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March 20, 2024

COTA Turning Point: Bristol brings the boom, first road course on tap, more mid-week story lines

cars race at cota

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with Bristol in the rearview and COTA (Sun., 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) right around the corner.


1️⃣ Bristol continues boomin’ start to 2024 season

2️⃣ What will road-course racing look like in 2024?

3️⃣ COTA’s new restart zone, explained

4️⃣ Averages among the elite on road courses

5️⃣ Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

cars race at bristol
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1. Bristol delivers across the board, continues boomin’ start to 2024

More tire fall-off than expected led to one of the most wild, unpredictable races at Bristol in years, ending with Denny Hamlin putting on a showcase for the ages as others faded.

Another week, another banger.

The 2024 season is off to a raucous start, with Sunday’s stellar showing at Bristol only continuing to deliver the weekly dose of adrenaline we’ve been spoiled with so far this year. There’s always a little extra juice heading to the Tennessee mountains, but, my goodness, did the Food City 500 and the return to concrete prove to be so much more than anybody anticipated.

MORE: Bristol wows with record lead changes, tire strategy

Like, just watch this incredible, delightful madness.

How often do we get the 13th-place driver essentially saying he had a blast of a day at the race track? Literally never.

Bristol’s tire difficulties, while unexpected, led to one of the most popular — among both fans and drivers — races from start to finish in recent memory. Watching all of the different strategies play out, some brilliantly and some catastrophically, while race winner Denny Hamlin reminded everyone that, oh yeah, he’s legitimately one of the best finesse drivers of all time, was a thing of Bristol beauty.

It comes on the heels of what’s already been a memorable season and it legitimately still feels like things are just getting started. We might just be scratching the surface of where this campaign will go, which feels like it could be anywhere, in any direction.

And up next?

One of the premier motorsports facilities in the world — a road-course race at Circuit of The Americas.

denny hamlin celebrates at bristol
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2. What will road-course racing look like in 2024?

If you think the 2024 season has been unpredictable so far … well, that likely isn’t going to change with the year’s first road course on tap.

At some point, we’ll start seeing some of the same faces in Victory Lane this year.

Don’t count on it starting this weekend.

Road courses have taken on significantly more importance in the past several years, with the bar raised even higher for 2024 as Watkins Glen International shifts to a September date to mark the postseason’s second twisty track. As such, it’s smoothed out the parity levels across the field as more teams put a heightened emphasis on them.

As such, six different organizations won each of the six road-course races we saw last year, while eight different drivers won the last eight road races overall. Granted, for quite some time, there were only two such events per year, but the last time the Cup Series went longer than eight road-course races with different winners was literally in the first 13 such races in series history from 1953-54.

There was a period during the last decade when it routinely felt like a two-driver contest between aces Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., but those days are, clearly, long gone. In fact, we might even be fully at the opposite end of the spectrum. Not only has Elliott not won on a road course in 14 races, 10 different drivers have visited Victory Lane since the last time he did.

A whopping 15 (!) active drivers have a road-course win on their resumé, so that’s nearly half the field right there that you know can get it done. Combine that with the fact that each of the last four first-time winners all earned their maiden victories on road courses — including one at COTA — and you start to look at drivers like Ty Gibbs (more on him below), John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith, Josh Berry and Todd Gilliland, among others, as somebody that could break through and you start to really realize how wide open things are.

Sunday’s field will be one of the more decorated and versatile in recent memory, as well.

Per Racing Insights, drivers on the current entry list combine for:

– Nine Cup championships
– 16 NXS championships
– 4 Truck championships
– 330 Cup wins from 25 drivers
– 387 NXS wins from 30 drivers
– 164 Truck wins from 26 drivers
– 5 IMSA wins
– 81 Supercar wins
– 5 Indy Car wins

Consider that part-time Cup specialists and excitement-generators AJ Allmendinger, Shane van Gisbergen and Kamui Kobayashi contribute heavily to those figures and boy, there’s a lot to look forward to for Sunday.

Most particularly its unknowns.

cars race at cota

3. COTA’s new restart zone, explained

Circuit of The Americas brings a new challenge to the field with the introduction of a new restart zone; FOX’s Larry McReynolds and MRN’s Todd Gordon explain in this edition of “Inside the Race.”

4. Averages among the elite on road courses

Plenty of names you’d expect rank among the sport’s best road racers on average finish, but another — about to make his 10th road-course start — stands out quite a bit.

DriverCarStartsAvg. FinishWins
Chase ElliottNo. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet308.57
Tyler ReddickNo. 45 23XI Racing Toyota2113.053
Ty GibbsNo. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota913.560
Chris BuescherNo. 17 RFK Racing Ford3213.720
Kyle LarsonNo. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet3314.244
Martin Truex Jr.No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota5114.315
Joey LoganoNo. 22 Team Penske Ford4514.471
Austin CindricNo. 2 Team Penske Ford1514.730
Kyle BuschNo. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet5314.774

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Power Rankings: Chase Elliott set to reclaim road-course crown at COTA?

Paint Scheme Preview: See the schemes for COTA tripleheader

Analysis: Chemistry of Gabehart, Hamlin shines in Bristol triumph

NASCAR SVP Probst: ‘Would not want to change (Bristol tires) much at all’

Inside the Race: Track temps and how they influence tires wear

Bowman, crew chief Harris dive into ‘nerve-wracking’ Bristol top five

Racing to history: Hendrick reaches 80,000 laps led in Cup Series

Analysis: Bristol wows with record lead changes, unexpected tire strategy

Kyle Petty: Weighing in on Stewart Friesen vs. Nick Sanchez

@nascarcasm: Fake texts to Bristol winner Denny Hamlin

Christian Eckes wins Bristol for first Truck victory of 2024

Which driver is favored to win 2024 title after Bristol?

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