What to Watch: Inaugural Cup Series race in St. Louis | NASCAR

2022-06-07 07:17:41 By : Ms. Sunny Zhang

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, the 15th regular-season event of the 2022 campaign.

Where: Madison, Illinois Approximate start time: 3:30 p.m. ET | Full weekend schedule TV/Radio: FS1, TSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio | Full TV schedule Forecast: 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees, according to NOAA.gov | Weather tracker Race distance: 240 laps | 300 miles Stages: 45 | 140 | 240 Pit-road speed: 45 mph Caution car speed: 50 mph The purse: $7,013,085 Gateway 101: Get the full lowdown Starting lineup: Where drivers will start Pit stalls: Where drivers will pit

Key things to watch 🔑

Is it anyone’s race? Or does one driver have the upper hand? Joey Logano has won two of the last five inaugural Cup Series races and two of the last three on oval circuits (Kyle Larson won at Nashville Superspeedway). And those races, the electric Food City Dirt Race and monumental Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, were perhaps two of the most unpredictable races the series has seen in quite some time. Logano simply has a knack for performing well in the unknown on the biggest stage. But how much does World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway classify as “the unknown?” Many Cup Series drivers have experience at the 1.25-mile flat track in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series among others. In fact, a handful of them have even won here before. Sunday’s showdown will be a battle of inaugural-race trends, prior experience and Next Gen nerves.

Who’s hot? Who’s not? 

After a shaky and inconsistent start to the 2022 season, Christopher Bell has flipped the switch. Bell is riding high after a fifth-place finish in the 600-mile marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, extending his streak of top sixes to four in a row. Along with Toyota’s resurgence, the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing driver is keeping up the pace and has made a strong statement at the 1.5-mile tracks lately. Entering an unfamiliar track in a somewhat unfamiliar Next Gen car, momentum might be everything for Bell and company as they push for their first win since the Daytona Road Course in February 2021.

If you break down Brad Keselowski’s start to the season, his results have been subpar at best. Through 14 regular-season races, the No. 6 RFK Racing owner-driver has just one top 10 and a slew of finishes outside the top 20. He also crashed out early at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte, spiraling him down to 30th in the Cup Series standings. However, only 14 races into the season, the series’ debut World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is the perfect time for an experienced, seasoned veteran to kick it up a notch. And he has experience here. In eight combined starts in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series, Keselowski has a win, three top fives and four top 10s. Though he has struggled this season, don’t be surprised if the 2012 champion shows up on his A-game.

If Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has not been in your Fantasy Live lineup in recent weeks, you have been missing out. Stenhouse is quietly but steadily putting together the most impressive campaign of his entire Cup Series career, save for his multi-win season in 2017. Stenhouse and JTG Daugherty Racing have reeled off an organizational record four straight finishes of eighth or better, marking the first time Stenhouse has achieved the feat at the premier level. If not for a disastrous start to 2022, he could very well be right up there with the top drivers this season based on consistency in recent weeks. And he may even be getting more credit and attention than he is now. However, sitting in 24th in the standings, the No. 47 group still has a lot of work left to do to put the series on notice. Likely needing a win to make the Round of 16 for the NASCAR Playoffs, Stenhouse’s name should be right near the top of the stack of dark-horse candidates.

Friday’s hour-long practice session was a breath of fresh air for teams and drivers to have more seat time before this weekend’s race. Unsurprisingly, Logano once again proved his prowess, breaking new ground at Gateway with the fastest lap of the session. Team Penske was at the top of its game early with a 1-2-3 sweep in practice, while some of the early race favorites waned a bit on the leaderboard. But with key track position on the line in qualifying Saturday, Chase Briscoe rose to the challenge and earned his first Busch Light Pole Award of his career. Based on last week’s dauntless performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it wasn’t too surprising the No. 14 camp had blistering speed again here. Briscoe and crew seem to have found a groove and might have fans rethinking their favorites for Sunday’s race. | Starting lineup, qualifying recap | Full practice recap

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

• Paint Scheme Preview: 2022 Gateway and Portland weekend | Pick a favorite • Power Rankings: Bookended by Busch brothers as June arrives | Latest driver rankings • Fantasy Fastlane: Leaning on experience at Gateway | Top plays, sleepers • NASCAR betting: World Wide Technology Raceway odds | Race favorites, underdogs • Backseat Drivers: Experience key at World Wide Technology Raceway? | Watch the debate

Read up on the top headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

• Pit-road battle: Hamlin, Logano debated incident at Charlotte Motor Speedway | Read more • Truex Jr.: Pondering future, should know more details soon | Read more • COVID-19: Protocols, positive test sideline Chris Buescher at Gateway | Full details • Milestone: NASCAR reaches 20 million miles driven on renewable fuel | Learn more • Justin Haley: Kaulig Racing, Haley still searching for consistency in Cup Series | Story, analysis • St. Louis sellout: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway announces race is sold out | Read more • 600 club: Sunday’s start at Gateway is 600th in Cup for Martin Truex Jr. | See who’s in the club • Spanning the globe: Trackhouse Racing drivers excited for PROJECT91 | Read more • Hendrick Motorsports: Organization to enter three Xfinity races in 2022 | More details • Additions: NASCAR adds eight new automotive performance suppliers to successful competition program | Learn more • Promotions: Hendrick organization promotes senior executives to lead four key areas | Read more • Phoenix Raceway: 2022 Cup Series championship sold out, race set to return in 2023 | Full story • Triple Truck Challenge: Truck Series promotion returns for 2022 season | Learn more

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

• BetMGM: Inexperience plentiful for inaugural race on Sunday | Read more • The Action Network: How to bet Tyler Reddick vs. Chase Briscoe | Expert insight • Early picks: Which drivers are the best early bets for St. Louis? | Read more • Play it LIVE: Full guide to 2022 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ • Going all the way: 2022 Cup Series championship odds | See them here

With another new track making its Cup Series debut, take a look at the relevant history leading up to Gateway.

• Gateway to victory: See the Cup Stars who have wins at WWT Raceway | Full list here • First time for everything: Winners of recent inaugural Cup Series races | See them all • Virtual view: eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series goes green from WWT Raceway | Watch the highlight

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

• Nine drivers expected to compete this weekend have won in the Xfinity Series and/or Truck Series at Gateway. • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished top 10 in the last four races, his longest Cup Series top-10 streak and also JTG Daugherty’s longest. • Two of Denny Hamlin’s three top 10s in 2022 are wins. The last driver to have multiple wins with only three top 10s through 14 races in a season was Derrike Cope in 1990. • The pass for the win came in the final 10 laps in 11 of the 14 regular-season races in 2022. • Kyle Larson is on a 12-race winless streak, the longest of his career with Hendrick Motorsports.

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

• “The opportunity Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice and LeafFilter are giving me to race their car — we’re in it together. And Matt and Chris and LeafFilter, they don’t have unreal expectations. We’re extremely realistic on where we think we should be. We don’t think we’re gonna go out there every weekend and win and just blow the world on fire. But it’s a possibility.” — Justin Haley, driver of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet (via Haley’s feature story before Gateway)

• “It’s exciting, I think mainly for the crew chiefs. When you look at it, 15 minutes of practice and now we get an hour, they’re probably itching to try a bunch of different things that they’ve been thinking about in their heads and talking with engineers, so I think you’ll see a lot of guys trying some things because now we’re to the point where everybody probably has a little bit of a baseline of where they’re at with these cars, but now you’re gonna try some little different things to get that little bit extra speed, so having this hour-long practice, I think you’ll definitely see some guys trying some different setups and things like that. It’ll be cool. It’ll be interesting. Gateway is a hard track to get a hold of because it’s two different ends. There’s gonna be a lot of shifting like we said before, so we’ll see who comes out on top.” — Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

• “I feel like it’s going to be pretty hard to pass. I expect to be shifting at both ends of the track every lap, so we’re going to have our hands full. Qualifying and executing on pit road are going to be very important to keep track position throughout the race, so we’re going to have to be on our game all weekend.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

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