This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series starting grid will be set based on qualifying results for the first time since the dirt-track race at Bristol Motor Speedway in late March. Because Circuit of The Americas in Austin is a track where NASCAR’s top division has never previously competed, it’s one of the few venues on the schedule this year that is hosting a full three-day race weekend that includes both practice and qualifying in a manner similar to what was customary prior to 2020 when NASCAR made the mid-season decision to scrap practice and qualifying at most events because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps it is not surprising that some drivers couldn’t be more thrilled about having the opportunity to practice and qualify their race cars at COTA — even if this event is one of the few on the 2021 calendar that allows for it.
“Finally!” said Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola, one of several drivers eager to jumpstart their 2021 season after a rough start that hasn’t been helped any by poor starting positions based in part on being far down in the standings. “We need it at COTA, but we need it even more to hopefully find speed early and qualify better than we would with the current qualifying model. It’s so tough when you’re not high in the points standings. Even if you finish well the weekend before, you still don’t get to start in the top 15. I’m looking forward to a three-day show and getting more familiar with the course.”