By David Morgan, Associate Editor
For the second year in a row, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the banks of the Mississippi River to take on World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for Sunday’s running of the Enjoy Illinois 300.
Located just across the river from St. Louis, the 1.25-mile oval resembles the layout of Darlington Raceway from overhead, with different radius corners on either end of the track. Turns 1-2 are also banked differently than Turns 3-4, providing a unique challenge for the drivers to tackle.
The massive demand for Cup racing in the Midwest saw a sellout crowd for the inaugural race and the 2023 edition will once again see a capacity crowd for the 240-lap event.
However, the crowd will have to go without seeing fan favorite Chase Elliott in the field after he was suspended for one race following a run-in with Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte.
In his place, journeyman driver Corey LaJoie will get the best shot of his racing career as he takes over in Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Truck Series regular Carson Hocevar will drive in Lajoie’s No. 7 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.
Sunday will also see another Chase in Chase Briscoe looking to pick up the pieces following a hefty penalty handed down by NASCAR earlier this week that saw both Briscoe and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team docked 120 driver and owner points, as well as 25 playoff points.
The penalty stemmed from a counterfeit part found during an inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center. Briscoe now sits 31st in points with 12 races remaining in the regular season.
By the Numbers
What: Enjoy Illinois 300, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 15 of 36
Where: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway – Madison, Illinois
When: Sunday, June 4
TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 3:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.25-mile oval
Race Length: 240 laps, 300 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 45 laps; Stage 2: 95 laps; Final Stage: 100 laps
2022 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started seventh, 22 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Ford (32.544 seconds, 138.274 mph)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Gateway:
- Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 135.4
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 118.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 118.1
- Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 112.2
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 106.7
- Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 102.0
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 96.8
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet – 90.2
- Ross Chastain – No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 89.7
- Tyler Reddick – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 84.9
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s a tough track with differences between the two ends,” said Austin Dillon. “There will be a lot of shifting, so managing the transmission and not over-revving the engine will be key for 300 miles.
“Turns 1&2 are tighter corners. You really have to get the car turned early so you can get that long exit down the backstretch. You’re in the corner for a long time through Turns 3 and 4. It’s a flatter corner, and you’re always trying to balance the two corners to make the best car you can.
“You have to give up a little bit in Turns 1 and 2 to be good in Turns 3 and 4 and vice versa. What corner do you want to be good at?”
Last Time at Gateway
The capacity crowd at Gateway last season saw a duel between two former champions in the late stages to see who would earn the bragging rights as the first Cup Series winner at the track.
Kyle Busch held the lead and seemed to be headed to victory over Joey Logano when Kevin Harvick’s crash into the Turn 3 wall with four laps to go sent the race into overtime.
Thanks to a shove from his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, Logano was able to turn the tables on Busch and rocketed into the lead, where he would not be moved en route to the victory.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Logano said afterwards.
“Racing for the lead like that with Kyle, one of the best. It was a lot of fun. Crossing each other back and forth. I knew it was coming. I did it to him; I knew he was going to do it to me. We crossed back and forth there in the last lap there a couple of times.
“Good for Pennzoil Mustang for sure. Nice to get a few wins on the season here, start collecting those points, playoff points. I’m out of breath. Jamie, I’m way out of breath here.
“What a great car, though. Really fast. I kind of messed up in qualifying, and Paul made a great call putting two tires on. Blaney did a great job with the push down in the one, which kept me close at least and being able to make the move. Good racing there.”
The race also saw another chapter written in the growing feud between Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain.
Early in the event, Chastain made contact with Hamlin, sending him up the track and into the wall. The resulting impact took Hamlin out of contention for the remainder of the day and if Hamlin wasn’t going to contend for the win, he was going to make sure Chastain didn’t either.
Hamlin waited around on track until Chastain came back around and then began to swerve to driver’s right and driver’s left, blocking Chastain’s every move for a number of laps before letting him by.
Chase Elliott also got a piece of the action, nudging Chastain out of the way after they had contact earlier in the day.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, June 3
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:00 am – FOX Sports 1)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (10:45 am – FOX Sports 1)
- Sunday, June 4
- Enjoy Illinois 300 at Gateway (3:30 pm – 240 laps, 300 miles – FOX Sports 1)