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NASCAR DFS: Enjoy Illinois 300 Preview

Last weekend was a bit of a disappointment all around. The Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend is supposed to be the greatest day of the year for motorsports. The F1 Monaco Grand Prix had an exciting first lap, but once the wreck was cleaned up, we had a typical boring race at Monaco. We followed that up with a lengthy rain delay at the Indianapolis 500 that kept Kyle Larson from fully completing “The Double” as he was late to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. And speaking of the 600, we had a bit of a disappointing finish. Christopher Bell got the win after NASCAR decided they didn’t want to wait out the rain. Overall, it was a bit of a letdown. But we march forward and look ahead to Gateway. Here’s this week’s NASCAR DFS Enjoy Illinois 300 preview!

World Wide Technology Raceway plays host as we begin the Enjoy Illinois 300 preview. While in Illinois, this track is closer to St. Louis. We’ve only seen two NASCAR Cup Series races here. For years this track was featured regularly on the Truck Series schedule, and it still is. While the actual name of the track is a mouthful, it also goes by Gateway, given the proximity to the St. Louis arch. This is a 1.25-mile egg-shaped track similar to Darlington. However, it doesn’t have the banking or tire wear of Darlington. The racing has been okay. It’s not the worst track, but also it’s fairly new to these drivers. So it’s not as exciting or special as Charlotte, Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville, or Darlington.

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Enjoy Illinois 300 Preview: The Top Plays

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

I’m going to give Kyle Larson a week off from the preview article. We can go back to the well with Hamlin, as we do quite often. Hamlin didn’t have a great showing here in 2022. But let’s try and remember, Toyota got off to a horrible start that year with the NextGen car. He was the runner-up in this race last year with 33 fastest laps and he didn’t lead a single lap. You could make the argument that Gateway shares some comparisons with Nashville and Phoenix, and those are two tracks that Hamlin has led laps at in the NextGen car. Larson probably grades out as the top driver ahead of practice and qualifying. But I’ll give Hamlin the lean for JGR’s propensity to crush it on the flatter tracks.

Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)

Blaney has had two very strong runs at Gateway. In the first race at Gateway in 2022, he started P5 and finished fourth and he led a dozen laps. Last year, in his championship winning season, he started P2 and finished sixth, but he did lead 83 laps. He doesn’t have a win yet this season, but if we’re looking at limited sample sizes for this track, Blaney at least has shown he can crush it here. He had an early exit last week at Charlotte so this is a tremendous bounce-back opportunity for the defending series champion.

Martin Truex Jr. (#19 Toyota)

We’re still waiting on a truly dominant performance from Truex this year. He’s led plenty of laps at times with 55 at Phoenix, 54 at Bristol, 228 at Richmond, and 69 at Dover. But it’s just been a long while since we’ve seen him win a race. He’s finished fifth and sixth in two races at Gateway, but he did lead 42 laps here in 2022. The shortened race definitely screwed him last week at Charlotte. That team had a great setup and they were very impressive in practice and qualifying. If his team can simply nail the setup in this aero package, he could once again grab a top five at Gateway with some dominator points.

Enjoy Illinois 300 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet)

Busch hasn’t been very good this year. He’s voiced his frustrations and he’s disappointed with the team. This could be a “get right” kind of week for the former Cup Series champion. He finished second in this race in 2022 with 66 laps led and 46 fastest laps and a 135.4 driver rating. Now that was in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. How did he fare last year with Richard Childress Racing? He won the pole, led 121 laps with 67 fastest laps and won the race. The knock against him is still how underwhelming he’s been so far in 2024. He has just a pair of top five finishes and just five results in the top 10 in 14 points-paying races. It could benefit him that he now comes to a track he’s been great at. But be aware that momentum is not on his side.

Joey Logano (#22 Ford)

Here’s another driver who is having a bit of a quiet year. Logano won this race in 2022. That race in particular was an odd one. Eight drivers led double-digit laps and six of those drivers led 20+ laps. We likely won’t see that Sunday. But Logano did lead 22 laps with 20 fastest laps en route to winning the first Cup Series race at Gateway. Last year he did start sixth and finished third. Unfortunately, he didn’t collect any dominator points. There’s an argument to be made that he has more momentum than Busch at least. Logano was phenomenal in the All-Star race two weeks ago and he was outstanding in 2022 when he won the Cup Series Championship at Phoenix. We aren’t leaning on them heavily with this preview. But for two drivers who have won here, we can easily lead off this section with Logano and Busch.

Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet)

This is more of a gut call. At the top of the Enjoy Illinois 300 preview, in Denny Hamlin’s section, I did make some slight comparisons to Nashville and Phoenix. They aren’t the greatest comparisons but they’re among the larger flat-ish tracks and they have unique layouts given their size, similar to Gateway. Chastain has been phenomenal at Nashville and even won last year’s race, and then followed that up by winning the race at Phoenix in the Fall. We largely forget who won that race, because it’s more known for Ryan Blaney winning the Cup Series Championship. But alas, it was still Chastain’s win at the end of the day. He’s been running a little bit better of late and he’s one to keep an eye on during Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions.

The Sleepers and Values

Michael McDowell (#34 Ford)

McDowell will certainly be affordable for this race. Will he be a sleeper? Well, that’ll likely depend on where he starts. McDowell had a ho-hum run here in 2022 where he started P17 and finished 18th. But he did lead 34 laps. He improved last year when he started P21 and finished ninth at Gateway. McDowell has variance as a DFS play. He had top 10 finishes at tracks like Kansas, Darlington, Atlanta, and Phoenix. But he had a stretch in March and April where he didn’t finish four of six races. He’s been running better and might have another top 10 in him this weekend.

Justin Haley (#51 Ford)

Haley had a disappointing week at Charlotte. The car actually had decent speed early on as he was flirting with the top 15. However, we just don’t know how good the car really was and where he would’ve finished had the race been run in full. But he’s had solid runs at Gateway the last two years. With Kaulig Racing he finished 14th (started P28) in 2022 and he was 16th (started P23) last year. Overall, Haley is making the most of this equipment. And Rick Ware Racing has traditionally been a very bad team. The alliance with RFK Racing has yielded some solid results. It almost seems like RWR is trending in the right direction, while Kaulig Racing is going backward. Either way, Haley is looking like a worthy value play early on in the week.

Austin Cindric (#2 Ford)

Closing out the Enjoy Illinois 300 preview is Austin Cindric? Yikes… It feels weird to be running with a trio of Fords in this section. It feels even more weird to include all the Team Penske drivers in this article. Cindric is probably my least favorite option in this article. But hey, anything could happen on Sunday. Cindric has finished 11th and 13th in the two races at Gateway. He even led 26 laps in this race in 2022. However, it’s worth mentioning that despite the decent finishes, he did go backward in both races so it’s not like the DFS scores were great. But at the end of the day, when we compare the equipment in this range, Cindric is in the best equipment for a cheap play. The issue is that he’s been very disappointing since winning the 2022 Daytona 500 in his debut.

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