Race Weekend Central

Turn 8, Track Limits Throw Drivers for a Loop at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — This weekend’s races at Circuit of the Americas have introduced new pavement and new track limits, the latter of which has thrown drivers for a loop in all three series.

That is in addition to a treacherous turn 8, where the fastest way around is to have two wheels in the dirt, which in turn, clutters the pavement for that section of the track.

Multiple drivers have introduced concern about that section of the track for race day, saying that something needs to be fixed or that NASCAR needs to install a curb in that section.

“Hiindsight 20/20, I think we could have probably discussed some better options for turn 8,” Austin Cindric said. “I think obviously we don’t have a lot of time to do much else, but there’s dirt everywhere.

“It’s why I feel like you don’t see cars in the second round [of qualifying] go faster or rerunning and going faster because it’s so much dirt through there. Why that’s different from last year, hard to say. It could be the same dirt, could be different dirt; looked really soft. But I think we just need like a Martinsville [Speedway]-style curb there and then that just completely eliminates that.”

“We got to do something about the dirt through [turn] 8, whether we bolt the curb down to it or something, we just can’t be dropping our right side tires off and making the racetrack just dirty,” Corey LaJoie said. “So we need to figure something out overnight.”

“It’s a mess over [in turn 8] for sure,” Denny Hamlin said. “You know, it’s just a product of the paint having so much grip that we’ve got to be down there. But yeah, it’s just a weird track configuration thing that is forcing guys to go down in the mud.”

“I would’ve just put the curbs back in,” Michael McDowell said. “I don’t know why we don’t have the curbs in everywhere. There’s no reason to not have the curbs.”

As for the track limits, shortcutting a section of the course will net a driver a trip to pit road for a pass-through penalty or a 30-second time penalty if the infraction occurs on the final lap of the race.

Todd Gilliland was one of the first NASCAR Cup Series drivers to get busted on Saturday (March 23), as he had to put up a second qualifying lap after his first one was taken off the board.

“It’s a bad mistake on my end, and it was definitely our faster lap,” Gilliland said. “Disappointing, but that’s part of it, and I don’t know if other people are getting called by [NASCAR], I got called for it a few in practice for the race.”

For an infraction that might gain a half second or second of advantage, does the punishment fit the crime?

“It seems like a really harsh penalty to kind of miss [the turn] by 2 inches, and then you have to do a pass through and ruin kind of your whole race,” Gilliland said. “I don’t know if we can maybe give like one warning, or what? But yeah, definitely for the race, it’s going to be super important not to do that.”

Other drivers went to the simulator to have the new limits burned into their memory.

“I put the work in, in the simulator pre-race just to visually work on all the references you need to try to put yourself in the best spot you can be because it’s a big balance,” McDowell said. “You don’t want to give up too much because there’s a lot of speed in the esses. And if you take more, there’s more speed, but you obviously don’t want the penalty, right? So it’s a fine line.”

“It’s in our hands for sure,” Hamlin said. “I mean, it’s just difficult because there’s not much view in our car. You can’t see a whole lot from our perspective. The first ess is kind of blind and then it kind of sets you off if you miss it.”

In a different perspective, Brad Keselowski outlined how the rules put NASCAR — and Race Control specifically — in a peculiar situation.

“You kind of have to arm wrestle between the idea of enforcing track limits and keeping the track clean versus making a bunch of fans angry when their driver gets penalized,” Keselowski said. “So I don’t envy NASCAR’s position.”

Saturday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races at COTA were the first test of the new limits and there were dozens of penalties handed out — 37, to be exact.

The most notable penalties occurred toward the end of the Xfinity race, as AJ Allmendinger was sent to the rear for the final restart after cutting the esses. He climbed back to finish 10th, but he had been running in the top three all day and had a chance to win it.

See also
AJ Allmendinger’s Dominant Day Undone by Late Race Drama at COTA

The other occurred on the final lap.

Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate Shane van Gisbergen crossed the finish line in second, but a penalty for cutting the course on the final lap relegated him to 27th after incurring the aforementioned time penalty.

Will the same issues plague Sunday’s (March 24) EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix? If they do, the race will be a test of which drivers can adapt to the rules, and which ones cannot.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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But, it’s still okay to knock the hell out of someone, right?

Spot 01

Depends on who you are or what role you play in the matter. If you’re the one doing the running over, of course, to you it’s okay. But if the one you ran over hits you back, he’s a dirty s.o.b.

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