By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
You can’t call a Chase Elliott victory on a road course “unexpected,” but little else was predictable in the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, Texas.
After all, Elliott came to COTA having won five of the previous 10 road races, and on Sunday the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix became No. 6 after NASCAR called the race 14 laps short of the scheduled finish because of excessive standing water on the track and potential danger to the drivers.
Elliott’s first victory of the season and the 12th of his career accounted for significant milestones. He delivered the 268th Cup win for Hendrick Motorsports, tying the organization with Petty Enterprises for most all-time.
It was also the 800th NASCAR Cup Series victory for Chevrolet.
“Yeah, man, I couldn’t be more excited,” said Elliott, the reigning Cup champion, who is tied for third with Rusty Wallace in all-time road course wins. “I’ve never won a rain race before, so it’s kind of cool. Just super-proud of our team for continuing to fight.
“We kind of started the day, and we weren’t very good. I just kept pushing myself and (we) made some good changes throughout the day and got to where I think we were on pace with those guys there at the end.”
A week after Hendrick drivers finished 1-2-3-4 at Dover, the organization grabbed the top two spots at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course, with Kyle Larson running second when NASCAR red-flagged the event after 54 of a planned 68 and then called it when the rain failed to abate.
Joey Logano ran third, followed by Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger. Chase Briscoe, Michael McDowell, Alex Bowman, pole winner Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.
William Byron finished 11th, ending his streak of consecutive top-10 results at 11.
For all but the first few laps, drivers raced in the rain until it became too heavy to continue.
With challenging visibility on the long, high-speed backstretch, a crash on Lap 25 brought the race to a halt for the first time. Martin Truex Jr. slammed into the back of the Ford of Michael McDowell, who had slowed in traffic.
In a chain reaction, the Ford of Cole Custer plowed into the back of Truex’s damaged Toyota, lifting the rear of the Camry off the pavement. Custer then hit the Armco barrier to the inside of the straight. Custer hastily exited the crippled Mustang, which had lit on fire.
NASCAR red-flagged the race and sent track dryers out to remove water from the racing surface.
“I’m all good,” Custer said after a trip to the infield care center. “It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it was going to be, but it’s just that you can’t see anything. It’s pretty bad. I mean, you can’t see a foot in front of your car.
“I was just rolling down the backstretch. You can’t see anything. I’m just so frustrated about having our day end like this. It killed the car, and it’s just really frustrating.”
The cars of Custer and Truex were damaged too severely to continue. Before that wreck occurred, Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace already had been eliminated in a similar low-visibility crash on Lap 19.
Even before the race went green, teams were faced with a choice. With rain seemingly imminent but the track dry to start the event, would a change to slick tires be in order, or would crew chiefs opt to stay on rain tires, which NASCAR had mandated for the initial roll off pit road.
Most of the field opted for slicks, and Austin Cindric streaked to an early lead. But the rain intensified, and those who had taken the green on dry tires soon came to pit road for rain tires.
Earlier in the day, in only the second Cup qualifying session of the 2021 season, Reddick won the pole in dry conditions with a lap at 92.363 mph. The pole was the first for a Richard Childress Racing driver on a road course since Dale Earnhardt was top qualifier for the last time in his career in August 1996 at Watkins Glen.
“Road racing has been a big challenge in my career, and I’ve worked really hard to get better at it,” said Reddick, who qualified fifth in the rain and finished eighth in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. “Running yesterday’s NXS race helped me with some valuable seat time, so it’s great to see all that hard work come together with a pole.”
NASCAR Cup Series Race – Inaugural EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix Circuit of The Americas: Austin, Texas (Sunday, May 23, 2021)
(8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 54.
(2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 54.
(6) Joey Logano, Ford, 54.
(20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 54.
(7) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 54.
(27) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 54.
(23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 54.
(12) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 54.
(1) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 54.
(4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 54.
(5) William Byron, Chevrolet, 54.
(16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 54.
(28) Chris Buescher, Ford, 54.
(19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 54.
(36) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 54.
(29) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 54.
(9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 54.
(37) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 54.
(24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 54.
(25) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 54.
(33) Ty Dillon(i), Toyota, 54.
(22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 54.
(21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 54.
(34) Ryan Newman, Ford, 54.
(3) Austin Cindric(i), Ford, 54.
(26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 54.
(13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 54.
(38) Garrett Smithley(i), Ford, 54.
(32) James Davison, Chevrolet, 54.
(31) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 54.
(39) Kyle Tilley, Ford, 54.
(35) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 53.
(15) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 46.
(40) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, DVP, 38.
(17) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Accident, 24.
(14) Cole Custer, Ford, Accident, 24.
(11) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 19.
(10) Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 18.
(18) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 18.
(30) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, Steering, 12.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 59.024 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 7 Mins, 11 Secs. The margin of Victory: Under Caution Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for -41 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: T. Reddick 0;*. Cindric(i) 1-4;M. Truex Jr. 5-7;M. McDowell 8-10;J. Logano 11-24;R. Chastain 25-26;*. Preece 27-28;K. Busch 29-40;K. Larson 41-44;R. Chastain 45-46;A. Bowman 47-49;C. Elliott 50-54.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Joey Logano 1 time for 14 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 12 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 5 laps; Kyle Larson 1 time for 4 laps; Ross Chastain 2 times for 4 laps; * Austin Cindric(i) 1 time for 4 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 3 laps; Alex Bowman 1 time for 3 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 3 laps; * Ryan Preece 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,34,1,5,33,17,14,42,18,21
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,9,8,33,7,5,37,16,14,48
Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images