5 burning questions for Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN)

How Much Will New Rules Package Change/Affect Manufacturers?

This will be the 3rd ever race on this track so there’s not much history or trends to witness here. The inaugural race in 2021 was run in the rain. Last year’s in the clear skies but also with a new car. This year, we have the second year of this new Next Gen model but this being the first road course event of the season, how much does the 2022 package work in 2023, especially with the changes made?

NASCAR has announced last month updates to the components of the NASCAR Cup Series car for races held at road courses and short tracks (excluding Bristol and Dover). The Road Course and Selected Short Track Package will consist of the following:

1. 2” Spoiler
1. Remove Engine Panel Strakes
1. Remove Center and Inner Diffuser Strakes. Only the Outer Diffuser Strakes will remain installed. Spacers will be installed between the diffuser flap and diffuser due to removing the inner diffuser strakes.
1. Remove Diffuser Fences and Replace with Baseline Fences.
1. Splitter stuffers will remain unchanged from the current components.

The rules are in place at the following tracks: Charlotte Roval, Chicago Street Course, Circuit of The Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Martinsville, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, Richmond, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

With this said, until we get on track, no one truly knows if they made gains or losses from last year or not. Chevrolet was the top team on road courses with taking 5 of the 6 wins on them. Toyota, despite their ROVAL win in October, struggled mightily on them and were the worst of the three manufacturers. Do these changes help them close the gap?

Chevrolet had also won all but one road course race in 2022 and the final 6 of 2021 for 11 wins in the last 12 tries on these tracks. Factor in the 2019 race at Watkins Glen (2 races in 2019) and the 2 races (Daytona, Charlotte) in 2020 and you get Chevy scoring 15 wins in the last 17 road course races in general. Does this rule change affect them in the same sense as Toyota?

The road courses a year ago for the Toyota camp were dismal. Yes, changes have been made to the package, but will it help them? I struggle to think that it will help them make such a drastic leap from where they were a year ago. Martin Truex Jr finished 7th, 26th, 13th, 21st, 23rd and 17th in the 6 races on them. Denny Hamlin was 18th, 31st, 17th, 14th, 20th and 13th. Kyle Busch was 28th, 30th, 29th, 11th, 32nd and third. Christopher Bell being 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th, 8th and first. Bubba Wallace was 38th, 36th, 35th, 5th, 35th and 7th. The 45 ride which is now the 23 was 32nd, 18th, 23rd, 17th, 16th and 22nd between Kurt Busch and Ty Gibbs.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 27: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 ONX Homes/iFly Chevrolet, and AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Action Industries Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

AJ Allmendinger Time?

AJ Allmendinger was the trendy upset pick to make a run in this upcoming season’s playoffs. He’s won 17 times between the Cup Series and Xfinity Series with 12 of the 17 coming on road courses. The fact that we have five in the regular season and one in the playoffs gives Allmendinger a strong shot a victory at some point in the season.

So far this year, he’s struggled out of the gates. While he was sixth in Daytona, his other four finishes have been 36th, 18th, 20th and 16th respectively. But now is the first road course event of the 2023 season.

Allmendinger won on the Indy road course in 2021, was in the top 3 on the final lap in COTA last year, was in the top 10 late in the race at Sonoma also last year, finished 9th in Road America, 7th at Indy again last July and runner-up at Watkins Glen. He also won last year’s Xfinity Series race here too.

Can he capitalize on Sunday?

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 26: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 CommScope Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 26, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Can Trackhouse Rebound?

What a start it was for the 2023 season for Trackhouse Racing. They locked up both of their drivers long-term and they rewarded that stability with Dual Top 10 finishes in both Daytona and Fontana. In fact, through the first four stages run of the season, Ross Chastain had won three of them.

They were both strong in Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta last year so I expected them to be a race winner by now. Unfortunately, they’re each sliding backwards.

Chastain’s last three finishes have been 12th, 24th and 13th respectively. He’s led six combined laps in this span. Last year in Atlanta, he finished runner-up in both races.

Suarez finished 10th, 22nd and 29th respectively in the same three races with no laps led himself in either of the three races. He was caught speeding twice in Phoenix and was caught up in a crash in Atlanta.

Can both turn this back around in COTA?

They combined to take two of the three stages last year with Suarez leading all the laps in Stage 1 and Chastain leading 31 laps in the final stage that resulted in a victory. In the next road course race in Sonoma, Suarez was victorious.

It’s time they get back on the wagon.

Goodyear has made rain tires, can they make an option tire too?

Is An Option Tire Needed For NASCAR Races?

Formula 1 has it. They’ve got like three options for tires during the course for a race weekend. The NTT IndyCar Series has it to. They have a Black tire (primary) and green tire (alternate). The options for both series are for alternate tires to be faster in speed but fall off faster too. The primary tires are slower, but they last longer.

It calls for strategy options. Is it time for NASCAR to find one?

Several drivers I talked to say it couldn’t hurt and would be an interesting wrinkle to improve the racing on these tracks. It would allow for strategy plays and ones that would spice the racing up.

I mean, with a new car now, this may be the time to try it. It could help shake up the field with varying strategies and help add another layer to help road courses out some.

It could create some drama that keeps you in turn from the start to the finish. I mean, the INDYCAR races that I cover are wild due to this. Pit strategy and tire options are a real thing and help play the race out differently than it normally would be.

With two different tire options for a race, it could shake that up some in the middle of these stages I feel.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 27: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 3CHI Chevrolet, Cole Custer, driver of the #41 One Cure Ford, Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Llumar Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Can SHR Stop The Slide?

Last Saturday looked promising for the entire Stewart-Haas Racing camp. They qualified three of their four cars in the top 8 of the starting lineup. However, last Sunday couldn’t have gone much worse either. They struggled from the onus of the fifth race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season and each went backwards.

Aric Almirola went from 5th to 11th at the end of the opening stage. Kevin Harvick from 6th to 25th, Chase Briscoe from 8th to 30th and Ryan Preece from 24th to 29th. It only got worse from there.

They were 17th (Harvick), 18th (Almirola), 23rd (Briscoe) and 36th, -10 (Preece) in Stage 2. At this point, they tried to roll the dice and make some headway. Almirola took fuel only on his stop. They all gambled in fact.

It didn’t work.

Briscoe found the wall and broke a toe link, Harvick got loose while leading in Turn 2 on Lap 189.

“I think he just caught me so quick right there in the middle of the corner, and then he kind of was up on the right rear part of the (car) and he came back down, and when he came back down it just spun the thing out,” Harvick said. “I don’t think he actually even hit me, but it started chattering the rear tires, and then I was just along for the ride.”

Almirola then blew a tire while leading on Lap 208. By being on such old tires, it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen to his No. 10 Ford.

“There was nowhere to go,” Larson said ruefully. “Nobody had been having tire issues, so I wasn’t even expecting the No. 10 (Almirola) to have a tire issue in front of me. Even if I did, I didn’t have time to react.

“It’s a bummer. Just frustrating.. I was finally up front on this style of race track and still end up with a DNF (did not finish). I don’t know—just frustrating.”

Preece though may have had the roughest days of all with two pit road penalties (crew member over the wall too soon, commitment line violation) and was down on power all day. He’s off to a disappointing start to the 2023 season in a sense that he’s finished 36th, 33rd, 23rd, 12th and 28th respectively.

4 of Briscoe’s finishes have been 20th or worse (35th, 20th, 28th, 7th, 24th), while Almirola hasn’t had a top 15 yet all year (21st, 35th, 16th, 33rd and 30th).

They sit 6th (Harvick), 23rd (Briscoe), 26th (Preece) and 27th (Almirola) in points after five weeks.

Harvick had 3 top 10’s in 6 road course races last season including just 2 top 5’s. His pair of COTA finishes are 37th and 11th respectively. Harvick had no top five finishes in seven road course appearances in 2021 either. Almirola’s not had a top 10 in any of the 6 road course races last season with his COTA finishes being 26th and 19th respectively.

Briscoe was sixth here in the inaugural race.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s