After a wet and wild week in Charlotte, NASCAR heads West to World Wide Technology Raceway (known as Gateway Motorsports Park until the purchase of naming rights in 2019). However, before we preview the Enjoy Illinois 300 this weekend, we need to dive into what happened during the Coca-Cola 600.
After rain delayed the beginning of the Coca-Cola 600 to Monday, NASCAR treated fans to excellent racing at an intermediate track once again. Unfortunately, over the course of that great racing action, there was an incredibly dangerous and unfortunate incident took place.
Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott had a disagreement on track. Elliott found himself pinched into the wall. The contact followed an earlier dust-up between the two and while I feel it represented a by-product of hard racing, I understand why Chase might be upset. However, I can’t excuse what happened next.
After coming off the wall, Elliott gathered in his car and then took a hard left into Denny Hamlin’s right rear quarter panel. The contact sent Hamlin head-on into the wall. Compounding the danger of the situation, the incident took place at Charlotte’s dog leg. This led to Hamlin impacting the wall at a frightening angle.
Payback plays a role in NASCAR and always will. However, there is a time, place, and method. Elliott’s contact with Hamlin was dangerous and unacceptable – the resulting one-race suspension for Chase was a great call by NASCAR, consistent with Bubba Wallace’s suspension in 2022.
The rest of the race had more incredible racing and Ryan Blaney claimed victory and leaped into the crowd.
The suspension of Elliott sets the stage for an intriguing lineup change for the Enjoy Illinois 300. Josh Berry has served as the substitute driver for Hendrick Motorsports for a sizable portion of 2023 but the Xfinity Series races in Portland, OR this weekend. With Berry unavailable, Corey LaJoie slides over from Spire Motorsports and the #7 he normally drives to fill Elliott’s seat. Replacing LaJoie in the #7, Truck Series regular Carson Hocevar makes his Cup Series debut at Gateway.
WWT Raceway provides an interesting challenge for the NASCAR Cup Series drivers. The track is 1.25 miles long and the turns are extremely different leading to difficulties in setting up the car. The race provided some drama last year but other than some hurt feelings, the on-track action wasn’t particularly stellar. The track runs similarly to a short track, an environment in which the NextGen car has struggled to provide good racing. For this reason, I am tempering my expectations.
Who should fans expect to make their way to Victory Lane on Sunday? Joey Logano and the Penske cars were dominant at WWT last year. However, the speed hasn’t been there for Penske for most of 2023. I think it’ll be the Gibbs cars who show up with speed at Gateway. Look for Martin Truex Jr. to run near the front en route to a trip to Victory Lane.
Be sure to check out the schedule below so you don’t miss any on-track action from this weekend. Also note that as mentioned above the Xfinity Series will be racing at Portland International Raceway and not with the Cup Series in Madison, Illinois at WWT Raceway.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying (Gateway) – 5:30 p.m. CT on FS1
Portland 112 (ARCA Menards Series West – Portland) – 7:00 p.m. CT on FLO Racing
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (Gateway) – 9:45 a.m. CT on FS1
NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying (Portland) – 11:00 a.m. on FS1
Toyota 200 (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – Gateway) – 12:30 p.m. CT on FS1
Pacific Office Automation 147 (NASCAR Xfinity Series – Portland) – 3:30 p.m. CT on FS1
Enjoy Illinois 300 (NASCAR Cup Series – Gateway) – 2:30 p.m. CT on FS1