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Three things to watch in Sunday’s Cup race at COTA

Cup teams head to Circuit of the Americas Sunday. This is the first road-course race of the season and the fourth race at the Texas track since the 2021 season.

Here are three things to watch ahead of Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

NOTE: Dustin Long highlighted the changes to the restart zone in his Friday 5 column.

1. Another start, another opportunity

The entry list for Sunday’s Cup race features several drivers with road course success.

Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Shane van Gisbergen, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron and Ryan Blaney have all won at the Cup level.

The entry list also includes Kamui Kobayashi, a former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and two-time World Endurance champion. Kobayashi will return to 23XI Racing for his second career Cup start after making his debut at Indianapolis last season.

Kobayashi had an eventful outing in his NASCAR debut. He qualified near the rear of the field and finished 33rd after getting spun multiple times.

The trip to Circuit of the Americas provides a new opportunity for Kobayashi at a track where he has previous racing experience. He is far more familiar with the 20 turns than he was with the purpose-built course in Indiana. Kobayashi is also better prepared for the elbows-out style of racing on road courses.

“I’m definitely excited for next weekend at COTA,” Kobayashi said last week at Bristol. “My first race last year at Indy, I think I was a little bit surprised, but I think the race went quite smooth. I think I dropped back in the early stage, and I didn’t get any caution. It was quite difficult in the back end of the field, but I had great fun.

”... I’m definitely looking forward to (Sunday). We’ve had more preparation. I’ve raced COTA five times already in Formula 1 and WEC. I think Indy — it was my first time ever racing there, but next week I have more experience, so definitely looking forward to the race.”

Kobayashi will likely have speed in his No. 50 Toyota Camry — 23XI Racing won last season’s race at COTA with Tyler Reddick. Pairing that speed with his past experience at COTA will set him up with an opportunity to contend for a strong finish.

NASCAR has delivered excitement throughout its history racing on road courses.

“In the sim, (Kobayashi is) just so fast,” 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “He’s faster than Tyler. Tyler’s faster than me and Tyler’s faster than everyone when it comes to driving on the simulator on the road course. And (Reddick) backed it up on the race track.

“Kamui has been faster so far than him this week. I really think that he’s got the talent — we know he can do it. He races all kinds of different cars on all kinds of different road courses.”

2. Sustained Circuit of the Americas Success

NASCAR Cup teams have competed at Circuit of the Americas three times — once in the Gen 6 era and twice in the Next Gen era. Elliott won the inaugural race while Chastain and Reddick split the Next Gen race wins.

Chastain and Reddick are two of the three drivers who have finished top 10 in all three races at COTA. Alex Bowman is the third.

Bowman finished eighth, second and third in the three COTA races while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Reddick finished ninth, fifth and first in the three races while driving for Richard Childress Racing and 23XI Racing.

Chastain is the only driver to finish top five in all three races. He was fourth in 2021 while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing and won for Trackhouse Racing in 2022. Chastain finished fourth last season while continuing to highlight his behind-the-scenes work.

“When I first went (to COTA) ahead of the 2021 season, I didn’t know how many turns there were a month before (the race),” Chastain said. “I went there with Skip Barber group and I learned there are 20 turns. We came back a year and a month later and we won.”

There is no guarantee Bowman, Chastain and Reddick will continue their top-10 streaks Sunday at COTA but it will certainly be something to watch.

Ross Chastain seeks to continue his streak of good fortune at the Texas road course.

3. A streak of different winners

Cup teams have competed in five races this season. Five different drivers have celebrated in victory lane.

William Byron started the season by winning the Daytona 500. Daniel Suarez followed by winning at Atlanta, his first oval win at the Cup level.

The streak continued with the West Coast swing. Kyle Larson won at Las Vegas. Christopher Bell then won at Phoenix. The series then returned to the East Coast where Denny Hamlin won at Bristol.

COTA sets up a scenario where the streak continues. Three different drivers with three different organizations have won the three Cup races at the Texas road course. The only repeat winners have been in the Craftsman Truck Series and the Xfinity Series.

None of the three COTA winners — Chastain, Elliott and Reddick — have won a race this season.