The first road course of the season is upon us on Sunday with the Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA. The purpose-built track outside of Austin, Texas is known to be an incredibly tough test for cars and drivers alike. What is the layout of Circuit of the Americas and what does it mean for racing? What have we seen in previous races here? How do we build NASCAR DFS lineups for COTA? All of that plus top driver picks below.

Circuit of the Americas Race Trends

This is the fourth edition of the COTA race for the NASCAR Cup Series. The first one was chaotic as they raced in torrential rains. The last two have been more like actual races. Overall, the last two races we’ve seen it relatively tough for drivers to crack the top-10 if they don’t start inside the top-15 in the grid, though a couple of drivers a race manage to do it. Drivers hoping to finish between P11 and P20 can start outside the top-24 and finish there with regularity. The other important trends to notice are that there aren’t a ton of laps led here, like we mentioned on the podcast. Sure, one driver led half of each of the last two races but that was still only roughly 30 laps. The last thing to note is that the 2022 race had stages with forced cautions while the 2023 race was stage free.

Similar Tracks To COTA

In general, when we’re talking about road courses, we can’t really comp tracks to each other like we would for say intermediate tracks. It’s more of a discipline as a whole thing. Sure, are the elements of COTA that look like Sonoma or Watkins Glen, yes, but there are also elements that are different. So for that reason, we’re lumping all of the road courses in together for the data set for this week’s race.

NASCAR DFS Strategy For Eachopark Grand Prix

If you listen to the podcast above, there is a very good strategy discussion. However, if you’d rather read them, here it is. We’re not specifically targeting laps led this week. Sure, they will be a difference maker and they are needed in the build. However, there simply isn’t enough raw points to make them worth hunting on their own. There are 68 laps total in the race, there were 125 laps in stage 1 last week, which means there are ~40 pts in dominators points available. That’s not much. What we’re looking for to build our lineups around are drivers who can finish strongly this week. The majority of points are coming from finishing position points so we’re targeting them. This also goes hand-in-hand with not worrying much about 5x or 6x value this week as we’re looking at drivers in a whole different light. On DraftKings we’re looking for drivers who can post 45 or more points for us and on FanDuel it’s more like 51-52 when adding points for laps completed. So what does that mean?

Well, we’re really looking for the drivers who can start and finish inside the top-10 for the core of our lineup and then the rest of the 3-4 drivers are ones with position differential upside to go with a top-15 finish. If we happen to get the laps led leader in the build, great, more separation for us in the final leaderboards. With stages the laps led tend to be a bit easy to sort out for the beginning of the race, but then tougher to page for the second half. For example, the last stage break race at COTA, Daniel Suarez stated P2 and led the whole first stage (all 15 laps) then pitted and never got back to the front the rest of the day. So just be careful assuming the guys starting on the front row will hold the lead passed stage 1.

Practice and Qualifying Results For NASCAR At COTA

Below is the qualifying and practice results from Saturday’s Echopark Automotive Grand Prix practices and qualifying. It’s sorted in qualifying order and compares the single-lap and 5-lap average speeds to their qualifying position.

DriverAvg. Prac to QualQual1-Lap5-Lap
William Byron011 
Ty Gibbs1221
Tyler Reddick-9312 
Christopher Bell-1455
Corey Lajoie-6511 
Ross Chastain-86720
Martin Truex Jr-57159
Denny Hamlin-1883318
Chase Elliott-1292021
Bubba Wallace6104 
Austin Cindric-21113 
Shane van Gisbergen21210 
Justin Haley-81321 
AJ Allmendinger-31417 
Kyle Larson101592
Kyle Busch716612
Alex Bowman817316
Carson Hocevar-111829 
Daniel Suarez2192411
Chris Buescher-1201824
Austin Dillon2212514
John H. Nemechek-1223115
Kaz Grala-4233419
Ryan Preece22422 
Kamui Kobayashi17258 
Todd Gilliland8262710
Michael McDowell1327263
Ryan Blaney1628168
Harrison Burton-62935 
Ricky Stenhouse Jr8302817
Josh Berry2313622
Chase Briscoe2332144
Daniel Hemric3333823
Zane Smith12343213
Joey Logano2335196
Brad Keselowski9363025
Timmy Hill-23739 
Erik Jones13837 
Noah Gragson2439237

Top Salary Driver Plays

Chase Elliott

Elliott is the clear top choice for road course racers in the Cup series. In the last three years of races, 19 total road races, he’s posted 11 top-fives and a few wins. No one else is close to that number of top-fives. He’ll start just outside of that area in P9 on Sunday and that means we’ve got a handful of PD spots we can nab with Elliott. He’ll be popular but at road courses that nearly impossible to avoid with him.

Kyle Larson

Larson got time on the track in the Xfinity series race and now has a fast enough car in the Cup race to make up ground from his starting spot. The price tag is high, but he’s a top-3 road racer in the field so it makes sense from that perspective. If Larson can successfully move up into the top-5 or higher, there is value here to playing Larson.

Kyle Busch

Last year, his first at RCR, he posted a P2, P2, P5, and P3 finish at four of the six road races while moving up several spots at least each time. The 8-car has top-10 speed in it once more, and maybe more than that, as Busch rolls off in P16. Sure, guys like Bell and Byron are starting closer to the front in this group, but Busch offers a better value than either of them and perhaps goes a bit overlooked.

Mid-Tier Driver Plays

AJ Allmendinger

It’s Allmendinger and it’s a road course, do we need to say more? He’s dominated these races in the Xfinity Series and his last two Cup wins, in the last two years, have been at road races. He’ll start P14 on Sunday and should be able to hustle his Kaulig car around the track well enough to nab a top-10. That’s good enough for him this week.

Ty Gibbs

Gibbs is an excellent road racer. His Cup Series finishes in these races don’t get enough attention. For example, did you know he’s finished P12 or better in 5-of-the-last-6 Cup road races and P9 or better four times and top-5 in the last two back-to-back? Exactly. He’s won on these tracks in the lower series too and now he’ll start P2 with the speed to hold that spot and a chance to lead laps. His starting spot is likely to make him popular for those hunting laps led but that shouldn’t scare us off since it’s hard to find that level of consistency.

Michael McDowell

Do the sites not know McDowell’s background? Why else is he priced where he is? McDowell is one of the strongest road course racers in the field every time we’re at one of these tracks and that will be the case again on Sunday. He’s finished P12 or better in eight of his last 11 road course races and starting P27, which gives us copious amounts of PD upside here. He’s likely to be perhaps the most popular play in this range thanks to his known background, but still it’s hard to find a better value prop than McDowell this week.

Alex Bowman

In the three Cup Series races at COTA, Bowman is yet to finish worse than P8. He’s starting P17 on Sunday. The car looks like he could hustle it around the track and find more speed as the race goes on, but that finish history here is too hard to ignore for a guy who’s in this range and is usually the overlooked member of the Hendrick Motorsports team. If he can nab another top-10 finish, that’s a minimum of seven spots of PD there for the taking.

Value Tier Driver Plays

Kamui Kobayashi

Aside from a couple of drivers who have run both the Xfinity and Cup races at COTA, Kobayashi has as much experience racing this track as anyone in the field. He’s stated he’s raced here six times in the past. While none were in a Cup car, he has gotten a lot more time in the simulator than we saw him get last year prior to racing at Indy. At practice he was finding speed well throughout the session and ran better than he qualified. The price puts him in a sweet spot to build around and folks might be looking more at SVG than Kobayashi which gives us leverage too.

Noah Gragson

Gragson will start last on Sunday. We’ve seen drivers start last here and move up well though. Gilliland (listed below) nabbed a top-10 starting last, last year. Gragson is unlikely to get a top-10, however, there is top-20 speed in this car and he’s shown he can find speed in the 10-car over the last few races even when we don’t expect it.

Todd Gilliland

Gilliland has run well here whether it be with stage breaks or sans stage breaks. There is once again speed in the 38-car, especially on the longer runs which could come in handy in the 3rd stage. Of the five top-20 finishes in his 12 Cup road races, Gilliland has moved up at least five spots a race and as much as 26 spots. There’s PD here for the taking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Yes, I’m aware that it’s not a plate track but I still think he is far too good at this discipline to not be of value at this price. In the last 11 road races in Cup, Stenhouse has finished top-25 nine times while starting outside the top-25 eight times. He has some speed in the car this weekend and should have PD upside while being overlooked by most of the field.

Driver Pool

Top TierMid-TierValue Tier
Tyler Reddick310500AJ Allmendinger148800Kamui Kobayashi257000
Chase Elliott910300Ty Gibbs28700Noah Gragson396500
Kyle Larson1510200Michael McDowell278000Todd Gilliland266200
Shane van Gisbergen129500Chris Buescher207800Justin Haley135800
Kyle Busch169200Alex Bowman177700Ricky Stenhouse Jr305500
   Austin Cindric117200   
Top TierMid-TierValue Tier
Tyler Reddick314000Kyle Larson1510500Noah Gragson396200
Chase Elliott913500Michael McDowell2710000Kamui Kobayashi255800
Shane van Gisbergen1212000Kyle Busch169500Todd Gilliland265000
Ty Gibbs211500Chris Buescher208500Justin Haley134200
AJ Allmendinger1411000Austin Cindric117500Ricky Stenhouse Jr304000
   Alex Bowman177000