MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 03: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 03, 2023 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) | Getty Images
MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 03: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 03, 2023 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) | Getty Images

NASCAR Weekend Preview: World Wide Technology Raceway & Portland International Raceway

Track position at Gateway could mean Playoff position later on

With thunderstorms in Indianapolis delaying the Indy 500 and preventing Kyle Larson from starting last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the race for the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship took a new twist.

Unable to score points at Charlotte, Larson dropped from first to third in the series standings, six points behind new leader Denny Hamlin, who vaulted to the top with a fifth-place run in the rain-shortened Coke 600.

Hamlin’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., remained second in the standings, five points back.

With Christopher Bell winning his second race of the season on Sunday, four drivers have combined to win 10 of the first 14 races this year—Hamlin and William Byron with three each and Bell and Larson with two each.

With 12 races left before the cutoff for the postseason, the scramble is on for the final eight Playoff positions.

If recent history is any indication, there should be plenty of opportunity available in Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Joey Logano won the 2022 debut Cup race at the 1.25-mile oval. In his first year with Richard Childress Racing, Kyle Busch triumphed from the pole in 2023.

Coincidentally, those two drivers are straddling the current Playoff bubble, with Busch 14th in the standings (15th on the Playoff grid) and Logano 17th in the standings and two spots out of the Playoffs.

Busch was runner-up to Logano in 2022. Logano finished third behind Busch and Hamlin last year.

Busch and Logano can improve on what has so far been disappointing, winless seasons, provided they excel in time trials and maintain a presence at or near the front of the field at the Madison, Illinois, track.

Hamlin plans to be there, too, protecting his newfound series lead.

“This is going to be a track position race,” Hamlin asserted. “From what we’ve seen with this car at this track, you’re going to have to qualify well and have a really good day on pit road to stay up front.

“I feel like it’s a good track for us. We were really strong last year and stayed in the top five all day. It’s just going to be super important to unload strong and get a good qualifying spot and a good pit stall to have a shot on Sunday.”

Two heavyweights set to battle in Portland road course race

The tale of the tape is impressive.

AJ Allmendinger won the rain-drenched NASCAR Xfinity Series’ inaugural race at Portland International Speedway in 2022.

That was Allmendinger’s 12th of 17 victories in the series, 11 of which have come on road courses.

Ordinarily, Allmendinger would be an odds-on favorite in the stand-alone Pacific Office Automation 147 at Portland (4:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

This year, however, Allmendinger has an equally formidable rival.

Three-time Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen is running a full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule, and his road-course prowess is indisputable. Last July, SVG won the Chicago Street Race in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.

Neither Allmendinger nor van Gisbergen has won a race this season. Allmendinger is relatively comfortable in his quest for a Playoff berth (58 points above the current cut line), but van Gisbergen is three spots out of the postseason, 34 points behind Anthony Alfredo in the last Playoff-eligible position.

A victory for SVG would be the perfect remedy. For Allmendinger, who also won at the 1.97-mile road course in the CART Series, it would ensure his participation in the postseason.

“Always great memories at Portland for so many reasons,” Allmendinger said. “From winning my first IndyCar race there and having a crazy Xfinity race and then being able to win that race.

“It’s definitely a unique race track when it comes to road courses, but it’s always a fun event. Hopefully, we can go there and have a smoother race than we did in 2022 but have the same result.”

Five races left to determine last six NASCAR Truck Playoff spots

Four NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series regulars have hogged most of the glory this year, setting up a potential scramble for the last six Playoff spots.

Corey Heim has three victories to his credit, followed by Christian Eckes and Nick Sanchez with two each and Rajah Caruth with one. The other three wins in the series have gone to NASCAR Cup regulars Kyle Busch with two and Ross Chastain with one.

Over the next five races, the final six Playoff berths will be filled, starting with Saturday’s Toyota 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). As always, the surest path to the postseason is by winning a race.

That could be good news for Grant Enfinger, currently ninth in the standings and 33 points above the current Playoff cut line. Enfinger is the defending winner of the event at Gateway, where he led a race-high 65 laps and beat Eckes to the finish line by 0.256 seconds.

In all probability, Enfinger will get stiff competition from hard-luck Ty Majeski, who led 55 laps in last season’s race, finished second in both stages and fell victim to a crash with seven laps left.

The Toyota 200 is the second race in the Triple Truck Challenge, with a $50,000 bonus available to the winner of each event. Sanchez, who won the first race in “The Trip” May 24 at Charlotte, will increase his prize to $150,000 if he wins a second straight race.

The final event in the Triple Truck Challenge is scheduled for June 28 at Nashville Superspeedway. The bonus for winning all three Trip races is $500,000.

— NASCAR Wire Service —