Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Despite Late-Race Madness, COTA Still Proved Satisfying

What Happened?

Tyler Reddick endured a grueling final three overtime restarts to win his first NASCAR Cup Series race in 2023 coming at Circuit of the Americas on March 26. Despite his best efforts, Kyle Busch finished second with Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain and William Byron completing the top five.

This is Reddick’s third road-course win out of his four total Cup Series victories and his first for 23XI Racing.

See also
Tyler Reddick Avoids Mayhem, Wins at COTA

But What Really Happened?

Just forget about those last 10 laps for a minute. We were having a good time.

With no stage breaks scheduled for a NASCAR Cup Series points race since 2016, we got to see crew chiefs and race teams play out some interesting and varied pit strategies on a road course for the first time in what feels like forever. It was something most of these long behemoth circuits need desperately.

And that was such a breath of fresh air, wasn’t it?

Stage breaks made strategies far more simplified as it allowed crew chiefs to plan their racing gameplays around those two scheduled yellow flags. However, with them removed from the equation, it allowed teams to play around a little with fuel and tire strategies.

As eventual race winner Reddick opted to race on the three-stop strategy opting for fresher tires and faster pace, race rival Byron was going the two-stop route hoping that track position would have ahead of the No. 45 at the end.

And for a great majority of the first 40 or so laps, nobody really had an answer as to whose strategy would play out best.

Really, it felt like watching a Formula 1 race.

How fitting too, as NASCAR decided to lift that stage break barrier on a racetrack that was made for F1 cars in a race that featured two F1 World Champions and had Drive to Survive star and Haas F1 Team Principal Guenther Steiner in the FOX Sports booth commentating alongside.

With Steiner, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and COTA itself being among the stories of the day, Sunday was a great chance for NASCAR to draw in some of those F1 fans that they’ve been missing out on the last couple of years.

However, for a race that likely had a number of those fans watching NASCAR for the first time, those final four cautions may be a reason why they won’t be returning any time soon.

The first of those many, many late race yellows waved on lap 58 when Brad Keselowski stalled in turn 7.

That caution flag saw the field bunched up again and, with a 10-lap shootout ahead of them and the leader only one successful divebomb away, the Cup Series field did what they do best: beat the snot out of each other.

After the next caution and the ones after that, Sunday’s race ended the late-race circus with a whopping three overtime restarts – with each one having fans facepalm harder than the last.

Regardless, one shouldn’t take this race as a failure. Rather, it should be a learning experience.

Those first 50 or so laps were fun to watch play out and were a reminder of what NASCAR racing used to be before the stage-break era. If it weren’t for those pesky debris cautions breeding other cautions, Sunday would be looked upon far more favorably.

It was a reminder of what racing can be on a road course, and maybe when we go to Sonoma Raceway, it’s what it will be.

Who stood out?

Even after five cautions bunched the field up right behind him in prime divebombing position, Reddick and 23XI Racing stayed vigilant and held off all challengers – just like he did almost all day.

In a field that had F1 and IMSA champions alike challenging the NASCAR regulars, Reddick whooped them all. After leading 41 of the 75 laps ran all day, that black Monster Energy No. 45 seemingly had no challengers other than the No. 24 of Byron who led a second-most 28 laps.

However, the real accomplishment is not his dominance, it’s his survival.

With cautions perpetually breeding cautions near the end of the race, Reddick’s chances of outlasting an overly optimistic divebomb from one of his competitors withered away further.

When it comes to overtime restarts, race leaders haven’t had the best track record in 2023. Before Sunday, none of the drivers that were leading at the scheduled distance had gone on to win in overtime.

However, the No. 45 stayed ahead on restart after restart and after running up front for so long all day, any other race winner – except for maybe Byron – really wouldn’t have been justified.

In the end, Reddick won his third road-course race of his career and gave Toyota its first win of 2023. More impressively, the Californian has won three of the last five Cup Series road-course events.

Is Reddick the new road course ace?

Who fell flat?

Entering Sunday, not many likely had Kyle Larson as their picks to win.

However, after four career road-course wins, including the last two races at Watkins Glen International, it certainly isn’t farfetched to think of him as a sleeper that could steal a win.

However, after being punted by Bubba Wallace in a crash on lap 11 that saw him stalled, having a broken toe link and suffering a speeding penalty, he certainly didn’t show the road-course prowess he’s shown in the past.

Larson would rally back to finish 14th. Although, after seeing half the field being involved in a crash in one way or another in the last 10 laps, results of survival races like these aren’t really fair to gauge one’s performance, for better or for worse.

Not to mention, if Larson wasn’t involved in that incident when he was, one has to wonder if he could have shown the speed his two Hendrick Motorsports teammates Byron and Bowman did.

Better than last time?

For 57 laps? Yes.

The last 18 laps? No.

Even though 2022 had the wild ending involving Chastain and AJ Allmendinger that will likely be used for promotional purposes for decades to come, Sunday’s event wasn’t terribly different from what we saw one year ago.

In 2022, there were seven unscheduled cautions. That only a slight improvement over Sunday’s eight. Additionally, there were nine different leaders with 13 lead changes in 2022. In comparison, there were seven leaders and 16 lead changes on Sunday.

However, despite some balanced-out statistics, there’s no exaggeration when saying the first two stages were a treat for racing fans. On top of that, seeing the leaders of Reddick and Byron duke it out periodically in what looked like a duel between racing veterans highlighted some of the best parts of road racing that much of the sport has seemingly forgotten about.

If you can look past the race concluding demolition derby that occurred, you can see some of the good things about COTA and road racing as a whole.

Paint scheme of the race

It was another weekend of some stylish schemes making their debuts for 2023. Some notable mentions include Kyle Busch‘s blue and orange Netspend livery, Noah Gragson‘s Black Rifle Coffee scheme and Kimi Raikkonen‘s black and red Onxhomes.com Chevrolet.

Although while all of those schemes looked great on the track, Corey LaJoie‘s OpTic Gaming No. 7 Spire Motorsports meant something a little more toward for not only the low-funded team but for the sport as well.

With how well-connected NASCAR is to iRacing and racing eSports, having a major gaming brand like OpTic fits well with its gaming platform. Additionally, it likely brought some new eyes into its community, even if it was only for Sunday’s race.

What’s next?

The Cup Series heads to the Action Track.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Richmond Raceway for its first visit to a track under a mile in 2023. Qualifying for the 400-lap event will be on Saturday, April 1 at 10:50 a.m. ET. The field will take the green on Sunday, April 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET. with coverage on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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JD in NC

Kudos to the drivers up front such as Reddick, Busch, and Byron for putting on a great show with clean, hard, racing.

Bill B

I’m glad it’s not just me that thought the race was great until the last ten laps. The only thing that saved it was that Reddick and Byron, the two most dominant cars all race, still managed to both finish in the top 5 with one of them winning. I know I am in the minority but I hate the whole GWC deal. It just craps on what happened during the first 99% of the race. I have to say though, before those last 10 laps, I was really enjoying the race.

This race also made me realize how much I hate the stage breaks. I vote we get rid of them permanently. I am OK with awarding the points at predetermined points during the race, just don’t throw a caution. Show commercials just like you would if there was a stage break, just don’t stop the race.

Kyle Busch should plan on running that paint scheme when they go to Homestead. If the Miami Dolphins ever sponsored a car, it would probably look very much like that.

JD in NC

I agree, Busch had a great looking and very Miami Dolphiney car, only to be outdone by the one from the late nineties when Dan Marino himself actually owned a team for a year or so which copied the look all the way down to the font for the number 13 on the door.

Bill B

I had forgotten about the Dan Marino car. LOL

Kurt Smith

Easily the worst race of the season so far, a complete cluster f*** thanks to eight wide cars in the first turn, and green white checkered overtime (I 100% agree with Bill B on that). The last hour of this farce was an embarrassment to motorsports.

I would like road course races a whole lot better if NASCAR would just put some damned walls in the first turn. It’s such as easy fix for this crap. The restarts at these events, especially at the end, turn these races almost as crapshoot-worthy as the pack races.

So with 12 races a year having winners determined by attrition, that’s why we have this “parity” that NASCAR gushes over, not because the competition has gotten any better. Right now Ricky Stenhouse is eligible to win a championship, while Kyle Larson, who has been running near the front every week, isn’t even close.

Just put walls in the first turn for every road course event. Put a stop to these ridiculous wreckfest restarts. Drivers won’t go eight wide if they can’t.

Kevin in SoCal

Wow Kurt, you’re getting very curmudgeonly lately. Are we sure this isn’t Matt under a different name? :)

Kyle Larson got penalized for bad parts, that’s why he’s so far down. Otherwise he was up there in contention, I’m sure you remember.

Kurt Smith

No, Matt wouldn’t use my name…he would be happy to be himself in this forum. ;-)

Well, that penalty was stupid too, but even aside from that Larson was running strong in Atlanta and had a decent car at COTA and in both races he was taken out of contention for a win through no fault of his own. Road courses have become like the pack races in that good cars and drivers are constantly getting taken out, and yeah, that makes me irritable…


If you want walls wait for the GWCs at Chicago.


its getting more like demolition derby,last car running wins.


Two thoughts: First, the double or triple or quadruple or quintuple or whatever it was overtime finish was ridiculous. It’s time to go back to whoever is ahead at the end wins, caution or not. Second, Wallace said that he needs to be replaced. He’s right. Do it, 23X1, do it!


He was talking about his caddie for his golf game.

MJ is selling his interest in the Hornets. I wonder if he is thinking the same thing about his race team and Bubba sees the writing on the pit wall?


Is that what Wallace said, I missed it lololol he’s right and he forgets the left foot is for braking lmao

Bill B
Kevin in SoCal

It doesn’t matter which way the finishes are, people will not be happy. But I would agree with you, on restrictor plates and road courses, a caution should end the race.


The cars spent more of their lap off the pavement than on. The track is 3.4 miles long and took ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN seconds per lap. There were two sets of commercials during a caution period of THREE HUNDRED seconds at 40 mph. The long course at Watkins Glen is 3.4 miles long. Who really wants the same thing there?

Bill B

When they were in fuel saving mode I timed a lap and I came up with 130+ seconds


You’re right. It should have been ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY_FIVE seconds. I was at Watkins Glen in 1978 for a Modified (Richie, Geoff, Bugs) and ASA (Mark, Dick, winner Joe Ruttman in the AVC Camaro) show on the long course. The caution laps took forever.

Kevin in SoCal

Seems like they could go 55 or 65 MPH during cautions on big courses like this, but we know NASCAR will not do something that makes sense.


That would cut down the time for commercials. But that would work for Daytona and Talladega too.


Restarts with 10 laps or less to go on road courses should be single file and be of the running nature, like in F1.


ALL GWCs should be single file. But NA$CAR wants the demo derbies. The ad for the upcoming event at Talladega only showed multiple cars spinning in a corner, which indicates what NA$CAR is looking for at those events, which is keeping Brian’s vision alive.


Actually, I despise the GWC itself as much as I despise stage breaks.

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