The NASCAR Cup Series enters new territory this weekend as everyone heads to Illinois. No, not Chicagoland. Instead, drivers head to Madison, IL, a city just outside of St. Louis for the Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway.
For some of the Cup Series drivers, this may be their first time racing on this track, especially some of the veterans that have been around awhile. For some of the young guns still looking to prove themselves at NASCAR’s highest level, this could be their chance, as the Truck Series has held an annual race at what is now World Wide Technology Raceway, formerly Gateway Motorsports park, since 2014.
What to Expect at the New Track?
Let’s start with the basic question: What is WWT Raceway? According to NASCAR.com, the first two turns have 11 degrees of banking turns going into the first two turns, and nine degrees in turns three and four.
The first driver to win on the 1.25-mile track in the Xfinity Series was Elliot Sadler back in 1997. NASCAR’s website also said the turns could prove to be a challenge for the new cars. That being said, with such a short track, it will be interesting to see what some of the top speeds will be. Qualifying will give us some idea, but if the turns are that tight, there won’t be much room once the cars clump up heading into the turns.
Is Anyone Experienced?
Now that we know the makeup of the track, the next logical question is, has any of these guys raced here on any of the NASCAR levels? The answer is yes. Since this track has been on the Truck Series schedule for eight years now, some of the younger drivers have raced and raced well here. What jumped off the page to me was the NASCAR betting odds for this week, as the oddsmakers seemingly aren’t factoring in prior experience on the track.
One of those drivers is Ryan Blaney. Blaney raced here in the Truck Series back in 2014 with a seventh-place finish. Between the experience and the fact that Blaney is having a heck of a season, currently fourth in the Cup Series Standings, despite not having a win yet this season (the All-Star Race technically doesn’t count as a Cup Series win). If you think this is the week Blaney breaks through, he’s currently listed at +1000.
Christopher Bell also won at WWT Raceway back in 2016 and ran well again in 2017 with a sixth-place finish. While his odds aren’t as juicy as Wallace or Custer’s, the +1400 is enough to make me feel good about taking a chance on him.
There are a handful of drivers who have won here too. Back in 2014, Bubba Wallace not only raced here but won here when he was still racing in the Truck Series. The oddsmakers must not be too keen on weighing the experience some drivers have with the ones that don’t, as Wallace’s Illinois 300 outright odds are currently the second-highest at +8000. For someone who has experience on a track that may be brand new to some guys, and has a win there, +8000 seems too high.
Another driver the oddsmakers aren’t too keen on is Cole Custer. Custer has a win as well as a sixth-place finish here. But that apparently means less than nothing to the oddsmakers, as Custer enters with literally the highest odds of any listed driver at +20000.
Intermediate Track Success
While no driver will have any Cup Series at WWT Raceway experience ahead of Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300, we can get a hint as to who may do well here by looking at intermediate track success. Intermediate tracks are classified as any track over a mile in length, not including Talladega or Daytona. The tracks that fit this mold are Atlanta, Darlington, Homestead (Miami), Kansas, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Texas and Nashville.
While he’s had a less-than-stellar last two seasons, Kevin Harvick (+2000) leads all active drivers with 20 wins on such tracks and second in laps led, however, Harvick showed great signs last week at Charlotte where he placed third. Earlier this season at Darlington Harvick placed fourth despite having started 35th.
Denny Hamlin at +800 jumps off the page. He’s had success on these tracks as of late. Hamlin has 18 top-five finishes and eight wins on intermediate tracks since 2019. He almost took the checkered flag in Texas back on May 22 at the All-Star Race, but finished second before winning at Charlotte last week; both intermediate tracks.
Who are the Favorites?
Almost per usual at this point, Kyle Larson enters as the betting favorite at +700. Since 2019, Larson trails only Hamlin in wins at intermediate tracks with five over 30 races. That mark is perhaps even more impressive considering he had to sit out a year in that stretch and they all came last season.
Larson has typically been around +550 or so the past few weeks, but at +700, there might be enough meat left on the bone to put him on the betting card this week.
Kyle Busch enters tied for the second-lowest odds at +800. Busch has as many career wins on intermediate tracks as Hamlin but outpaces him in laps led. While it’s only a matter of 18 laps, Busch is the leader among all active drivers with 6,261 laps led over Kevin Harvick’s 6,243.
He has 116 top-10 finishes at intermediate tracks all-time in 205 races. He’ll make a push late, but Busch hasn’t had a win on a track like this since Kansas, back in early May of 2021.
Fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. will also likely be in the mix, as his 12.7 average finish is the second-best among active drivers. But at +900 for someone who also hasn’t won since early May of 2021 on an intermediate track, you could probably find better value.Follow us on Twitter