As the schedules for NASCAR’s top three national series move into June, race tracks take center stage.
World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, which has hosted the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series a combined 36 times, gets its first NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend, Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Just because the 1.25-mile track is new to the Cup Series, however, doesn’t mean it’s unfamiliar to current Cup Series competitors. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski all have won Xfinity Series races there.
The list of former Truck Series winners at the track includes Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Justin Haley and Ross Chastain.
However, none is among the pre-race favorites. That honor goes to the trio of Chase Briscoe, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, who are each being offered at +800 by BetMGM. Briscoe opened at +2500, Logano at +1600 and Blaney at +1000, but have all seen significant line movement.
Logano was the sportsbook’s third-biggest liability as of Sunday morning, having drawn the most bets of any driver with 7.6 percent and the second-highest handle at 10.3 percent. Blaney had drawn 6.4 percent of the winning handle, while Briscoe was at 3.9 percent.
Custer won his first career Truck Series pole at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2014. A year later, he won the race from the second starting position. Since then, the egg-shaped speedway — similar to Darlington without the high banking — has been resurfaced.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence,” Custer said of his history at Gateway. “I haven’t run the track since 2016, I think, so I’ve never run on the repave. So that’s going to be interesting, but I kind of know the idea of the track.
“One end is extremely tight … and then you have the other end that’s really similar to maybe New Hampshire or Phoenix (Turns) 1 and 2, where it’s really wide and sweeping, so just kind of have to get used to the repave. I think I have an idea of the race track from using the Ford simulator, but the repave is definitely going to be different than what I was used to.”
Custer is fresh from a strong showing in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he was running in the top five late in the race until a crash in overtime took him out. He is a +12500 longshot on Sunday, with his odds trimmed heavily since opening at +20000.
Currently 27th in the standings, Custer almost certainly needs a victory in one of the next 12 races to qualify for the Cup Series Playoff.
“You just have to keep grinding,” Custer said. “It’s a really long year, and you just have to stay at it and keep working with your team and get your cars better and go week-by-week. But I think the biggest thing from last week (at Charlotte) is that we can take a lot of positives and a lot of momentum from that.
“I mean, being able to run up there in the top five and have a shot to win the race at the end, that makes you pumped to go to the track the next week. I think we’re going in the right direction. It’s just a matter of cleaning some things up and having some good luck.”
Chase Elliott is BetMGM’s biggest liability entering the race. He has been backed by 6.9 percent of the bets and 9.8 percent of the handle at +1400.
Second is AJ Allmendinger, a +10000 longshot who has drawn 2.4 and 1.5 percent of the action, respectively.
Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson are each being offered at +900 followed by Busch at +1000. Larson leads the field with 11.2 percent of the handle backing him to win Sunday.
World Wide Technology Raceway is located just east of the Mississippi River, within sight of St. Louis’ most visible landmark, the 630-foot-high Gateway Arch. Race fans in the Greater St. Louis market have rewarded the track with a sellout for the Cup Series’ debut race.
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)
–Field Level Media (NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this story)