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Motorsports 5: NASCAR at Gateway, Portland mayhem, Ross Chastain

Thoughts on NASCAR's drama-filled Gateway, rainy mayhem in Portland, Zane Smith's Cup debut, Christian Eckes' heartbreak, and the Ross Chastain situation.

Austin Konenski

NASCAR had a busy weekend with the Cup Series and Truck Series in Gateway while the Xfinity Series tackled the bad weather in Portland. It was full of drama and created many storylines.

Let’s dive into the five most significant thoughts from the weekend.

1. NASCAR’s presence at Gateway

NASCAR: Enjoy Illinois 300
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

The NASCAR Cup Series attempted its first race at Gateway and it was full of drama and unpredictability. Many expected it to be a mostly tame event but it ended up being the opposite.

Ross Chastain made aggressive moves, Denny Hamlin rightfully took the spotlight with Chase Elliott, strategy took control of the race, and NASCAR overtime gave us an electrifying finish.

At the end of the day, Joey Logano ended up taking home the victory after a back-and-forth battle with Kyle Busch. Logano led almost all of the categories throughout the weekend and had a decent car.

Logano won his second race of the 2022 season and once again took home an inaugural event, like the Bristol Dirt race and Busch Light Clash the last two seasons. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence anymore.

The fans showed up in impressive numbers and there’s no reason why NASCAR should pull the plug on the event. While the racing itself was average to below average, the fans in St. Louis showed their love for racing.

Overall, NASCAR at Gateway exceeded the expectations that were set for the weekend. It’s likely to see it return and it should be an exciting event for years to come.

Related: NASCAR today: TV schedule, race highlights, and rankings

2. Portland mayhem for the NASCAR Xfinity Series

NASCAR: Xfinity Series Pacific Office Automation 147
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The NASCAR Xfinity Series traveled across the country for its first event at Portland International Raceway and where do we even begin? It was a wild weekend.

Right off the bat, it was raining in practice and then during qualifying, Anthony Alfredo won the pole when it couldn’t be restarted due to track positions.

The race on Saturday was fully wet until the final laps when it started to dry. It also had a full plethora of drama when Jesse Iwuji slammed Ty Gibbs under caution on accident and Gibbs wrecked the leader two times on the same lap.

Turn 1 was an absolute mess when drivers pulled out to go three-wide and there were many accidents that ensued. However, A.J. Allmendinger still found a way to come home victorious on a road course.

So, can the Xfinity race at Portland be deemed a success? Yes, it was a success from the standpoint of the fans showing up and the unpredictability of what happened.

However, the racing was messy and embarrassing in the Final Stage. It didn’t make it a bad race overall, but the fans would be much better served if the event was in the dry.

The Xfinity Series going to Portland will be something that continues in the future. Maybe, the Truck Series will make that trek too. It was a fun and dramatic race but let’s hope we can see a dry race for comparison next year.

Related: NASCAR TV ratings during the 2022 season

3. Zane Smith’s NASCAR Cup Series debut

NASCAR: Truck Series Toyota 200
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Zane Smith found himself in the No. 17 car for RFK Racing in this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Gateway and it solidified what has been known. Smith belongs in NASCAR and will make it to the top level.

Smith replaced Chris Buescher due to COVID-19 protocols and made the best of his opportunity with a strong 17th place finish. It was a successful weekend that gave Smith a taste of the Cup Series.

The 22-year-old driver currently drives the No. 38 truck for Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Truck Series, but most importantly, he is a Ford driver and that has him in a great spot.

RFK Racing owner Brad Keselowski called Smith the “clear No. 1 prospect” and Ford loves him. It seems like he is set for the future and his performance in the No. 17 car at Gateway will certainly add to his resume.

It is not easy to jump into a car you have never driven and come home with a 17th place finish in your first start. While this might be Smith’s only Cup Series opportunity of 2022, there is certainly more coming in the future.

Related: NASCAR mailbag: Silly season, Zane Smith, Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023

4. Christian Eckes’ Gateway heartbreak

NASCAR: Truck Series Toyota 200
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Eckes tracked down Derek Kraus from over one second back and passed him with six laps to go. Eckes pulled away and looked to be in control until a Tanner Gray caution before the white flag.

Unfortunately for Eckes, this is not a new situation. The driver of the No. 98 truck has been leading at the white flag the last two weeks and now he needed to hold off a Kyle Busch Motorsports duo on the restart.

With help from Kraus, the 21-year-old driver didn’t get a good restart and that closed the book on his victory. This is not just his first heartbreak, it’s the third straight week of heartbreak.

Eckes easily could be on a three-race winning streak but other circumstances had a say. It should not take away from his talent and how he has performed over the last three races.

There is no hotter driver in the Truck Series. Eckes has four straight top-5 finishes and the most points over the last four events. It’s no secret Eckes is overdue for a victory.

Eckes’ time is coming and it’s hard to think of another driver that can break out more with a victory. We have talked about the names like Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, and John Hunter Nemechek this season.

However, it’s time to include Eckes in that list. It might be a little early to give him flowers, but there’s nothing that says the 21-year-old driver is slowing down anytime soon.

Related: NASCAR power rankings 2022: Denny Hamlin skyrockets after Coca-Cola 600 victory

5. Ross Chastain sets the tone with his aggression

NASCAR: Enjoy Illinois 300
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Ross Chastain versus the field was the hot ticket on Sunday afternoon at Gateway. It all started when Chastain dumped Denny Hamlin and ended any shot at him competing for the victory.

Then, Chastain went three-wide and spun Chase Elliott which set the scene for the next restart. Elliott pushed Chastain into the corner and almost put him in the wall while Hamlin got to his side after and slowed him down significantly.

It was a message to Chastain that he can’t keep getting away with his aggressive driving with nothing in return. In fact, that was not even the return that Hamlin referred to in his post-race interview.

Hamlin said he will pay Chastain back when he least expects it and that everything comes around. Some people have an issue with what Hamlin said but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

If a driver is notorious for wrecking other drivers, why should NASCAR step in and squash that budding rivalry while the other drivers are stuck now?

It’s pretty simple. Chastain deserves what is coming and even he admitted it in his post-race interview. Everything comes around at some point and these are the lessons you need to learn as a young driver.

Chastain certainly brings the excitement and that’s not going to stop. However, the damage is already done and veterans like Hamlin and Elliott won’t forget.

There’s going to be retaliation at some point. Hopefully, it’s not at a big track or a very bad place on the track. It’s certainly a storyline to follow and watch for the coming weeks and months.

Related: NASCAR needs to start rotating Championship Weekend