The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix, the NASCAR Cup Series’ first race at Circuit of the Americas, was abbreviated Sunday when heavy rain resulted visibility issues that prompted NASCAR to throw a caution on lap 54 of the scheduled 68-lap race. Reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott was the race leader when the race went under caution and, ultimately, the red flag to claim his first win of the year, 14 races into the 2021 season.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Elliott said. “I’ve never won a rain race before, so it’s kind of cool. And I’m just super proud of our team for just continuing to fight. We started the day, and we weren’t very good. I just kept pushing myself, and we kept making some good changes throughout the day and got to where I thought we were on pace with those guys, there, at the end. So I’m really proud of that. It’s not the greatest thing, ever, for it to rain and to have a rain race win, if it’s your first one. But I think it’s okay if it’s down the road, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m looking forward to next week and trying to keep it rolling.”
Elliott’s win was the 800th Cup Series win for Chevrolet and th 268th for Chevrolet, matching the record held by the now-defunct Petty Enterprises.
Kyle Larson finished second Sunday, giving Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish.
Joey Logano was third, Ross Chastain was fourth, and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top-five.
Kyle Busch was the race leader, with Elliott in second, when the two drivers pitted on lap 40, early in the final cycle of green-flag pit stops. The cycle finally completed when a third Hendrick driver Alex Bowman pitted on lap 50, turning the lead over to Elliott, with Larson in second and Busch in third.
“I just kept pushing myself harder and harder,” Elliott said. “Some areas on the track, though, were getting, actually, really treacherous, I felt like. The back straightaway was puddling up and starting to hydroplane and do some weird stuff. My only option was to just kind of send it through those spots and just hope for the best.”
Busch pitted, again, on lap 52. With the extra pit stop, he finished 10th.
“We had super pace early on, and we were really good. Once it go to where it was raining heavier, we lost pace to the 9 [Elliott] and those guys,” Busch said. “We were going to finish third. A couple tires were killed with just how bad it was driving and how wet it was, so we came in to try to get better tires to carve through the wet and that didn’t do anything, so we cost ourselves seven spots, but it is what it is.”
Early in the race, drivers complained about visibility issues caused by tire spray. Inability to see resulted in two multi-car crashes in the first 25 laps of the race, the first coming on lap 19, the first lap after the restart from the caution that followed the opening 15-lap stage. That crash involved Kevin Harvick, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney.
“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot,” Harvick said. ”You can’t see anything down the straightaways. These cars were not built to run in the rain, and when you can’t see, my spotter said, ‘Check up, check up,’ because he thought he saw two cars wrecking. I let off and the guy behind me hit me wide-open, because he never saw me. It’s unbelievable that we’re out there doing what we’re doing, because we’re in race cars that aren’t made to do this, and if you can’t see going down the straightaway, it’s absolutely not safe, not even close.”
Martin Truex Jr., who led laps early in the race, and Cole Custer crashed on the restart from the caution for the Harvick crash. Truex’s car went airborne, and Custer’s car caught fire. That crash prompted NASCAR to throw the red flag for some track drying.
“I couldn’t see anything,” Truex said. “Going down the backstretch, just trying to stay on the road and next thing I know, I saw a taillight, and it was on my hood in a split second. You just can’t see anything out there. It’s a shame for everyone that works so hard on these cars and Bass Pro Shops, Tracker and everybody. We got in a bad spot with oil on our windshield. Couldn’t see, had to pit and get a tear-off and, then, getting in the back there. I don’t know what happened up ahead — if there was a car sitting in the track or slow or what was happening. You can’t see. Just wide open in third gear, and next thing, there’s a car on my hood; it’s not a good feeling. I’m trying to stay in the gas and keep going. I want to get out of that area and through the braking zone, because I knew I was going to get hit again, and the next thing I knew, I got hit so hard that I was 10-feet in the air. I don’t know. Just wild. Hopefully, everybody else is okay, that’s the most important thing. Just a mess, you can’t see anything.”
When the race resumed, NASCAR opted for single-file restarts for the remainder of the race.
Before the commotion, Logano won the opening stage. He still was the race leader when the yellow-flag waved for the crash that involved Harvick. But before the yellow flag waved again for the Truex/Custer wreck, Chastain and Ryan Preece took the top two positions in the running order, and Preece took the lead from Chastain.
After intermittent sprinkles during pre-race ceremonies, most teams elected to start the race on slick tires, as the track was still mostly try. In the first five laps, though, those drivers pitted for wet-weather, or rain, tires. Austin Cindric stayed out longer before pitting for the rain tires to lead the opening laps after Tyler Reddick started on the pole. When Cindric finally pitted on lap five, Truex, who started the race on the rain tires, inherited the lead.
Truex gave up the lead to pit during a lap-eight caution for a stalled Daniel Suarez, handing the lead over to Michael McDowell. Logano passed McDowell for the lead on lap 11.
Busch won the second stage on lap 32 after taking the lead from Preece on the restart from the red flag on lap 29.
Other top-10 finishers included Chase Briscoe in sixth, McDowell in seventh, Bowman in eighth and Reddick in ninth.
ECHOPARK TEXAS GRAND PRIX RESULTS