The time has finally come: The stock cars have been polished and the engines calibrated to the hell-for-leather setting, the drivers and race teams are all revved up, and the smell of burning rubber and a formidable amount of nervous energy fill the air at the Circuit of The Americas racetrack. That’s right, it’s NASCAR weekend in Austin.
For the first time ever, NASCAR is motoring into Austin for what promises to be a spectacular adrenaline-fueled three days crammed with car crashes, unchecked bravado, and some of the most breathtaking racing around.
For the uninitiated (as well as fans of the rabid variety), CultureMap has siphoned off all the pertinent info you need to know and is steering it directly to you, no bump drafting required.
Here are the top three things to know about NASCAR weekend at the COTA.
It’s racing galore and more to spare
If you’re thinking a few sweaty grease monkey types will roll into Austin for a quick zip around the COTA and that’ll be nuts and bolts of it all, think again. NASCAR drivers are seasoned speed demons who spend nearly every waking hour training in the gym and on simulators, learning the intricacies of each track, and subjecting themselves to intense stress-inducing, heat-fueled practices, all for the pleasure of their loyal fans — and, of course, for the chance at glory.
And race fans will get a dazzling eyeful this weekend, with three major touring series racing their way around the COTA: the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the NASCASR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Cup Series — the top racing echelon. Friday, May 21-Sunday, May 23, hell-on-wheels practice, qualifying, and full-throttle racing will grind along on the COTA track in what will be many drivers’ very first experience with the 20-turn, 3.4-mile road course.
“Hopefully you’ll see us banging doors and getting rowdy, at least,” says Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick in the No. 31 Chevrolet.
Anything can happen
In the midst of a weekend’s worth of edge-of-your-seat racing — from the practice sessions Friday afternoon through the main event cup race on Sunday — expect to see some carnage. COTA’s Turn 1 alone, a notoriously cruel hairpin, may provoke some pileups.
“Our cars aren’t really made for road courses, so it’s fun to kind of dance them around there,” says Eric Jones, driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet.
Brad Keselowski, who drives the No. 2 Ford and is one of the only NASCAR drivers to have laid tires to the COTA track, agrees that Turn 1 will be a handful, and also notes the overall intensity of the COTA course.
“There are a couple really high-speed sections that were really eye-popping, the backstretch one specifically,” Keselowski says. “I told my team, ‘Make sure the brakes don’t fail on this thing!’”
He adds, “The transition from high-speed to low-speed sections is dramatic [and that] opens up passing opportunities. Overall, I thought the cars handle the track pretty well. Restarts are going to be super important. And I could see that race being wildly unpredictable.”
And even though this is NASCAR’s initial COTA run, road course vets like Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet and current NASCAR champ, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Toyota and the Cup Series driver with the most wins this season, may be at an advantage.
“Braking has got to be the most important part of getting around a road course,” says Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet. “Chase Elliott and Truex, that’s where they eat people up is under braking.”
Racing + rain = awesome
In typical oval-track races, NASCAR is a wild, devil-may-care dash to the finish line, but throw in a road course like the COTA that most drivers have never seen in the flesh and, oh yeah, the fact that it’s likely to rain buckets over the weekend, and the level of thrill reaches a frenzied intensity.
“I wouldn’t mind that,” Truex tells CultureMap of a potential rain race. “We don’t have a ton of experience on rain tires this year, but we ran them on Daytona. It was a lot more fun than I was anticipating!”
The reality of NASCAR is that unpredictable things can happen — and usually do. That’s part of what makes the sport so riveting. (And hey, Austin, you know something’s cool when Matthew McConaughey gets involved: He’ll serve as the designated Grand Marshall for the cup race.)
And then there’s the crashing. The crashing is what fans wait for. When asked who he thinks will cause the first caution flag during the cup race at the COTA, Truex, one of the most veteran drivers of the bunch, points to less experienced drivers and teams.
“Oh, man. First caution? I’m going to say it’ll come from the back of the field somewhere,” he says. “There are less experienced drivers back there usually, in maybe not as good a race car.”
All the more reason to race to the front of the pack.
Tickets for NASCAR weekend at COTA are still available on the Circuit of The Americas website.