This weekend, NASCAR will return for the third year in a row, to “Circuit of the Americas” in Austin, Texas. Last season we saw exciting racing, great finishes and a first time winner in Ross Chastain! However, this season we are seeing drivers from all different backgrounds and disciplines tapping teams to do one-offs in the top three levels of NASCAR. After former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen did his Project 91 appearance last season at Watkins Glen, many drivers have expressed their interest and want to go stock car racing, and it all seems to be coming together at COTA.
NASCAR CUP SERIES
Kimi Raikkonen – 2007 F1 World Champion
Raikkonen looked the happiest he had been in years in his one-off with Trackhouse Racing, so it’s no surprise that he’s back. The Iceman’s last Cup start was cut short due to a crash but many are excited to see him return to a track where he ran well near the end of his F1 career. Expect Kimi to continue to be aggressive and try to get his #91 to the front of the field.
Jenson Button – 2008 F1 World Champion
Button is racing this year at Le Mans for the Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR entry for Garage 56 along with Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller. He was asked by the media if this would lead to him ever making a start in the Cup Series. We now know that Button will make his cup debut at COTA with Rick Ware Racing in the #15. Now this entry will be fielded by RWR but its been made apparent that this is just a fifth Stewart-Haas Racing entry. Button will have full sponsorship from Mobil One and is overjoyed to be making his NASCAR debut.
Button will also be entering two more planned events this year with the 15, at Chicago and Indianapolis.
Conor Daly – IndyCar Driver – NASCAR Cup Series Part Timer
Daly has been no stranger to the Cup Series and NASCAR over the past years. He has made several Trucks starts for NIECE Motorsports and has raced in two previous Cup events including the 2022 ROVAL and the 2023 Daytona 500 driving the 50 for The Money Team Racing. Daly hasn’t had the best luck in the Cup Series but is hopeful for better results at COTA with TMT.
Jordan Taylor – IMSA Champion
Chase Elliott is out for the next few weeks with a broken leg due to a snowboarding incident, and this has led to Hendrick Motorsports trying to fill races in the championship level equipment. Chevy’s reserve driver and Xfinity Series full-timer Josh Berry filled the seat for the last three weeks and will continue to race until Elliott returns, but not for this weekend. Hendrick has announced that Jordan Taylor, the IMSA legend, will make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend at COTA. Taylor has been rumored to make starts in the past. Many are already putting Taylor in contention to win this event seeing as he is taking over arguably the best equipment in the Cup Series. Even with all the drama that Hendrick has had to deal with this year, they seem to be excited that Taylor will helm the 9.
Jimmie Johnson – 7-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion – Former IndyCar Driver
Johnson is continuing his racing resume by only racing in events he wants to. 7-time will enter his Legacy Motor Club 84 for the second time this season planning on running all the laps at COTA. Some forget how good Johnson was on the road courses in NASCAR. He did win at Sonoma in 2010. Plus many forget that Johnson spent the last two seasons running for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. While the results might not have been there, Johnson did run better than many expected. Plus he is running Le Mans this year with Garage 56. Don’t be surprised if the 84 finds its way to the front.
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES
Sage Karam – IndyCar Driver
Karam will continue his part-time venture with Alpha Prime Racing this weekend at COTA. Karam always runs well in the Xfinity Series on ovals but for some reason has struggled on the road courses recently. He had a promising start to Road America last year but was involved in a wreck that took out most of the field. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Karam run up front.
Miguel Paludo – Porsche GT3 Carrera Cup Series
Paludo who regularly competes at road courses for JR Motorsports will return again to race at COTA in the #88. Dale Jr. always speaks highly of Paludo and the results show it. Paludo is a fan favorite in the Xfinity Series whenever he returns so expect the 88 to be contending.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES
Ed Jones – Former IndyCar Driver
After turning his final laps in IndyCar in 2021, we haven’t seen much of Ed Jones. Many thought he had retired completely from racing. So the racing world was shocked to see the announcement of Ed Jones racing in the Truck Series for Young’s Motorsports. Jones was the 2017 IndyCar rookie of the year and competed in the series full-time from 2017-2021. He ended his IndyCar career with three podium finishes. Jones could be a Top 10 threat and is a great decision to tap by Young’s.
Cup Series regulars will also compete in the lower series. In Xfinity, Aric Almirola will drive the #08 for SS Greenlight, AJ Allmendinger will drive the #10 for Kaulig Racing, William Byron in the #17 for Hendrick Motorsports, and Ty Gibbs will drive the #19 for Joe Gibbs Racing. In Trucks, Alex Bowman will race the #7 for Spire Motorsports, Ross Chastain will be in the #41 for NIECE Motorsports, and Kyle Busch will drive his #51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. We will also see Kaz Grala and Parker Kligerman who both race full-time in Xfinity run the Truck race with Grala for TRICON and Kligerman for Henderson Motorsports.
Out of all the events and tracks that NASCAR visits throughout the year, why did drivers pick Austin to go and race at. I feel like F1 has to have some impact on the situation. With the popular Netflix series “Drive to Survive” bringing new fans to the sport each year, NASCAR capitalized by visiting one of their newer tracks. Drivers and teams agree that COTA is a fun track, so why not get the best drivers in the world to race.
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