Past winners need a repeat at Gateway

MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 04: A general view of racing during the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 04, 2023 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

Since its return to the schedule in 2022, the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, just outside St. Louis, has seen a variety of winners. In the first year the Cup Series returned, Joey Logano took the win, driving a Team Penske Ford. Kyle Busch won last season in a Chevy for Richard Childress Racing.

Neither Logano nor Busch has made it to Victory Lane so far this season, however, and both drivers surely see Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, airing at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, as an opportunity to lock themselves into the Playoffs.

That’s especially necessary for Logano, who enters 18th in the standings – meaning, if the Playoffs started this weekend, the No. 22 would not qualify on points, an unusual spot for the two-time championship-winning team. However, while Logano has not won an official race this season, he did dominate the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, leading all but one lap, giving him the confidence of being the defending short track winner in the series. Plus, his best points-race performance of the year came at Richmond where he finished second.

Odds via BetMGM
+500 – Denny Hamlin
+650 – Kyle Larson
+800 – Martin Truex
+800 – William Byron
+900 – Ryan Blaney
+900 – Christopher Bell
+1100 – Tyler Reddick
+1200 – Brad Keselowski
+1200 – Joey Logano
+1300 – Kyle Busch

While Busch is in the top sixteen in points, it’s not by much, and he too wants a win. Busch knows that Gateway is a track he can perform well at, having done so both times the Cup Series has visited.

“The last couple of years there have been great,” Busch said. “Last year we started up front and we were able to make the most of that and score the win. We had a couple of delays in that one so it went a little later in the night and we finished under the lights.

“I hope we can go there with the same speed that we had last year and we can go after a win again. World Wide Technology Raceway is the home track for my crew chief, Randall Burnett, so It was really cool to have a special weekend for him last year and to be able to score that win.”

Losing the lead

On the other end of the standings, one driver is hungry to reclaim the top spot. After a disappointing Indy 500 in which a speeding penalty took him out of contention, Larson was unable to start the Coca-Cola 600 since the race in Indianapolis had been rain delayed, and he was unable to turn a single lap in Charlotte by the end of it thanks to a rain delay there too.

Since he failed to pick up any points at Charlotte, Larson lost his points-leader position. While he has a win to make the postseason – assuming NASCAR grants him a waiver for having missed a race, something the sanctioning body has delayed doing following Charlotte – the Regular-Season Championship confers a large points haul, which last year was able to get Martin Truex deep into the Playoffs despite notably poor performances in the postseason.

Larson enters Gateway third in the standings, six points behind Denny Hamlin, who assumed the lead. Martin Truex, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, sits in the second position.

Keeping it clean

For Hamlin, success at the track could come from staying out of trouble. The first time the series visited Gateway, he tangled with Ross Chastain, resulting in some wild blocking down the backstretch and heated tempers that lasted throughout the season.

For Chastain, the track is a real challenge, which might have contributed to his tangle with the now-points leader.

“You get to one end and drive it completely different at the other end,” Chastain described the track. “Long straightaways, tight corners, really flat turns 3 and 4, a little more banking and a unique line in turns 1 and 2. It’s a one of one track. There’s nowhere else like Gateway.

“I’ve been there in the truck series before. I remember watching truck races way back in the day, Xfinity Series races way back in the day. Gateway was a staple of those series and for some reason I really remember that track. Everything about it makes it a one of one.”

Staying focused on the racetrack, not off of it

For a few drivers, the challenge of the track might be difficult to focus on. Stewart-Haas Racing announced this week that it will shut its doors after this season, meaning that its four drivers – Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Josh Berry, and Ryan Preece – have unsure futures, with Briscoe admitting he was blindsided by the news.

The season goes on, however, and nothing helps secure a ride for next season like a strong performance on the racetrack. Briscoe knows that Gateway can be that type of place for him, even if he struggled to find speed last year.

“St. Louis is a place, even going back to the Truck Series, that for whatever reason I’ve always had pretty good speed there,” Briscoe acknowledged.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to that racetrack. It’s probably the second- or third-closest track to my hometown, so it’s always cool to have a lot of people there. It’s in a great pocket for motorsports. There are a ton of race fans in that area. I’ve always enjoyed going there.

“And the racetrack, for whatever reason, has always been pretty good to me. It’s one of those tracks where there are two totally separate ends and your car is never going to drive well in one of them. It’s kind of a short track, but it’s an intermediate, with kind of road-course braking. There are just  a lot of different things that go into that racetrack and I’ve always enjoyed it.”

PORTLAND, OREGON – JUNE 03: Sheldon Creed, driver of the #2 Whelen Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pacific Office Automation 147 at Portland International Raceway on June 03, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

If Cole Custer wants a Portland repeat, he’ll have to face down SVG

The Xfinity Series is breaking with the Cup Series and heading to the Portland International Raceway, a 1.97-mile road course, for a battle.

The track, playing host to the Pacific Office Automation 147 at Portland, airing at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, is where Cole Custer got his first win last season en route to an Xfinity Series championship.

This season, he’s similarly winless, though he’s performed better so far this season than he had at this point last season with more top-fives and top-tens. After winning at Portland, he went on to win the Chicago Street Course in dominating fashion in the wet, making road courses something of his specialty in the series.

“I’m really excited to head back to Portland,” Custer explained of his optimism to secure that first win this season.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have considered myself a road-course ringer like I seemed to be last year, but I’ve always enjoyed this style of racing. It leaves a lot of power in the driver’s hands. You can have a fast racecar and set everything up perfectly, but at the end of the day a lot of how well you do is up to the driver.

“Last year at Portland, I made a mistake in the second-to-last restart and missed the first turn,” he explained. “Coming to the final restart, I figured there was a possibility that the leaders could do the exact same thing. I ended up being right and was able to get around them for the lead. To not only win, but win in that epic battle is just that much better and shows what myself and the team can do. I’m confident the guys will bring me another fast car this weekend, but the competition is steep in the Xfinity Series field. Hopefully, we can come out on top again.”

Custer relied on help from his teammate Riley Herbst, who has more experience with road-course racing in general.

“I definitely leaned on Riley last year as I prepared for Portland,” Custer said. “Now, we have a year and a win under our belts, so we can contribute to the strategy as well. He still has more experience there than I do. He was such a big help last year, and now I can contribute more and help the team overall.

“On top of that, we’ve got several road courses under our belt where we won or performed really well. I think we’re building a good road-course notebook on the Stewart-Haas Xfinity Series team. We’ve been in contention at most of the road courses over the past year, so it’ll be interesting to see what we can do this weekend and for the rest of the season. There are back-to-back road courses coming up, so we have two shots to go for the win on a road course.”

To win, though, Custer will have to contend with the Kaulig Racing teammates of AJ Allmendinger and Shane van Gisbergen. Allmendinger is a past winner at Portland, having won the Xfinity Series’ inaugural race at the track in 2022. SVG won in the Cup Series on his debut at the Chicago Road Course, putting his road course skills from the Australian Supercars Series to good use.

Both will be a formidable challenge to Custer. But if his recent strong performances are any indication, Custer is revved up to defend his championship title.

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)

Nick Sanchez has the chance for a hundred grand at Gateway

The Triple Truck Challenge continues in the Craftsman Truck Series at the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Saturday’s Toyota 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, airing at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

That means that there’s a $50,000 bonus to the winner. But for Nick Sanchez, who won the first race of the three-race Challenge, that bonus will increase to $150,000 if he can win two of the races. The same bonus will apply to another driver who wins this race and the next one at Nashville Superspeedway.

Only Sanchez can contend for the $500,000 grand prize, however, which can only be earned by winning all three Triple Truck Challenge events.

Sanchez will have his hands full with a competitive Truck Series field that not only wants the money but wants a spot in the postseason. There are six Playoff spots still available – meaning one will be available on points – but a win guarantees a spot for any full-time driver.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Enjoy Illinois 300
The Place: World Wide Technology Raceway
Track Length: 1.25 Mile Asphalt Oval
The Date: Sunday, June 2
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,776,907
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
Track Length: 1.97 Mile Asphalt Road Course
The Date: Saturday, June 1
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,408,568
TV: FS1, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 147.75 miles (75 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 75)

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Next Race: Toyota 200
The Place: World Wide Technology Raceway
Track Length: 1.25 Mile Asphalt Oval
The Date: Saturday, June 1
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $752,252
TV: FOX, 1 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