

Hamlin’s win makes it five different winners to kick off the 2024 season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see another new winner this week as we head to the first road course race of the 2024 season at Circuit of the Americas (COTA).

In last season’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, it was Tyler Reddick that earned his first victory of the season after leading 41 of 75 laps. He and William Byron were the two cars to beat all day. They combined to lead 69 of the 75 laps after qualifying first and second.

I don’t personally love road course racing, but it will be interesting to see what else the 2024 season may have in store.

Keep an eye on X (Twitter) to see my bet slip for the race. With this weekend being a road course, I may throw out a few early bets based on drivers that tend to excel at these types of tracks. Read below for more info on who to keep an eye on this week.

One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first handful of races, it won’t be impossible to catch up!

Let’s dive into the upcoming weekend.


Track Facts

The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix is a 68-lap (231.88-mile) race around the 3.426-mile Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. COTA was added to the NASCAR schedule in 2021 and has hosted three Cup Series events over the past three years. COTA is currently the longest track on the NASCAR schedule since Road America was removed after hosting just one event in 2022. With COTA being a true road course (as opposed to a Roval), look for drivers with a good road course record to excel. Chase Elliott leads all active drivers with road course victories with seven, including the inaugural Cup Series race at COTA. Other winners here include Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick. Last year, Reddick and William Byron were a dominant force in an otherwise bland race. The duo qualified on the front row and led the vast majority of the laps. The top thing I’m watching this week is the speed of the Toyotas. Two weeks in a row the Toyotas have had the best cars. I’ll be intrigued to see if that speed carries over to road course racing, or if the Chevrolets and Fords unload with a better road course package.


Who’s Hot?

Denny Hamlin could arguably be the hottest driver on the circuit right now. Hamlin has led the most laps in each of the last two races, qualified on the pole at Phoenix and got the win this past week at Bristol. Unfortunately for Hamlin, he hasn’t finished better than 14th in any of the three prior COTA races and he has struggled on road course tracks in the Next Gen era. Since the start of the 2021 season, Hamlin has not won a road course race and has an average finish of 15.9 which is 17th best among all drivers over that span.

Kyle Larson was just about the only guy that could keep up with Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday in Bristol. He probably had the next best car behind those four, as evident by his fifth-place finish. Larson’s solid day was good enough for him to surpass Ryan Blaney as the new Cup Series points leader, a title he currently shares with Martin Truex Jr. Larson led 19 laps at Bristol and has now finished top-5 in two of the last three races, but his road course record hasn’t been great of late. Larson did not lead a single lap on road courses in 2023 and hasn’t won a road course race since Watkins Glen in 2022. Larson’s best finish at COTA was 2nd in the rain-shortened inaugural race, but he hasn’t finished better than 14th in either of the last two COTA races. 

As noted above, Martin Truex Jr. is currently the co-points leader, and he has had recent success at road courses. Last season Truex took home the victory at Sonoma. He also finished top-10 at both Watkins Glen and the Indy Road Course. Truex has struggled on some of the newer road courses, though he did finish top-10 at COTA in 2022. Truex was right on Denny Hamlin’s heels last weekend and has now finished top-10 in three straight races. I’d expect him to have a solid showing at COTA this week.


Drivers I Like

Ross Chastain is going to lead us off here, as he may be one of my favorite plays this week. Chastain is the only driver to finish top-5 in all three COTA races, including a thrilling win in 2022. He is one of just three drivers (which you will see below) to finish top-10 in all three COTA races up to this point. Chastain is second in career laps led at COTA and certainly checks all the boxes as a potential contender this week. He already has three top-10 finishes in five races this season. I’m going to be willing to bet he makes it 4-for-6 this Sunday.

Tyler Reddick is the most recent winner at COTA, coming away with the win after multiple overtime attempts last season. Reddick is another one of the three drivers to never finish outside the top-10 at COTA, and he is the all-time leader in laps led at the track. Reddick also boasts an average starting position of 2.7 at COTA, so check him out as a potential qualifying bet as well. Reddick is coming off a tough day at Bristol after being involved in an early incident, but he isn’t that far removed from nearly running down Kyle Larson for the win at Las Vegas. Reddick has had speed this season and he drives one of those fast Toyotas, so this is as good of an opportunity as ever for Reddick to bounce back and have a really strong day.

The final driver to finish T-10 in all three COTA races may come as a surprise, as he has never won at the track. Alex Bowman has actually never finished worse than ninth here and was in the hunt in 2022 when Ross Chastain took out both him and A.J. Allmendinger coming to the checkers. Bowman doesn’t quite have the resume of the other two drivers mentioned above, as he has never won a road course race in 17 tries since the beginning of 2021, but he does have eight top-10 finishes in those 17 races. He may be knocking on the door for his first road course win.


Drivers to Avoid

Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing have been really good over the past season and a half, but the one thing they have yet to figure out is road course racing. Of all drivers in the field Sunday who have competed in all three COTA races, Keselowski has the lowest driver rating at the track and sports an average finish of just 22.7. Keselowski has struggled at road courses of all kinds. Since the start of the 2021 season, Keselowski has just two top-10 finishes in 18 road course races. I don’t expect things to get better for Brad this week. Look to fade him in almost any matchup.

It's practically impossible to do any worse than Bubba Wallace has done in the last three COTA races. In three races Bubba has finished 39th (out of 40), 38th (out of 39) and 37th (out of 39). If that trend continues, he is on his way to 36th place finish this week. Anyway, Wallace struggles here and on all road courses as a matter of face. Wallace sits in the same boat as Keselowski with two top-10s in his last 18 road course races. The Toyotas have speed early on this season, but I don’t think Wallace has what it takes at road course racing even if he does unload with the fastest car this week.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another driver that road course racing isn’t his friend. Stenhouse does have a 7th-place finish here once upon a time, but that top-10 is his only top-10 in his last 18 road course races. Stenhouse’s one top-10 at COTA was also his only career top-20, so two out of three times he has really struggled at this track. This type of racing just isn’t his forte.


Keep an eye on…

A.J. Allmendinger is in the field this week and always has to have an eye kept on him at road course races. Allmendinger will be in the Kaulig #13 car, a car on a team he took to victory lane last season in the playoffs at the Charlotte Roval. Allmendinger was in position to win this race in 2022 before being wiped out by Ross Chastain. He also finished fifth here in the inaugural 2021 race. He was caught up in a mid-race crash last year that took him out of contention, but he still started in the top-10, so he had a fast car. Allmendinger will likely be listed among the favorites this weekend, and rightfully so. He’s not racing for points; he’s going to be at COTA strictly to win. Look for him to take chances and put himself in position to earn his fourth career Cup Series victory (all on road courses).

Shane Van Gisbergen is back in the Cup Series! The former Australian Supercar driver is in the states, mainly running in the Xfinity Series, but he will be making his season debut in the Cup Series this weekend. SVG is slated to run seven races in the #16 car for Kaulig racing, a bump up from the two races he ran last season in the #91 Trackhouse Racing car. SVG won in his Cup Series debut on the Chicago Street Course and finished 10th at the Indy Road Course, making him 2-for-2 on top-10 finishes in his Cup Series career. I think SVG will be a solid contender this week. It will be a shock for him to win, but a top-10 finish is certainly in the cars for the talented Kiwi.

I firmly believe that Austin Cindric is going to have a sneaky good day on Sunday. Cindric has struggled mightily since his impressive win as a rookie in the 2022 Daytona 500, but his road course resume is the strongest part of his craft. Cindric has a pair of top-10 finishes in three COTA races with an average finish of 13.0. He has led 17 laps at COTA (Fourth-most all time) and has six top-10 finishes in 14 career road course starts. Cindric may end up with pretty short odds this week, but I won’t be afraid to play him at +2000 or better. He has a shot to have another solid run here.


Current Bets

I’ve got one bet locked and loaded for this weekend at this point, and it is on Ross Chastain to win the race. You can go back to read his full breakdown above, but I believe +1500 is a gift. That’s where he opened and where I grabbed him, but as of writing this piece he was still available at +1400 on ESPNBet and +1200 everywhere else. I’d still feel comfortable betting that right now.


Other potential plays:

Austin Cindric Top-10; currently +120 at ESPNBet

Michael McDowell over Daniel Suarez; currently -115 at Caesars


Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.

Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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