Enjoy Illinois 300 Preview: New Race Track

Enjoy Illinois 300 Preview: New Race Track

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series visits World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the first time. This oval is a moderately banked 1.25-mile track that is asphalt paved and features 11-degree banking in turns 1 and 2 and 9-degree banking in turns 3 and 4. The track has played host to Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series and the lower divisions of NASCAR for many years, but NASCAR's top division has never raced at this oval. That will all change this Sunday afternoon as the top starts in the sport take to the banks of World Wide Technology Raceway.

The event is 240 laps, divided into three stages of 45 laps, 95 laps and 100 laps. Average speeds are likely to be around 135 mph as the asphalt surface provides decent grip and a lot of potential for side-by-side racing. The oval is somewhat reminiscent of the lower banked intermediate ovals on the circuit like Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, although modestly smaller in size than most NASCAR intermediate ovals.  From its opening in 1997 World Wide Technology Raceway hosted Xfinity Series races until 2010 and Camping World Truck Series events until the present day. The facility has never hosted a Cup Series event in its history until now. There will be a lot of unknowns as we venture this weekend into the uncharted waters of World Wide Technology Raceway. 

Since this is a completely new race, at a completely new track, we have no historical

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series visits World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the first time. This oval is a moderately banked 1.25-mile track that is asphalt paved and features 11-degree banking in turns 1 and 2 and 9-degree banking in turns 3 and 4. The track has played host to Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series and the lower divisions of NASCAR for many years, but NASCAR's top division has never raced at this oval. That will all change this Sunday afternoon as the top starts in the sport take to the banks of World Wide Technology Raceway.

The event is 240 laps, divided into three stages of 45 laps, 95 laps and 100 laps. Average speeds are likely to be around 135 mph as the asphalt surface provides decent grip and a lot of potential for side-by-side racing. The oval is somewhat reminiscent of the lower banked intermediate ovals on the circuit like Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, although modestly smaller in size than most NASCAR intermediate ovals.  From its opening in 1997 World Wide Technology Raceway hosted Xfinity Series races until 2010 and Camping World Truck Series events until the present day. The facility has never hosted a Cup Series event in its history until now. There will be a lot of unknowns as we venture this weekend into the uncharted waters of World Wide Technology Raceway. 

Since this is a completely new race, at a completely new track, we have no historical loop stats to examine this weekend. That does put us at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, we're not completely without some numbers. For much of our analysis this week, we're going to rely on the statistics that our NASCAR Cup Series drivers have accumulated this season on the intermediate ovals. It's the only real measure of which drivers tend to thrive on these style tracks. The data will be fresh and recent statistics and should provide us with a good preview of who will hit the ground running at WWTR. In the table below are the driver's standard stats at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Kansas and Charlotte in the 2022 season, sorted by average finish.

DriverAvg. FinishWinsTop 5'sTop 10'sLaps LedAvg. Start
Ross Chastain6.802328214.5
Alex Bowman7.51141610.3
Martin Truex Jr.8.5003615.3
Kyle Busch10.503312412.8
Christopher Bell10.8023858.0
Kyle Larson10.802310815.5
Kurt Busch12.012212611.8
Kevin Harvick12.80111118.5
William Byron13.512214511.0
Joey Logano15.00012116.5
Denny Hamlin16.51224710.5
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.16.80022925.5
Tyler Reddick17.8002485.5
Aric Almirola17.8001615.3
Harrison Burton18.3000023.3
Corey Lajoie18.5011029.8
Bubba Wallace19.0001416.8
Chase Elliott19.30021259.5
Chris Buescher19.5001023.8
Chase Briscoe19.501178.0

This weekend NASCAR will make a little history. For the first time ever, the Cup Series will compete on the unique oval at World Wide Technology Raceway. For much of the last decade, this track has been mostly home to the Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series. That will all change with Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300. There will be plenty to learn for both the drivers and the fans. Many unknowns will be explored. As usual, we'll be in data collecting mode in order to better prepare for the next race at WWTR. Lesson's learned this weekend will be applied by both the teams and fantasy racing players alike in the near future.    

Coming into this weekend's 300-mile event we're going to rely a lot on current hot streaks and we're going to look with a critical eye at recent performance on intermediate ovals. We believe the statistical table above and the 2022 stats at similar-sized tracks will be our greatest aides in evaluating drivers this weekend and projecting potential performance.  We'll give you the drivers you need to succeed in your fantasy racing games for the Enjoy Illinois 300 in Madison, Illinois.      

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch – It's been a strong season so far for Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team, though, the victories haven't come in as numerous quantities as they would like. Busch is fresh off a runner-up finish at the intermediate oval in Charlotte and he led a bunch of laps in the All-Star Race at Texas two weeks ago before getting rolled up in a crash. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been fast enough and good enough to win on these mid-sized ovals of late. Busch has made three Xfinity Series starts at WWTR with one victory and three Top 10's. Those efforts came some time ago, but show that Busch has some past success at this track. Given his great recent efforts, we believe the driver of the No. 18 Toyota will be one of the top drivers to beat this Sunday.

Kyle Larson – The Hendrick Motorsports star was leading in the late laps of last weekend's Coca-Cola 600 and looking like a good bet to take the victory. However, an aggressive move to go 4-wide for the lead by Ross Chastain would cause a major crash and end Larson's hopes of winning at Charlotte. The performance still stands on its merits though. For the season, Larson has nabbed two runner-up finishes (Las Vegas and Kansas) and has three Top 10's on the intermediate ovals through four events. That would indicate that Larson and the No. 5 Chevrolet team should be on-point for this Cup Series debut weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Larson has never made a lap at WWTR in one of NASCAR's top touring series. However, that should be of little concern. The similarities between this oval and Las Vegas and Kansas tease the potential. 

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has shaken off his slump to start the 2022 season and has roared to life over the last few events. The Joe Gibbs Racing star was a runner-up finisher in the Texas All-Star Race two weeks ago and he nabbed a surprising victory from the pole at Charlotte this past week in the Coca-Cola 600. It seems that whatever obstacles were holding back the No. 11 Toyota team in this new Next-Gen car have been removed. The "old" Denny Hamlin is back. WWTR sets up well for Hamlin. At slightly less than the typical 1.5-mile oval, it's still very much a driver's track due to its unique turns. Sort of reminiscent of a much lesser banked Darlington oval. Hamlin made two Xfinity Series starts at World Wide Technology Raceway back in the day, and he collect a strong third-place finish in one of those starts with 169 laps led. It should take long for Hamlin to get up to speed and reacquainted this weekend.

Ross Chastain – Despite the crash and burn going for the win late at Charlotte this past week, we can't un-see the race-high 153 laps led and shear dominance that Chastain put on display. That's been the theme for this driver and team this season. Chastain has two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on 1.5-mile ovals this season, including a whopping 282 laps led. He's yet to tuck away a victory on these mid-sized ovals yet, but he's been painfully close to this point. Watermelon man has been dialed-in on these ovals in 2022. The Trackhouse Racing veteran has two very recent truck series starts at WWTR. One of those efforts netted a victory for Niece Motorsports in 2019. Chastain should be eagerly anticipating Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Chase Elliott – Elliott had a fast Chevrolet this past Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600. He would lead 86 laps and take the victory in stage 1 at Charlotte. However, he would spin and crash on lap 188, ending his hopes for a victory at the North Carolina oval. Elliott should rebound nicely at World Wide Technology Raceway. For the season, Elliott has racked up a pair of Top 10's on the intermediate tracks and a respectable 125 laps led. He's not been a top contender to win these races, but he's typically been a face among the Top 10 most of the time. The No. 9 team has a pretty good handle on the Next-Gen car, and Elliott has been a couple tough luck outings away from being pretty stellar on these style tracks. There's no past WWTR experience in his racing resume, but that should be of little concern.   

William Byron - The young driver's success this season in mid-sized oval events has been well-documented. Byron has captured one win (Atlanta) and a pair of Top-5 finishes, along with 145 laps led. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster was among the mad scramble at the front of this past week's Coca-Cola 600 that led to a 13-car accident on the front stretch. Byron will look to rebound at the promising oval in Madison, Illinois. He does have one truck series start recently at this track (2016), so he's not completely inexperienced racing at WWTR. We believe the speed the No. 24 Chevrolet team has displayed this season on these similar sized tracks gives Byron a lot of upside this weekend. We believe he has a better than 50-percent chance at a Top-10 effort with the potential lurking down deep for an upset win.

Christopher Bell – Bell is fresh off a Top-5 run in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte this past Sunday, and that's yet another notch in his belt on the mid-sized tracks this season. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster owns two poles, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on these style ovals. That makes Bell one of the top performers in the Cup Series at these tracks. He has two truck series starts at World Wide Technology Raceway in his racing resume. Those efforts led to a victory (2016) and sixth-place finish (2017). It's pretty clear that he loved racing at this oval during his truck series career. Considering that the No. 20 Toyota team has been a top performer in these style tracks in the new Next-Gen car in 2022, it's impossible to ignore Bell in the NASCAR Cup Series debut at World Wide Technology Raceway.  

Alex Bowman – Consistency has been Bowman's trademark this season in intermediate oval racing. He's a perfect four-for-four in Top 10's on these tracks in 2022. One of those performances was also a victory earlier this year at the gently sloped track in Las Vegas. A win this weekend at WWTR is probably unlikely for the No. 48 Chevrolet squad, but Bowman should be good enough to reflect that 7.5 average finish this season on the cookie cutter ovals. In terms of past experience, Bowman has none at World Wide Technology Raceway, and that could be a minor disadvantage. Still, he should adapt quickly after practice and qualifying and peddle his team's Chevy to yet another solid Top-10 run.  

Sleepers – Drivers with good history of intermediate oval racing & solid upside

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star hasn't been his usual dominant self on these intermediate ovals in 2022, but Truex has been consistent. He's racked up three Top 10's in the four events to-date for a strong 8.5 average finish. Truex will now set his sights on the oval at World Wide Technology Raceway. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has two Xfinity Series starts at WWTR in the distant past, but they netted two poles, one win and one subpar finish. However, those two events led to 157 laps led. It's all a setup for a potential good performance for Truex and his JGR team. His 12th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 this past Sunday was a bit subpar by Truex's standards. He should rebound nicely in the Enjoy Illinois 300. 

Kevin Harvick – Harvick's third-place finish this past Sunday at Charlotte has renewed hope that the No. 4 Ford team can get back on track on a weekly basis and smooth over some of the unevenness in Harvick's performance this season. The Stewart Haas Racing star earned his first Top 10 on these style tracks last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, so hope is returning. Harvick made three Camping World Truck Series starts at WWTR back several years ago, with his last coming in 2010. It resulted in a dominant victory from the pole, so it was a great "last look" at World Wide Technology Raceway. In addition, Harvick has two-career Xfinity Series wins at the Madison, Illinois oval back in the early 2000's. The improving No. 4 team and Harvick's extensive experience, albeit a bit dated, at this oval should be a good combo for the Cup Series debut at WWTR.

Kurt Busch – Busch was fast at Charlotte this past week, qualifying a strong second-place for the Coca-Cola 600. However, bad luck would get him rolled up in one of the many wrecks last Sunday night. We believe he had the speed to be a Top-5 contender in the Coca-Cola 600. Busch will look to hit the reset button at World Wide Technology Raceway this Sunday afternoon. The veteran 23XI Racing driver has just one start at WWTR, and it was a truck series race way back in 2000. That experience is likely a non-factor for this weekend. On the positive side of the ledger, we've seen him win at Kansas recently and crack the Top 5 at Atlanta. With 126 combined laps led on the cookie cutter ovals this season we believe Busch has some significant upside for the Enjoy Illinois 300.  

Tyler Reddick – Coming off a strong sixth-place finish last Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, Reddick has captured some momentum heading into WWTR. He's led a combined 48 laps on the intermediate ovals this season and boasts Top 10's at Las Vegas and more recently Charlotte. The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet has three-career truck series starts at this facility between 2014 and 2016. One of those efforts netted a Top 10. While not impressive numbers, those 469 laps in competition in this track will be an added bonus for Reddick this Sunday. The Richard Childress Racing youngster has been at his best this season on cookie cutter tracks.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet stumbled out of the gates this season, but Stenhouse has done a nice job gathering things up of late. He rides a four-race Top-10 streak into World Wide Technology Raceway, and has been one of the more consistent drivers of the last month. Most of that success has come on tracks such as Darlington, Kansas and Charlotte, so that's good news coming to WWTR. Stenhouse has three Xfinity Series starts in his distant past at this oval, with one Top-10 finish to his credit. While that's not eye-popping info, it does represent valuable experience. That experience is likely well more than nearly half the field this weekend.

Chase Briscoe – Briscoe may have signaled that he's ready to turn things up a notch in the wake of his brilliant fourth-place finish at Charlotte last weekend. It's been an uneven season for the No. 14 Ford team on these intermediate ovals, but that effort showed some signs of life for Briscoe. The young driver made one truck series start at this track in 2017 and it was a brilliant runner-up finish for Brad Keselowski Racing. He's too young to have had any Xfinity Series experience at this track, so that's the total of his WWTR resume. We have a distinct feeling that Briscoe is turning a bit of a corner coming out of Coca-Cola 600 weekend, and now is the time to invest in many fantasy racing shares.    

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Brad Keselowski – The transition from Penske to Roush has been a bumpy ride for Keselowski in 2022. We've seen the former champion fade to near irrelevance in some respects this season. Intermediate oval racing used to be one of his big trades, but not this year. With only two Top 15's in the four events to-date and a subpar 20.0 average finish across the four, Keselowski has been near-invisible in these races. With this past weekend at Charlotte yielding a poor qualifying effort, racing among the back markers and being collected in a multi-car crash, it's not a good look heading to World Wide Technology Raceway. Keselowski is a one-time Xfinity Series winner at this oval, but that won't likely help him this Sunday.

Joey Logano – Logano has experienced a real mixed bag for a season to this point. With one victory and six Top-10 finishes, there's plenty of positives to review. However, the No. 22 Ford team has not been quite up to norm on cookie cutter tracks. Logano has labored to just one Top-10 finish vs. three finishes outside the Top 10. The average finish on these style tracks in 2022 is coming in a somewhat disappointing 15.0. Most recently, Logano labored to an uncharacteristic 20th-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600. That's a track where he has a career average finish of 12.8. Despite Logano's lone Xfinity start at WWTR netting a runner-up finish in 2008, we have to assign a "fade" tag to Logano this week. 

Ryan Blaney – Despite Blaney's 28 laps led on the intermediate oval circuit in 2022, he hasn't had much luck finishing these races. With just one finish inside the Top 15 vs. two finishes outside the Top 25, his average finish in these mid-sized oval races is checking in at a disappointing 23.5. Blaney has just one NASCAR touring series start at World Wide Technology Raceway. It was a respectable seventh-place finish in the truck series in 2014. That limited exposure to this facility won't be much help for Blaney either. We believe the driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford is a driver to avoid in weekly lineup and salary cap based games this Sunday.

Aric Almirola –  Almirola has been a fantasy racing asset this season on the really big ovals and short tracks, but the intermediate ovals have been a real puzzle for the Stewart Haas Racing veteran. Finishes of sixth-, 22nd-, 26th- and 17th-place have been his body of work at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Kansas and Charlotte. Subpar qualifying at these ovals seems to be part of the problem for Almirola. He has some decent truck series stats at WWTR with three-for-three Top 10's between 2006 and 2010. That experience will help him to adjust to the oval this weekend. Still, we believe the current struggles of the No. 10 SHR team on cookie cutter ovals is really the overriding issue for this 300-mile race. The new Next-Gen car has just kept Almirola off balance on these style ovals.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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