NASCAR National Series Take on Two New Challenges

MADISON, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 20: Sheldon Creed, driver of the #2 Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Toyota 200 presented by CK Power at Gateway Motorsports Park on August 20, 2021 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to St. Louis for something the sport’s best drivers haven’t seen before. The World Wide Technology Raceway will play host to the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), with the series heading back to a short track after a long stretch of intermediates. 

The 1.25-mile paved oval has already hosted 15 Xfinity Series races and 21 Camping World Truck Series races since the sport first visited in 1997, but the Cup Series makes its debut on Sunday. That does mean some drivers come in with extra experience, though: 24 Cup drivers have raced at the track.

Nine of those drivers have found victory lane, too. Kyle Busch won in the Xfinity series along with Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr, and Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, and Bubba Wallace have all won in trucks. Kevin Harvick was by far the most successful of active Cup drivers, winning three races in both series. 

Indeed, Harvick said, “Gateway was always a great track for me and we’ve had a lot of success there.” Despite that “it’s different pavement than what I raced on a long time ago,” he described the racing: “It’s two drastically different ends of the racetrack. For the most part, you want to be right next to those curbs and carry as much speed as you can through the center of the corner.. But you have to get through the center of the corner there.”

With just five Playoff spots still open, plenty of drivers will be hoping to take advantage of the only new track of the season. Of those former winners, Harvick, Bell, Custer, Haley, Keselowski, Truex, and Wallace have not won yet this season and carry some extra confidence. 

Cole Custer said having won before “gives you a little bit of confidence.” But he added: “ I haven’t run the track since 2016, I think, so I’ve never run on the repave so that’s gonna be interesting, but I kind of know the idea of the track.”

Less confident is Tyler Reddick. He sits on the Playoff bubble in sixteenth, just eight points ahead of Aric Almirola. Both drivers have scored top tens at the track in the truck series, and know how to run well. But a new winner would keep them both on the outside looking in.

Ultimately, though, drivers spoke to the benefits of having a new track in the sport. “I think just being able to have some diversity in the schedule, being able to go to different places and have different tracks is a good thing,” said Kyle Busch. “Maybe getting some new fans out to the track, or turning on the TV with some of the new places and new markets, is definitely a positive for our sport.”

Xfinity Series Debuts in Portland

The Xfinity Series will also be heading to new territory on Saturday. The 1.97-mile paved road course has hosted racing events since 1965. After two truk series races in 1999 and 2000, the Pacific Office Automation 147 (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the first Xfinity Series race at the track. 

The most interesting change to be made for the race will be the pit rules, similar to changes NASCAR has made for road courses. A caution will freeze the field, including during stage breaks and making pit stops uncompetitive, and fuel may only be added during stage breaks, though tires can be changed at any point.

AJ Allmendinger comes in with extra confidence, coming in with the most road course wins of any driver in the series, including the most recent win at COTA in March. He’s also had a solid season in addition to his one win, with six top fives and twelve top tens. 

A dark horse pick is Connor Mosack. The young Trans Am series winner comes in with plenty of road course experience, and he’ll be in equipment that can win driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s 18 car. He promised he’ll “go for it” and try to get the win. 

His car is “one of the best road-course cars in the field,” he added, “so I know the speed will be there and the car will be there. That makes it easier to work on me and not have to worry about what I’m driving. I can just go out there and get up to speed at my pace knowing the car will be there and not worry about having to get every ounce of speed out of it right away.”

Truck Series Adds Extra Money on the Line

The truck series heads to familiar territory at Gateway, the only series where that’s the case. Saturday’s Toyota 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will still have plenty of intensity on the docket though. 

The Triple Truck Challenge, which will also be held at future races at Nashville Superspeedway and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, makes $50,000 available to the race winner, and an additional $150,000 is awarded to a driver who wins two of the three races, plus a $500,000 haul for any driver who can win all three.

Plus, Matt Crafton only has a 25-point cushion in the final Playoff spot with just five races to go, so expect his intensity to ramp up too.

MADISON, IL – JUNE 23: Dalton Sargeant, driver of the #25 Performance Plus Motor Oil Chevrolet, Grant Enfinger, driver of the #98 Champion Power Equipment Ford, Christian Eckes, driver of the #46 Mobil 1 Toyota, and Riley Herbst, driver of the #51 Advance Auto Parts Toyota, lead the pack for a four wide military salute on a pace lap prior to the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park on June 23, 2018 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Enjoy Illinois 300 Presented by TicketSmarter
The Place: World Wide Technology Raceway
The Date: Sunday, June 5
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,013,085
TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (240 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 240)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Pacific Office Automation 147
The Place: Portland International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, June 4
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,258,443
TV: FS1, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 147.5 miles (75 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 75)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Toyota 200
The Place: World Wide Technology Raceway
The Date: Saturday, June 4
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $696,198
TV: FS1, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (160 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)

Owen Johnson