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NASCAR viewer’s guide: Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway

The Coca-Cola 600 came down to the final lap after a late restart and two overtime periods at Charlotte, and it was Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota who emerged victorious.

This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway for its inaugural trip to the track near St. Louis.

While Cup has never raced at the 1.25-mile oval, both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series have done so. The Xfinity Series competed from 1997-2010. The trucks have visited annually since 1998 -- with the exception of 2011-13 as the track’s ownership changed.

Experience where it matters

While the Cup Series has never raced at Gateway, most of its drivers have.

Twenty-two of the 36 drivers listed on this week’s Cup entry list have made at least one Xfinity or Truck start at Gateway. Nine of them have wins at the flat oval:

  • Kevin Harvick (Xfinity, 2000-01; Trucks, 2010)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (Xfinity, 2004)
  • Kyle Busch (Xfinity, 2009)
  • Brad Keselowski (Xfinity, 2010)
  • Bubba Wallace (Trucks, 2014)
  • Christopher Bell (Trucks, 2015)
  • Cole Custer (Trucks, 2016)
  • Justin Haley (Trucks, 2018)
  • Ross Chastain (Trucks, 2019)

Whether that translates to on-track success this weekend remains to be seen. Cup teams have no prior notes to utilize, and even if they did, the notes likely would be rendered irrelevant thanks to the Next Gen car, which is in its first season.

But with laps come experience and with experience comes confidence. Perhaps that confidence leads one of the sport’s past Gateway winners back to victory lane Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Succeeds leads to more success

Remember how parity has been a key discussion point this season?

While there is truth to that -- 11 different winners in 14 races -- take a look at who’s actually winning over the past seven races:

  • Martinsville — William Byron
  • Bristol Dirt — Kyle Busch
  • Talladega — Ross Chastain
  • Dover — Chase Elliott
  • Darlington — Joey Logano
  • Kansas — Kurt Busch
  • Coca-Cola 600 — Denny Hamlin

That list includes four former champions. The three exceptions -- Byron, Chastain and Hamlin -- lead the series in wins this year with two apiece. The drivers you expect to take home the checkered flag are starting to do so more regularly.

Sure, Chastain and Kurt Busch getting respective wins for Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing is a big feat for the upstart teams in their second seasons. But experience is starting to reign supreme again despite the continued unknowns of the Next Gen car.

Maybe that’s because drivers are learning more after 14 races. Their teams certainly are. The big dogs are beginning to make themselves known once again.

Team Penske continues to struggle

Team Penske’s only top-10 finish in the past five points races is Joey Logano’s win at Darlington on May 8.

The last month has marked a dismal stretch for the perennial powerhouse, which also fields entries for Ryan Blaney and rookie Austin Cindric.

Cindric is already locked into the playoffs thanks to his upset win in the Daytona 500, and Blaney won the exhibition All-Star Race on May 22 at Texas, so the organization doesn’t need to slam the panic button yet.

But there is reason to be alarmed. All three drivers crashed out of last week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the next two weeks provide general unknowns at Gateway and Sonoma. Good performances in Gateway could go a long way to reset positive expectations at Team Penske.

Entry lists

Thirty-six cars line the Cup entry list for the inaugural Gateway race.

AJ Allmendinger will have a busy weekend. He will pilot the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing in the Cup Series Sunday but will also compete in his full-time Xfinity ride in the series’ inaugural trip to Portland International Raceway. Reigning Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes will drive Allmendinger’s car in practice and qualifying while Allmendinger is at Portland for the Xfinity race. In Cup, Josh Bilicki will drive the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List -- Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway

In the Xfinity Series, 38 cars will compete at Portland International Raceway, the first time the series has visited the 1.97-mile road course in Oregon. None will fail to qualify.

Driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing will be Connor Mosack, a 23-year-old Trans Am racer making his NASCAR debut. Parker Chase will drive the No. 26 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing. Gray Gaulding will drive the No. 6 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports this weekend. Ryan Vargas, the No. 6 car’s usual driver, will instead drive the No. 47 car for Mike Harmon Racing.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List -- Portland International Raceway

Forty trucks are listed on this week’s Camping World Truck Series entry list at Gateway. Four will fail to qualify for the 36-truck field.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List -- Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, June 3

Gateway forecast: Mainly sunny, high of 79 degrees, winds north-northwest at 5-10 mph

Portland forecast: AM rain followed by overcast skies, high of 68 degrees, 40% chance of rain

  • 1:05 - 1:55 p.m. -- Xfinity practice at Portland (no TV)
  • 5:05 - 5:55 p.m. -- Cup practice at Gateway (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:05 - 6:35 p.m. -- Truck practice at Gateway (FS1)
  • 6:35 - 7:30 p.m. -- Truck qualifying at Gateway (FS1)
  • 8:05 - 9 p.m. -- Xfinity qualifying at Portland (FS1)

Saturday, June 4

Gateway forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, high 81 degrees, winds southeast at 10-15 mph

Portland forecast: Cloudy leading to PM showers, 20% chance of rain for start of Xfinity race, high of 66 degrees

  • 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. -- Cup qualifying at Gateway (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. -- Truck race at Gateway (160 laps/200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 2:30 - 3:45 p.m. -- ARCA West practice at Portland
  • 4:30 p.m. -- Xfinity race at Portland (75 laps/147.75 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 7:30 p.m. -- ARCA West race at Portland (57 laps/112.29 miles; FloRacing, MRN)

Sunday, June 5

Gateway forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, high of 82 degrees, winds south-southeast at 5-10 mph

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race at Gateway (240 laps/300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)