A decade ago, a road-course racing specialist such as Preston Pardus would have been bubbly about his chances against NASCAR’s rank-and-file on an unfamiliar left-right layout.
But with the increased presence of road-course events on the Xfinity Series schedule in recent years, the NASCAR regulars are becoming almost as adept as the road-course regulars such as Pardus.
All of the entrants for Saturday’s Pit Boss 250 will be on equal terms when it comes to experience. NASCAR invades the 21-turn Circuit of the Americas for the first time this weekend, with all three of its national series in action just outside the capital of the Lone Star State.
“No one’s been there in a stock car, at least,” said Pardus, “so everybody’s notebook’s still kind of fresh.
While COTA will be unfamiliar to nearly all Xfinity drivers, Pardus tackled it about five years with a top-five finish in a NASA Pro Racing event. Since then, he has captured two SCCA national championships in the Spec Miata ranks.
Five years ago, the Xfinity schedule included just three road-course tests. In 2021, there will be seven such contests. COTA was originally scheduled to host the first Xfinity event of the year, but it became the second when NASCAR opted to create a race at Daytona International Speedway in February.
Pardus, 24, was running in the top 10 at Daytona on Feb. 20 when the rear end locked up with three laps remaining of the scheduled distance. That mechanical failure relegated him to 33rd in the final rundown, and was a far cry from his career-best eighth at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., last August.
The three-month lag since then “feels like it was a year ago by now,” Pardus laughed, “but I’ve been looking forward to going to COTA after the run we had at Daytona. Other than replacing the rear end, we really didn’t have to do anything to the car other than the normal wear-and-tear maintenance. We put a new bumper on the car because it got caved in quite a bit. We were strong right before we broke.”
Pardus has stayed sharp by competing in SCCA-sanctioned events since his Daytona outing. He drove his Spec Miata to finishes of third and second at Road Atlanta, and he earned a second on the opening day of a weekend at Virginia International Raceway.
Because COTA is a new facility for the NASCAR drivers, and with the relaxation of certain COVID-19 protocols, this weekend the competitors will have the benefit of practice time. They will also qualify for their starting position at 10:05 a.m. Central on Saturday rather than lining up based on car-owner points, which has been the case for much of the past year.
The Circuit of the Americas, Pardus said, has similarities to numerous road courses, and it will catch the racers’ attention immediately with an 11% climb after they take the green flag and charge toward Turn One.
“You could probably pick a few corners from lots of tracks that are like parts of COTA since it’s got 21 corners,” Pardus said. “It’s probably one of the most technical tracks in North America. There are so many tracks that they picked from, and that makes it fun.”
COTA, which opened in 2012, currently hosts the only Formula One race in the United States. This weekend, it will see all three of NASCAR’s national divisions in action, with the Camping World Truck Series racing opening a doubleheader Saturday with the Xfinity cars. NASCAR’s Cup Series provides the main event Sunday.
— DGM Racing —