Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Gateway: Lightning, Power Outages and Brake Rotors, Oh My

What Happened?

MADISON, Ill. – Faced with five restarts in the final 40 laps, Kyle Busch held off Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and all other challengers to win the Enjoy Illinois 300 in the Cup Series’ second annual trip to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Sunday (June 4).

Busch led the most laps in this race a year ago, but he lost to Joey Logano on the final restart. That was not the case this year, as he scored his 63rd NASCAR Cup Series win, his third of the 2023 season and his first at Gateway.

But What Really Happened?

The race turned into a marathon after just five laps.

A Tyler Reddick spin on lap 2 brought out the caution for the first time, and after five laps, the cars were brought down pit road for a lightning hold.

The race resumed after more than an hour on pit road, and the first stage was all Busch. Second-place starter Ryan Blaney proved to be the biggest challenger to the No. 8 car in the first half, and he took the lead on lap 60 after a fierce side-by-side battle.

The caution was out once again on lap 92 after Carson Hocevar lost a brake rotor and crashed out of his Cup debut. And then, during the caution, the power went out.

FS1’s broadcast immediately crashed, and all the scoring monitors inside the Gateway media center went dark. The teams lost advanced timing and scoring data for the remainder of the race. For about five minutes, no one had a clue about what was happening.

The race then resumed, and Blaney scored the stage two win. Of the first 140 laps, all of them were led by Blaney (80) and Busch (60).

The final stage began with William Byron out front after a fast pit stop, and after a 27-lap green-flag run, the remainder of the race turned into an endurance struggle.

Reddick was the second car to lose a brake rotor and crash on lap 176. He was followed by Noah Gragson on lap 199, and the race was put under a second red flag for cleanup. Bubba Wallace was then the fourth and final car to lose a brake rotor with five laps to go.

A few spins and crashes were mixed in between the failures, and Busch, who had retaken the lead on lap 184, held off the rest of the field for the win.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After NASCAR Takes 5-Plus Hours to Run 300 Miles

Who Stood Out?

Busch looks to have Gateway figured out. He led the most laps and finished second last year, and with a brand new team and manufacturer, he won his first pole since 2019 and won a race after leading the most laps for the first time since 2020.

Logano followed his inaugural win at Gateway with a third-place finish in race two after running in the top 10 all day. In a season where the No. 22 team has struggled to find speed, this result was a much-needed shot in the arm.

Blaney backed up his dominant Coca-Cola 600 win with another impressive performance this week. Although he faded to sixth at the end, he led 83 laps and had an average running position of third on the evening. And after a 22nd-place finish by Ross Chastain, Blaney will enter next weekend’s race at Sonoma as the points leader.

Making his Cup Series’ debut in Spire Motorsports’ No. 7, Hocevar started 26th and had worked his way up to 16th place by the time he hit the wall. His debut ended in last place, but he certainly turned some heads with his performance before that.

Who Fell Flat?

Larson fell flat — but only in the first stage.

Larson qualified 22nd, and he quickly had a handful as he sunk to as low as 32nd in the opening 45 laps. The team kept with it, however, and with the help of pit strategy, Larson found himself in the top 10 by the end of stage two and battling for the lead in the closing laps.

After giving a fight to Busch on several restarts, Larson crossed the line in fourth. It was not the greatest showing of speed for the No. 5 team, but it was a solid finish and a clean race after a month of bad finishes and wrecked race cars.

On the topic of Hendrick Motorsports, Corey LaJoie had the opportunity of a lifetime to compete in HMS’ No. 9 car. Unfortunately, he was a nonfactor.

LaJoie qualified 30th and moved to the rear after hitting the kill switch on the pace laps. There were no other issues for the rest of the race, but with track position paramount, the No. 9 car hovered in the mid-20s for much of the afternoon. LaJoie crossed the line in 21st, the highest he had been all day.

Chastain (barely) entered as the regular season points leader heading into Gateway, as Blaney, Byron, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell were all within 17 points of him.

The No. 1 team started off the weekend by qualifying eighth, but Chastain was only in the top 15 for 60% of the race and had faded back to 22nd by the end. Another poor showing after a mid-pack finish at Charlote dropped Chastain from the lead to fifth in points.

Better than Last Time?

With how chaotic the race was between the lightning, attrition, brake failures and stoppages, it’s hard to give an accurate read on this race.

There was some action toward the front of the field, but like most flat tracks with the Next Gen car, it was a struggle to pass.

The cars can run side-by-side at Gateway, which was evident on restarts and by a four-lap battle in stage two where Busch and Blaney duked it out for the lead. But once the field got strung out single file, it was hard for a driver to catch and pass the car ahead.

But even with all the delays, the fans showed up big. The race sold out for a second year in a row, and the fans still packed the stands even after the delays.

The stop and go nature of the race was frustrating at times, but the multitude of restarts led to some fun battles on the track. If the Next Gen car or the track can be tweaked to where the cars can run on the top and bottom (instead of just the bottom), there is enough fan interest and support for NASCAR to make an annual stop in the St. Louis area for a long time.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Should Gateway Remain on Cup Schedule?

Paint Scheme of the Race

There were plenty of contenders this week, but the winner was the paint scheme that had decades of history behind it.

First run with Logano in select 2016 races, the Mosaic Shell/Pennzoil paint scheme returned after 2023 Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden — in a Shell-sponsored car — scored the 100th win for Shell and Pennzoil across Team Penske’s major motorsports divisions.

The car has hundreds of photographs from said wins, and it’s a design one could analyze for hours. It’s always nice to see recollections of auto racing history, and the resulting black and yellow checkered pattern of the car is the cherry on top.

Up Next

The Cup Series heads back to the West Coast with its annual trip to Sonoma and the Wine Country of Northern California.

Daniel Suarez enters the race as the defending winner, while Reddick won the most recent road course race at Circuit of the Americas in March. Chase Elliott — the active leader in road course wins — will also return from suspension.

The Toyota / Save Mart 350 will take place on Sunday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The race will be broadcast on FS1, and it’s the final Cup race of FOX’s 2023 schedule. NBC and USA Network will take over the remainder of the season, starting at Nashville Superspeedway on June 25.

About the author

Thanksgiving Photo

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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19 Comments
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janice

see what happens when you have michael waltrip on the broadcast. it all started with him loosing his phone in a purple case and went downhill from that point. the gremlins were really out in st. louis yesterday afternooon/evening.

Dawg

I don’t understand the lightening policy.It seemed like most of the fans were still in the stands, sitting on aluminum bleachers.
I have an aluminum bass boat, & my lightening policy, is that if I’m on the lake & see lightening, I head for my slip at top speed.

What are the fans supposed to do, head for their cars? There doesn’t seem to be much of anyplace else to really protect them otherwise.

There really wasn’t much of an explanation given as to the cause of the pit crewman’s accident. Or any update on his condition.
I hope it was minor, & he’s doing fine, but I’d like to know.

Whenever a driver is taken to the infield care center, even when it’s obviously just a formality. They’re always interviewed, & we know they’re fine.

A crew member should get the same courtesy.

Carl D.

If not for the cautions giving us some great restarts, the race would have been a ho-hummer. Nice recap, Stephen.

Bill B

The race seemed a bit of a mess overall. Some of the issues that made it a mess were beyond NASCAR’s control. It bothers me when I see single parts supplied by NASCAR’s approved vendor fail to the degree they did on Sunday. The teams have no choice but to use the part, so it seems unfair if the part isn’t reliable.

I wouldn’t say the race was bad or boring, but it wasn’t great either. Another rash of cautions toward the end with a bunch of restarts…. yyyaaaaawwwwnnnnn.

Regarding Hocevar’s good showing, maybe it helps that the cup cars are actually slower than than the trucks (as DoninAjax has pointed out on a few occasions). After running faster speeds it’s always easier to take a step back and run slower speeds. Imagine that, cup is a step back from the trucks…. WTF?

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
Echo

He’s been telling us that for quite awhile now and it’s finally sinking in. “Cup is a step back” WTF needs frontstretch, and all media and podcasts talking about that. It’s really ridiculous if you think about it. So after Larson runs the Indy cars, he should come back to nascar and do better than he’s doing now in the slower cars !!

DoninAjax

The network telecast of the Sonoma product starts at 12:30 local time which is 3:30 on the east coast. The west coast “fans” are really spoiled. They get to eat supper at home, not at a track.

janice

with the luck nascar has had lately with old mother nature, they might have a monsoon in sonoma this coming weekend.

us east coast fans are special cause we have to pay attention to the number of naps we get so our evening sleep pattern isn’t too screwed up too much.

DoninAjax

The rain gods are still angry with Brian and his toadies. Wait until the Indian gods act up at Talladega.

Brian’s product can be used as a cure for insomnia at any time of day or night.

Kevin in SoCal

Exactly why I love being on Pacific time. Every sports event starts earlier and finishes earlier. :)

Bill B

You west coast bastards!!! LOL!!! :)

kb

My time zone is HST. We get everything early. We also miss things too that start too early in the morning. HST time. Small price to pay. LOL.

DoninAjax

If the events started at 9:30 you could be eating lunch by the time it was over and enjoy the whole afternoon.

Kevin in SoCal

It works for NFL, I dunno why it wouldn’t work for NASCAR. But Fox and NBC control the time slots.

Shayne

Another avoidable marathon. Glad they sold every ticket. It looked like a few thousand must have left early.

Start the races at 12:30 and let fans have some time on Sunday’s to enjoy other things.

Bill B

“Start the races at 12:30 and let fans have some time on Sunday’s to enjoy other things.”

Yes!!! Like dinner.

janice

now bill you know they don’t care too much about us old folks.

just wait chicago is right around the corner. oh what a cluster i envision that to be!

Echo

DoninAjax and I think Brian must still have a huge say in Nascar. He’s one of a kind in screwing things up. There can’t be two of him, help us if there is.

sdelfin

I don’t know if it’s simply a coincidence, but the power went out during the truck race at Gateway back in 2021 causing a delay. I thought the racing was pretty good aside from the delays. There was side-by-side racing, mostly mid pack. Most of the best cars found their way to the front early, aside from Larson. It’s kind of like Wilkesboro. Yes, NASCAR needs to make the short track racing better, but also the 5 car was far and away the best car there and got to the front early. So it may have been hard to pass, but I didn’t see it as too hard or that there wasn’t anything going on. But that’s just me.

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