● The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix Sunday at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, is the first of six road-course races on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. After COTA, the series’ next road-course race is June 11 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The four remaining road-course races after Sonoma are July 2 on the streets of downtown Chicago, Aug. 13 on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Aug. 20 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, and Oct. 8 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.
● This weekend marks NASCAR’s third appearance at COTA. The 3.426-mile, 20-turn road course was constructed in 2011 and has been America’s home to Formula One since the global motorsports series returned to America with the 2012 United States Grand Prix. The United States Grand Prix dates back to 1950 when the Indianapolis 500 counted as a round of the world championship. Eleven times from 1950 to 1960, points scored at Indy were added to a Formula One driver’s season tally, and in 1959 America hosted two Formula One races when in addition to Indianapolis, the United States Grand Prix was held at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. It served as the ninth and final round of the 1959 season. In 1960, Formula One moved to Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway before finally settling down for a 20-year tenure at Watkins Glen from 1961 to 1980. From 1976 to 1980, Watkins Glen was joined by Long Beach, California, on the Formula One schedule, with the United States Grand Prix West taking place until 1983. After Watkins Glen fell off the calendar, Las Vegas took its place for two seasons (1981-1982) with the Caesars Palace Grand Prix being held on its hotel parking lot. In 1982, America hosted three Formula One races when in addition to Long Beach and Las Vegas, Detroit was added to the schedule. Detroit hosted Formula One on a bumpy street circuit for seven years, with its last grand prix coming in 1988. Dallas made a one-race appearance in 1984 when Fair Park was converted to a Formula One circuit for the Dallas Grand Prix. Phoenix was next up for Formula One from 1989 to 1991 before a nine-year absence of the sport from America’s shores. But then Indianapolis Motor Speedway built a road course within the confines of the historic 2.5-mile oval and Formula One returned with the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007. Sadly, Formula One in America fell off the calendar again. It wasn’t until COTA was constructed, becoming the first purpose-built Formula One facility in the United States, that Formula One was able to return to America. In 2023, COTA is one of three Formula One stops in the United States, with the series first coming ashore May 5-7 for the Miami Grand Prix before racing at COTA Oct. 20-22 for the United States Grand Prix and then culminating its three-race U.S. stint Nov. 16-18 with a return to Las Vegas, but this time on the city’s streets, including its famous Strip.
● Contrast best describes a lap around COTA. High speed and rapid changes of direction comprise the layout between turns two and 10, with this first sector akin to the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex at the famed Silverstone Circuit in England. The end of the lap from turn 12 through turn 20 before hitting the frontstretch features low-speed combinations. The long backstraight, however, is where drivers want to retain as much speed as possible to either attack or defend through the tight turn 12. This corner, along with the uphill run to turn one and the hairpin in turn 11, provide good passing opportunities.
● Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has made a total of 55 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 21 starts at Sonoma, 21 at Watkins Glen, five at the Charlotte Roval and two apiece at COTA, Road America, Indianapolis and the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He has scored two road-course wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 12 top-fives and 27 top-10s with 199 laps led.
● In Harvick’s last road-course race – Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Roval – he started 22nd and worked his way into the lead with six laps to go. Harvick was first when a late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish. Harvick stayed out to maintain his lead, but others behind him had fresher tires with fewer laps. Christopher Bell was one of those drivers. He lined up alongside Harvick for the race’s final restart and took the lead entering turn one, eventually earning a 1.790-second advantage over Harvick when the checkered flag waved. Said Harvick after the race: “This is a tough racetrack just to get a good finish because of the fact that it turns into being rough at the end. We were half a lap from getting to the white (flag) and probably winning the race, but just not quite as good on the restart compared to Christopher (Bell) and his new tires, but still a great day. I knew we were gonna have to have a perfect corner there with Christopher having such fresher tires. He was able to get through traffic and was able to roll through a little bit more speed in turn one, turn two, turn three and turn four and just got in front of me, but we were able to hold off Kyle (Busch), so it’s still a good day. Our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang guys did a great job of putting us in position and having a chance.”
● When Harvick scored his first road-course victory at Watkins Glen in 2006, he had to beat his current team owner to do it. Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – had won the previous two NASCAR Cup Series races at The Glen and was poised to capture a third straight win as he was leading Harvick with four laps to go in the 90-lap race. But Harvick, who had already led once for 24 laps, passed Stewart on lap 87 as the two drag-raced down the frontstretch and into turn one. Harvick held onto the lead despite Stewart in his rearview mirror, earning a margin of victory of .892 of a second.
● Harvick’s second career road-course win also had a connection to Stewart. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he gave Stewart-Haas Racing its second straight victory at the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course. The winner in 2016? None other than Stewart. It ended up being his 49th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory as Stewart retired from NASCAR racing at the conclusion of the season.
● Harvick’s last road-course win was his first in a Ford. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he became the 83rd different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race behind the wheel of a Ford. Harvick has now won 25 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He stands 10th on Ford’s all-time win list and is now only one win away from tying Brad Keselowski, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen for ninth. Harvick has won more races driving a Mustang (15) than any other driver since the iconic muscle car became Ford’s flagship model in 2019.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007 – and two were in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and Sonoma in 2017. Harvick’s K&N Pro Series win at Sonoma in 1998 was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
● Turning left and right. Going up and down through the gears. Hitting the apex of corners and, sometimes, riding the curb with such force that it puts the car on two wheels. It’s all a part of road-course racing, and it demands maximum performance from every part and piece on the racecar. Harvick has an added advantage with Mobil 1. Not only is the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand the primary sponsor of his No. 4 Ford Mustang at COTA, Mobil 1 products are used throughout his racecar and they extend beyond just engine oil. Power steering fluid, transmission fluid, gear oil and driveline lubricants from Mobil 1 give Harvick a technical advantage over his counterparts by reducing friction, heat and rolling resistance. Mobil 1 is a sponsor whose technology makes Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang faster.