NASCAR Cup COTA race dubbed Texas Grand Prix, tyre test set for early March with former champs

The NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas has a new name that breaks away from convention of containing the race distance. On Thursday, Speedway Motorsports (SMI) announced EchoPark Automotive will sponsor the 23 May race and dub it the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. The circuit will also host a Goodyear tyre test on Tuesday, 2 March with former series champions Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski.

The term “Grand Prix” is commonly associated with other forms of road racing such as Formula One, which runs the United States Grand Prix at the circuit. In contrast, NASCAR traditionally prefers to use race names that follow the pattern of title sponsor and distance, especially in mileage such as the Daytona 500. Some road course races on the NASCAR schedule instead opt to use kilometres for their distances, such as the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (though the latter’s 90-lap length means it is 365 km and 226 mi long), though others like last Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on the Daytona road course continue to measure by miles.

The Texas Grand Prix will be the first major NASCAR race to instead opt for the “Grand Prix” moniker. The Whelen Euro Series frequently uses the term for its races with the “NASCAR GP [Country]” convention; for example, the season-opening race at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in May is called the NASCAR GP Spain. Stateside, the ARCA Menards Series ran three “grands prix” in the mid-1990s: the 1994 Greater Des Moines Grand Prix saw the series as one of multiple classes compete on a street circuit in Des Moines, Iowa; in 1995 and 1996, the oval Pocono Raceway held the Syracuse Grands Prix 150 and 400k to promote an ultimately-cancelled street race in the New York city.

EchoPark Automotive is owned by Fortune 500 company Sonic Automotive, which in turn was founded by Speedway Motorsports head Bruton Smith. This connection has resulted in various NASCAR races at SMI tracks receiving EchoPark sponsorship, such as the Xfinity SeriesEchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Cup Series’ Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The latter speedway gave up its spring/summer date to COTA for 2021; while COTA is not an SMI-owned track, the company holds promotional responsibilities.

“Bringing NASCAR to Circuit of The Americas is a ground-breaking move by Speedway Motorsports,” Sonic and EchoPark Automotive president Jeff Dyke said in a release. “Like our high-speed growth and revolutionary approach to pre-owned vehicle sales through EchoPark, this race will be history-in-the-making and we are proud to put our name on it.

“Just like the committed fanbase of NASCAR racing, EchoPark is building a strong foundation of loyal guests across the United States, many of whom return for a second or third vehicle.”

Prior to the announcement, the race went by the generic name “NASCAR at COTA“. 2021 will mark the first time that NASCAR has raced at the Austin circuit, with all three national series—Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck—all scheduled to participate. Title sponsorship for the Truck race was not immediately revealed, but Pit Boss Grills has taken over naming rights for the Xfinity event to dub it the Pit Boss 250.

Credit: Keith D. Rizzo

“Speedway Motorsports owns and operates tracks in key markets for our company, including Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee, as well as in emerging regions for our brand in California and Nevada,” said Dansons, Inc. (which owns Pit Boss) president Jeff Thiessen. “Our company is truly blessed to be aligned with a family-owned business of this caliber and we believe this partnership is a win-win for both parties. We cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store for our companies.”

FEVO, an online shopping brand, acquired sponsorship for the three series’ Friday practice sessions. Known as FEVO Friday, the day will mark the first practice for the Xfinity Series since the season opener at Daytona earlier in February. Qualifying will take place the following day; it will be the Cup and Truck Series’ third such session after Daytona and the Bristol dirt race in March, and only the second for the Xfinity Series since Daytona. The IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series is also serving as a support class for the weekend.

“The first-ever NASCAR at COTA race week is one of the most anticipated events on the revolutionary 2021 NASCAR schedule,” SMI head Marcus Smith said. “We are proud to announce new partnerships with EchoPark Automotive, Pit Boss Grills and FEVO. These innovative, dynamic companies join us as entitlement partners to introduce NASCAR fans around the world to Circuit of The Americas.

“From fans to drivers to business partners, we’ve seen a surge of excitement around COTA since the race week was first announced last fall. EchoPark, Pit Boss, and FEVO are best-in-class brands that will help us create an experience like no other when stock car racing stampedes to Austin in May.”

The race lengths for the three races were also not disclosed right away, but the Texas Grand Prix on Sunday, 23 May is tentatively set at 68 laps and 231 miles with stage breaks at laps 15 and 32. The Truck race on Saturday afternoon will be 46 laps and 143 miles with stage cautions on laps 12 and 26, while the Pit Boss 250 is 46 laps and 156 miles with lap 14 and 30 breaks. The weekend will take place on the full, 3.426-mile layout.

The Goodyear tyre test was announced later in the day, with Elliott, Truex, and Keselowski being tapped for the role. All three drivers come from different manufacturers and two have enjoyed substantial road course success: Elliott entered Sunday’s Daytona RC event on a four-race streak and dominated the race before a late caution while Truex has four career road victories. Keselowski has never won on a road course but finished fifth on Sunday. The test is closed to the public.

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