Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: A Surprisingly Clean Race & A Hendrick Road Racing Dynasty

For road course races in the NASCAR Cup Series, it seems that fans are treated to one of two options, with no in between: a calm, orderly procession or an absolute fustercluck of epic proportions.

Sunday’s (March 24) EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix was very much the former, as the race had no cautions outside of the two stage breaks, the first such race in the Cup Series since Road America in July 2022.

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Same COTA Race, Better COTA Ending

It was quite the whiplash when compared to the triple overtime, demolition derby finish that was required to finish last year’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. And when I say that road course and street course races are bipolar with nothing in between, that’s not an exaggeration when we take a look at all the races run in the Next Gen era.

Track/Date# of CautionsOvertime?Final Green Flag RunTotal Laps (Scheduled)
2022 COTA9Yes (1x)2 Laps69 (68)
2022 Sonoma4No23 Laps110
2022 Road America2No30 Laps62
2022 Indy RC5Yes (1x)2 Laps86 (82)
2022 Watkins Glen5No4 Laps90
2022 Charlote ROVAL4Yes (1x)2 Laps112 (109)
2023 COTA+8Yes (3x)2 Laps75 (68)
2023 Sonoma+2No15 Laps110
2023 Chicago SC+9Yes (1x)2 Laps78 (75)*
2023 Indy RC+1No77 Laps82
2023 Watkins Glen+1No30 Laps90
2023 Charlotte ROVAL7No10 Laps109
2024 COTA2No35 Laps68
* The Chicago street course was originally scheduled for 100 laps but was cut to 75 due to impending darkness. An overtime restart led to a total of 78 laps.

+Race did not have cautions for stage breaks.

There were five races (of 13) with one or two cautions, four races with seven or more cautions, five races with an overtime finish and five races with a 20-plus lap green flag run to the finish. That’s about as opposite as it can get.

The carnage was so bad at COTA in 2023, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in 2022 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2022 that new restart zones were implemented for the following year to prevent drivers from barreling into turn 1 while running six-wide and junking half the field.

That appeared to do the trick for COTA in 2024, although there weren’t many restarts to put the new rules into action. As for how the race ran without any cautions for cause?

“I don’t know,” Christopher Bell said after the race. “Obviously, it got really spread out and I’m sure that helped, as cautions typically breed cautions here.”

See also
Christopher Bell Runs Out of Laps in Pursuit of William Byron at COTA

“I feel like everyone’s gotten pretty familiar with all the parts and pieces [of the car], and there’s a lot of really good drivers that don’t make a lot of mistakes,” William Byron said in his post-win media availability. “I think that creates it. I think the track is really big, and there’s a lot of runoff here, so the runoff is an advantage for not having cautions because you don’t have a wall to hit.”

Regardless of the reason, it was somewhat of a surprise – for better or worse – for Sunday to be as tame as it was.

What wasn’t a surprise, however, is that Byron dominated the entire afternoon. He was arguably the second-best car behind Tyler Reddick a year ago in Austin, and Byron is finally putting together complete races after showing a ton of speed on them throughout his career.

Of Byron’s 13 Cup poles, five have been won on road courses and he’s led 258 total laps in 28 road/street course starts. He’s only turned up the jets in the last eight months, as he has an average finish of 1.5 in his last three starts: a dominant win after leading the most laps at Watkins Glen International last August, a runner-up finish behind AJ Allmendinger at the ROVAL last October and Sunday’s dominant win at COTA.

Byron’s success is yet another chapter of Hendrick Motorsports’ road racing empire, as 28 of the team’s 304 Cup wins have come on road courses – with 13 in the last six seasons.

DriverRC WinsFirstLast/Most Recent
Jeff Gordon919972006
Chase Elliott720182021
Kyle Larson420212022
Tim Richmond319861987
William Byron220232024
Geoff Bodine11984
Ricky Rudd11990
Jimmie Johnson12010

Chase Elliott has the third-most wins on road courses all time, and he was the guy to beat on the left and right turns in the final years of the Gen 6 car, as he won seven in a three-year span and four in a row between 2019 and 2020. He’s still looking for his first in the Next Gen car, but he’s almost always found at the front of the field in them these days.

Then it was Kyle Larson who took the wheel, as he scored three road course wins in 2021 and another at Watkins Glen in 2022. Now, it’s Byron who has asserted himself at the front of the pack.

Hendrick now has not one, not two, but three elite road racers in its Cup lineup, and the last time the team lost a race at Watkins Glen was in 2017. And with all three drivers between the ages of 25 and 31, it’s clear that they’ll be around for much, much more.

Allmendinger, Bell, Martin Truex Jr. and Reddick are among the road racing elite in the Cup Series and there’s potential for Ty Gibbs and Shane van Gisbergen to join them with more starts. But no matter how good they are, they’ll always have the Hendrick trio as a thorn in their sides.

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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