Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Speed Triumphs Over Chaos at COTA

No doubt about it, the ending to last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was messy. A rash of late yellow flags prolonged the finish of what had been a mostly clean race. Each time NASCAR tried to complete the event, race control was forced to throw a yellow either for a multi-car wreck in turn 1 or from debris getting scattered across the track. It took three attempts at overtime before Tyler Reddick was finally able to capture the checkered flag.

It is tempting to walk away from Sunday’s (Mar. 27) race thinking that the multitude of overtime attempts spoiled the event. Indeed, the late race restarts and the calamity that ensued from them impacted nearly every driver in the field in some way. But it would be a mistake to assume that the final finishing order at COTA was strictly a product of chaos. Amidst all the pushing and shoving through the closing laps, the race’s fastest drivers still ended the day at the front of the pack.

See also
Kyle Busch, William Byron No Match for Tyler Reddick in Triple Overtime Cup Finish at COTA

Consider how, on speed alone, COTA likely would have been a two-horse race. Reddick wound up leading 41 of 75 laps on his way to victory. Polesitter William Byron was the other driver whose car was a cut above the rest. He led for 28 laps, meaning that Reddick and Byron combined to lead 92% of the race. The two of them were pulling away before the caution on lap 57 when Brad Keselowski broke an axle. That was when the late race chaos really began. Yet through all the restarts, Reddick and Byron were able to stay up front and continue the race against themselves and a handful of other leaders. Being up front throughout the race put them in a position to restart ahead of the field and avoid the chaos in the back of the pack.

In the end, both drivers got the finishes they deserved. Though Byron slipped back to fifth by the time he crossed the finish line, it was still a good result and a strong bounce back performance from the No. 24 team after a rough outing at Atlanta Motor Speedway the week before. Reddick was able to survive every single challenge Byron and the other leaders threw at him. He was rewarded with his first win driving for 23XI Racing and his fourth career victory, all of which have come within the last nine months.

“This whole 23XI team has been working so hard all winter long to make the road course program better,” Reddick said. “I was extremely motivated to come in here and improve that performance, too.”

While Reddick and Byron did a great job leading the pack, two other drivers deserve a shoutout for fighting their way through the chaos to get back to the top 10. Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric looked down and out during the closing laps of the race, but both of them overcame some major setbacks to score strong finishes by the time the race ended.

Chastain, the defending winner, was strong on Sunday afternoon, especially as the race wound down. But on the lap 60 restart when he spun out and stalled his car in turn 1, it looked like his day was ruined. Chastain was able to get his Chevrolet refired after the caution came back out but had fallen back to around 30th place. With few laps left in the race, all his track position was gone.

However, Chastain’s race was far from over. During the following restarts, he was on full attack mode, passing drivers wherever he had an opening. On the race’s final restart on lap 74, he flew back into the top 10 and advanced all the way to fourth by the time the race ended. It was a remarkable comeback and a job well done by Chastain. His efforts also allowed him to take the overall points lead.

See also
The Melon Comeback: Ross Chastain Charges Through the Field in Overtime to Re-Gain Points Lead

Cindric had a similar experience near the end of the race. Although he ran in the top 10 early, slow pit stops buried the No. 2 team deeper in the field as the race approached its conclusion. Things got even worse for Cindric when he received right front damage in a restart melee. Just like Chastain, it seemed as if his chances at a good finish were through.

But once the dust had settled, Cindric secured a sixth-place finish. Given his knack for road course racing, perhaps it should not be a surprise that Cindric soldiered his way to a good result. After all, he looked right at home in the rain-soaked race at COTA two years ago when much older drivers with much more experience were sliding off course. Credit Cindric and Team Penske for showing resiliency and making the most of a weekend that the No. 2 team had circled on its calendar.

The performances of Reddick, Byron, Chastain and Cindric prove that COTA was no lottery. Sure, drivers like AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Suarez and Christopher Bell had good runs spoiled at the end of the race, but that’s hardly a phenomenon unique to COTA. Furthermore, even if guys like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Ty Gibbs and Todd Gilliland earned top 10s largely by avoiding the late race carnage, that is still a feat worthy of reward when you consider that the whole field was running into each other during the closing laps.

Even if the ending was sloppy, speed triumphed over chaos at COTA. Reddick got a well-deserved win, several drivers made impressive comebacks, and a few others got to leave Austin with surprisingly good results. Sounds like another typical week in the world of NASCAR.   

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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