Fords dominated the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 18, leading 216 of the 260 laps. Team Penske’s Joey Logano took his first points win of the season, leading 140 laps. But by race end an even distribution of three Fords, three Chevys, and four Toyotas finished in the top 10. Both of the favorites to win the race, Kyle Larson and William Byron, were out due to typical superspeedway wrecks.
This weekend the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas hosts the first road course race of the season. It will be only the third NASCAR Cup race at the facility.
Ross Chastain is the defending COTA champion while 2021 winner Chase Elliott is still out recuperating from a broken leg. Sports car ace Jordan Taylor will be in the No. 9 Chevy this weekend. There are also two Formula 1 champions and a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion in the field. Kimi Raikkonen will make his second Cup start in the Trackhouse No. 91 Chevy while Jensen Button will be aboard the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford. Jimmie Johnson will make his second start of 2023 in the No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevy following his return to Cup competition in this year’s Daytona 500. Raikkonen is looking to improve on last year’s Watkins Glen race where he was taken out early, while Johnson declared that COTA is one of the tracks on his bucket list.
Saturday’s activities include Cup qualifying at 8:30 a.m., the Craftsman Trucks Expel 225 at 10:30 a.m., and the Xfinity series Pit Boss 250 at 2 p.m. All will air on FS1. FOX will broadcast Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix for the Cup series at 12:30 p.m.
There will be a few changes at COTA this weekend. After evaluation by NASCAR and the race teams, the five-race experiment with an extended restart zone will be discontinued, as it did not achieve the desired results. The “choose rule” will be in effect at a road course for the first time and there will not be a yellow flag at the end of the first two stages for this and all road course races this season.
In other news, Hendrick Motorsports has filed an appeal of the Phoenix penalties which included driver point reductions, fines and crew chief suspensions. Hendrick competition VP Chad Knaus maintains that the parts in question were as delivered by the vendor and NASCAR failed to verify them. No appeal hearing has been scheduled at press time.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix saw Red Bull score a dominant 1-2 finish again, but not without drama. Sergio Perez set pole time on Saturday, but a broken driveshaft relegated Max Verstappen to 15th on the grid. Tire selection proved to be one of the keys to the race and pit stops for tire compound changes were rampant. A safety car bunched the field and helped Verstappen’s charge through the field, eventually advancing to second place but not able to catch his flying teammate.
Team engineers were concerned about reliability and asked Max to slow down. In typical Verstappen fashion he ignored them and went on to set fast lap on the last lap of the race, denying Perez the championship points lead. The teammates had a heated discussion post-race.
And there was more drama as Fernando Alonso finished third, taking his 100th F1 podium. But after the ceremony he was determined to have improperly served a penalty and assessed a second penalty of 10 seconds, dropping him to fourth. The Aston Martin team protested with video of similar incidents with other teams that were not penalized. The stewards then reversed the penalty, restoring Alonso’s third place.
The series’ next race is the April 2 Australian round.