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Through the decades, the state of Missouri has come to be known as not only a hotbed of racing in the Midwest, but also a place that has produced several drivers who have become NASCAR stars. NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, along with his brothers Kenny and Mike, hailed from St. Louis. Ken Schrader built his racing legend out of Fenton, Carl Edwards came from Columbia to become one of NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers, and Joplin's Jamie McMurray would go on to etch his name in history as a Daytona 500 champion.

But until last year, there was no true place on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule that Missourians could call home. That changed with the first ever Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Cup Series once again returns to the St. Louis area speedway for the 2023 Enjoy Illinois 300.

Once a standalone fixture on both the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series calendars, Gateway proved more than worthy of a Cup Series race with a hotly contested inaugural race that saw Joey Logano take the checkered flag in a late-race battle with Kyle Busch. It was one of four victories on the season that propelled Logano to the Cup Series title, a feat he looks to achieve again in 2023 as the regular season has passed its midway point.

How to Watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Gateway

Date: Sunday, June 4
Location: World Wide Technology Raceway -- Madison, Ill.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Stream: fuboTV (try for free)

What to Watch

  • The central character of this weekend's race is undoubtedly Corey LaJoie, who faces the single biggest opportunity that he has had in his seven-year, 214-race Cup career. After Chase Elliott was parked one week for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600, LaJoie has been summoned from his usual No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet to fill in as the driver of the No. 9 for Hendrick Motorsports.

    LaJoie has progressively built his Cup career on the grounds of being an overachiever with smaller teams and lesser resources, an approach that has started to pay dividends this season. Though a fourth-place finish at Atlanta marks his only top 10 of the season, LaJoie's average finish of 19.1 is by far the best of his career, and he currently sits 19th in the points standings and just 38 points below the cut line to make the playoffs.

    Should LaJoie earn significant stage points and a good finish, it would go a long way toward him making up the points deficit that exists between him and 16th-place Alex Bowman. But driving Elliott's car gives LaJoie the first opportunity he's ever had in a true race-winning car outside of a superspeedway, and LaJoie seizing that opportunity and winning is not outside of the realm of possibility. If he does so, LaJoie would vault himself onto the playoff grid, and he would also become the first substitute driver to win a Cup race since Jamie McMurray scored a shocking upset in his second Cup start filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin in 2002.

    Interestingly, LaJoie will become the second member of his racing family to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car in a substitute role. In 1998, Corey's father Randy LaJoie drove nine races for Hendrick in place of an injured Ricky Craven, scoring three top-10 finishes and a career-best finish of fifth at Martinsville.
  • One of NASCAR's most prominent winless streaks came to an end last week when Ryan Blaney won the Coca-Cola 600, snapping a 59-race winless drought that had lasted since his win at Daytona in August 2021. With Blaney now back in the winner's column, that's shifted the burden of long winless streaks to other drivers in the field.

    Among drivers who did not win a race in 2022, Michael McDowell currently holds the longest active winless streak, as it's been 85 races since the lone victory of his career in the 2021 Daytona 500. Justin Haley has an 83-race winless streak going, but he has never won a Cup Series race as a full-time driver. The lone win of Haley's career came at Daytona in 2019, when he was making only his second start on a partial schedule.

    The biggest winless streak set to fall is Brad Keselowski's, as the 2012 Cup champion has gone 76 races since his last win at Talladega in the spring 2021. Keselowski came within a lap of snapping that streak earlier this year at Atlanta, and his performance this season -- three top fives and six top 10s on a vastly improved RFK Racing team -- suggest that he's not far away from getting back to Victory Lane.

    While Keselowski only ran 20th in last year's race at WWT Raceway, he does have one career Gateway win, earning a victory here in the Xfinity Series in the fall of 2010. Keep an eye on Aric Almirola as well, who finished fifth last year at Gateway and is on a 64-race winless streak dating back to New Hampshire in 2021.
  • With Spire Motorsports loaning out Corey LaJoie to Hendrick this weekend, a void was created in the driver's seat of the No. 7 that needed to be filled. LaJoie's usual car will now be driven by NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar, presenting the 20-year-old from Portage, Mich. with a major opportunity as well as a full-circle moment.

    On the final lap of last year's Truck Series race at Gateway, Hocevar took a vicious hit to the driver's side door after begin spun in front of traffic, breaking his right tibia at the ankle. Hocevar toughed it out after undergoing surgery, starting the next week's race at Sonoma before giving way to relief driver Daniel Suarez.

    Hocevar, a protege of former Cup Series driver Johnny Benson, has since continued his ascension as one of the top drivers in the Truck Series and earned his long-awaited first career win earlier this year at Texas. Any and all experience he gains in a Cup car this weekend will surely be valuable as he distinguishes himself as a rising star, and it's especially poetic that it comes after he endured great adversity at this track last year.

Pick to Win

(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

Martin Truex Jr. (+800): Last year's race at Gateway featured great balance at the front of the field, as six different drivers led at least 20 of the 245 laps. Martin Truex Jr. led the second-most laps of anyone with 42 on his way to finishing sixth, a performance that suggested he hadn't lost the touch he had at this speedway from earlier in his career. Truex won the pole for both of his Xfinity Series starts at Gateway in 2004 and 2005, dominating the 2004 race on his way to victory.

After ending his winless streak at Dover, Truex has put together a string of performances that saw him lead 224 laps in two weeks between Kansas and Darlington and finish third in the Coke 600. That suggests that as long as it took Truex to get back to Victory Lane after going winless in 2022, it probably won't take him nearly as long to get back to the Winner's Circle in 2023.