AUSTIN, Texas — NASCAR Cup Series drivers are making a splash at the Circuit of The Americas.
Rain fell throughout Saturday’s 55-minute practice. The entire 3.41-mile, 20-turn Austin, Texas-based road course was drenched.
Teams put on their wet-weather tires, though, and navigated the circuit for the first time in the sport’s history.
“I just had a blast a second ago, so I’m OK with it raining at this point,” said Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. “Before practice, the unknown and the uncertainty that you’re thinking about as a race-car driver saying, ‘I don’t know how hard to go in. I don’t know what to do. Am I gonna be awful at this? Am I gonna be decent? I don’t know. How is our car going to be? Do we even know how to work on the car?’
“I don’t think we’ve answered all those questions yet, but we have at least a general idea to where I feel more confident if we line up and race at this point.”
Logano logged the second-fastest lap at 77.558 mph, so practice was quite successful. William Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was the only car faster at 77.847 mph. Byron’s teammate, Kyle Larson, came in third with his No. 5 Chevy at 77.467 mph.
Kyle Busch piloted the fastest Toyota at 77.383 mph for fourth, followed by Chase Elliott in another HMS entry at 77.252 mph.
“Today was quite interesting just with the wet,” Busch said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in the rain. I guess the Roval last year we had some race in the rain, but haven’t really ever practiced in the rain in order to get a better mindset for what it takes and get a better feel for what it takes. So far today, so good.”
The Cup Series will host qualifying Sunday at 11 a.m. ET to set the lineup for its main event, the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix, at 2:30 p.m. ET. Both on-track activities will air live on FS1. Rain remains in the forecast for Sunday.
“I hope it rains tomorrow,” Byron said. “It was really weird at first, just getting used to just where the best line was and getting used to the way you get around there. I’ve spent some time at the go-kart track in the rain, and honestly, you just try to adapt and learn.”
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Saturday was the Cup Series’ first practice since Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt weekend back in March. NASCAR chose to limit its at-track schedule for the 2021 schedule due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the Bristol Dirt Race, COTA’s race Sunday will be an inaugural event for NASCAR.
“Honestly, I put it in the same category as Bristol,” Logano said. “Bristol Dirt Race, we go in there and say, ‘Let’s just try to figure it out. We’ll have some fun figuring it out.’ We don’t know what the heck we’re doing, and it’s a very slick race track just like Bristol was very, very slick.
“Maybe that’s my wheelhouse and I don’t even know it.”
Logano did win the Bristol Dirt Race. The victory has locked him into the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs, eliminating some of the pressure at COTA.
Nine other drivers are in the same boat as Logano, including Byron. No pun intended there, but at least they’ll stay afloat in the postseason regardless of their COTA outcomes. Everyone else has to figure out how to slip and slide to the checkered flag.
“It’s entertaining, believe me,” Logano said. “I could have stayed out there making laps all day.”