Back to News

March 23, 2024

Chaotic race for Connor Zilisch results in top-five effort at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas – When Connor Zilisch won the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225 at Circuit of The Americas by nearly three-quarters of a second, it could’ve been a runaway race for the 17-year-old in his series debut. That strategy changed by the end of the opening lap.

Zilisch overdrove Turn 1 on the first lap, dropping outside the top 10. When he cycled back into the field, the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet had a flat tire.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

Related Story
Corey Heim roars to Craftsman Truck Series win in overtime at COTA Corey Heim roars to Craftsman Truck Series win in overtime at COTA

“I had two trucks on the inside, outside of me, and I lost my references and went off where [Taylor Gray] was braking,” Zilisch said of his Lap 1 mishap. “[Gray] went too deep and that caused me to go too deep. Rookie mistakes that shouldn’t have been made, but I learned a lot and will move on and get better for the next one.

“It’s a long race, and as frustrating as it may have been to lose the lead that early, I knew that I wasn’t out of it. It’s just the fact that I was so fast. If I was a little slower, it would have been harder. I had so much speed, so that allowed me to push and not give up.”

When the first caution of the race flew two laps later for a tire carcass lying in the middle of the track, Zilisch’s crew chief Brian Pattie chose to go under the hood of the No. 7 truck to assess the damage from limping around the track on the opening lap. In the process, Zilisch lost a lap but was the recipient of the free pass at the conclusion of the first stage.

When the second stage got underway, Tyler Ankrum tagged Zilisch, turning the No. 7 truck. Zilisch dropped outside the top 20 in the running order but quickly regained some of that lost track position. On Lap 20, Zilisch was caught cutting the course in Turn 4. Despite the tumultuous first half of the race, the No. 7 truck rebounded to sixth at the end of the second stage as other trucks pitted.

It didn’t take long for Zilisch to mow through the field at the beginning of the final stage. On Lap 28, he made contact with Ty Majeski contesting for second position, ultimately leading to a right-rear tire rub. Over that stint of the race, the No. 7 truck lost its fast pace, dropping critical seconds to race leader Corey Heim.

It turned out that Zilisch had a tire going down that entire run. When the caution flew for a stalled Lawless Alan on Lap 37, Zilisch led a host of trucks down pit road for fresh tires. All the No. 7 team had left was a set of scuffs.

“They wanted to give me the best shot, even though I restarted a little further back,” Zilisch said of pitting late. “I think that’s a great call. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have enough speed. My tires were flat spotted. A lot of the mistakes that I made kind of showed at the end that you might not have seen.”

Another caution flew for the entire rear-end housing of Marco Andretti’s truck falling apart coming to the white flag. Zilisch would restart eighth and gain four spots in the overtime finish to place fourth in his NASCAR national touring series debut.

MORE: 2024 Xfinity Series schedule

“I’m proud of myself, but knowing how much speed we had, I’m still frustrated,” Zilisch said. “I wish I could have gotten a better finish. But at the end of the day, I finished fourth in my NASCAR debut. That’s nothing to hang your head about.”

Zilisch is counting down the days until his next NASCAR start, which isn’t scheduled to come until he makes his Xfinity Series debut for JR Motorsports at Watkins Glen International in mid-September. His next truck start isn’t until the postseason is well underway at Talladega Superspeedway. He will also drive the No. 7 truck in the Round of 8 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.