By Cole Cusumano
The NASCAR Cup Series is carrying a head of steam into the Gateway City.
One week after the historically exceptional Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body is hoping to capitalize on an untapped motorsports market already rich in professional sport prowess: St. Louis. NASCAR’s top level will take to World Wide Technology Raceway for the first time on June 5 and optimism is sky-high.
“I think it’s a really cool market for [NASCAR],” Chase Briscoe told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “There’s a lot of races in that St. Louis area and that race track is definitely a unique one, but it’s going to be kind of different for me, too.”
The Phoenix race winner made one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at the 1.25-mile track in 2017, where he started from the pole, led 88 laps and placed runner-up. However, since Briscoe last competed there, it underwent a $40 million renovation.
“Now all these tricks and bumps that I felt like I learned the first time I was there won’t even be there now,” Briscoe said. “That’ll be a little bit of a challenge, but at least just understanding the race track and how it races will be good for us.”
It would end up being a great thing for Briscoe, as he won the pole for the inaugural race at Gateway with a time of 32.544 sec.
A driver with proven success at the 1.25-mile track is Ross Chastain, who won a Truck Series race in St. Louis in 2019. The 29-year-old believes having experience at a brand-new track on the circuit is invaluable, even with resources like simulators at teams disposal.
“It just gives me confidence that I have less variables now preparing than I would if I’d never been there,” Chastain told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s something that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to go any faster, but we’ll prepare like we’ve been there before, because we have.”
Throughout the weekend, Chastain proved there really is no substitute for prior track time. He was ninth-quickest in the lone practice session with a time of 33.165 sec had the fifth-best 10-lap average speed at 134.934 mph. Additionally, he’ll roll off 10th when the green flag waves on Sunday.
Adversely, 2021 Daytona 500 Champion Michael McDowell offered similar sentiments about having prior experience at a new track, but believes technology has come so far that teams – especially top-tier powerhouses – have the resources to nullify an edge.
“I think anytime you’re familiar with a race track it’s helpful,” McDowell told NEWS FROM THE PITS “Just having that rhythm and knowing what you’re kind of looking for is always good, but in the Cup Series with all the tools that teams have with simulations and everything that’s available to drivers and teams, it’s really hard to have an advantage these days.”
The series veteran has a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and one ARCA Menards Series attempt under his belt, the latter of which he led 38 laps and finished third in 2007. He was 27th-quickest in practice this weekend with a time of 33.517 sec. and will take the green from 17th in the Enjoy Illinois 300.
No one knows quite what to expect at Gateway, as the 1.25-mile track has had comparisons to everything from Phoenix Raceway to Pocono Raceway over the course of the weekend. Something that’s been evident is the Fords are fast.
Team Penske swept the lone practice session of the weekend and had the best 10-lap average speeds with Joey Logano headlining both categories. Chase Briscoe scored his first career pole at Gateway and Austin Cindric will join him on Row 1.
All eyes will be on World Wide Technology Raceway in its long-awaited NASCAR Cup Series debut on June 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1. The Illinois-based track is already on pace for a successful weekend, as a sell-out crowd was announced prior to main event on Sunday.