The NASCAR drivers headed out to Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, May 23, for the first-ever “Grand Prix.” The first two stages featured a lot of rain and some frightening crashes, but the final stage had some incredible battles between Hendrick Motorsports teammates. However, NASCAR brought the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix to an early end due to heavy rainfall, declaring Chase Elliott the winner.
The defending Cup Series champion was in the midst of a dangerous strategy when the rain brought the race to a halt. He did not have enough fuel to complete the final 14 laps, but he remained out on the track. However, the strategy paid off in a surprising way. Elliott won the race and joined his HMS teammates in the playoffs.
When the race came to an end, Kyle Larson sat in second place. His goal was to pass Elliott for the lead, but he did not have the opportunity. Larson still posted his seventh top-five finish of the season. Joey Logano finished third, Ross Chastain finished fourth, and Xfinity Series driver AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.
An Xfinity Series Champion Stunned Cup Series Veterans
When the Cup Series drivers headed to the starting grid at COTA, they had the option of running race slicks or rain tires. The vast majority opted for the slicks before heading out for their pace laps. Only Martin Truex Jr., Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. put the rain tires on their stock cars.
Once the race began, however, the drivers only completed one lap before heading back to pit road. The Cup Series veterans struggled to maintain grip with their slicks, so they called for rain tires. Only the 2020 Xfinity Series champion in Austin Cindric stuck with his original choice, but he did not deal with any issues.
Cindric built up a massive lead over the first four laps, showcasing his ability to control the high-powered No. 33 Ford Mustang in wet conditions. He easily navigated the 20-turn road course on his slicks while other drivers still slid around with their rain tires. Though Cindric ultimately headed to the pits for rain tires at the end of the fifth lap.
The defending Xfinity Series champion is consistently fighting for wins in NASCAR’s top series, but he also has a history of racing in a wide variety of vehicles. Cindric has competed in open-wheel events, rallycross, and the SportsCar Championship. Sunday’s race was only the latest example of his ability to corral a powerful car in uncertain conditions.
The Heavy Rain and Lack of Visibility Created Safety Concerns
The Cup Series race featured several cautions due to the heavy rainfall and an overall lack of visibility. Stage 2 alone featured three separate wrecks that sent drivers to the infield care center and created concerns about driver safety. The first involved Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell while the second collected Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace.
The third major wreck involved Michael McDowell, Martin Truex Jr., and Cole Custer as they raced down the straightaway. Truex hit McDowell from behind and then Custer hit Truex, sending them both into the wall and setting off a fireball. All three drivers avoided injuries but only McDowell continued in the race.
The action came to a halt after NASCAR threw the red flag and began cleaning up the track. The rain did ultimately ease enough for the drivers to get back to work after a delay, and they finished off Stage 2 and completed a good portion of the final stage.
The rains intensified once again as the drivers hit 20 laps remaining in the race. Cameras showed Elliott hydroplaning down the backstretch and then captured a wild moment featuring Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro lost grip as he entered a braking zone, and he appeared to be on a collision course with the rear of Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro.
Busch somehow navigated to the right and swung his stock car between Dillon and Kyle Busch, missing both cars by mere inches. He continued sliding off of the track toward the gravel and a potential wreck. Busch avoided getting stuck by accelerating as he hit the rocks. He plowed through and reached the grass before spinning around and navigating back to the track on the grass.