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Whether in Darlington or North Wilkesboro or Charlotte, the NASCAR Cup Series spent much of the Month of May hanging around its hub of the Carolinas and racing on some of its oldest and fondest speedways. But as the Month of June arrives, it's now time for the sport to head west, starting this week in the very city where America's Manifest Destiny begins.

The Gateway to the west is the site of World Wide Technology Raceway, the site of this weekend's Enjoy Illinois 300 in the greater St. Louis area. Long a fixture of the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series schedules, Gateway was finally added to the Cup schedule beginning in 2022 and has seen two former Cup champions visit Victory Lane. Joey Logano won the track's inaugural Cup race two years ago, while Kyle Busch took the checkered flag last year and enters this race as its reigning champion.

Both now enter this race on long winless streaks, and both are looking to both end that streak and solidify their playoff spots as the battle for playoff positions comes more into focus entering the summer months.

How to watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Gateway

Date: Sunday, Jun. 2
Location: World Wide Technology Raceway -- Madison, Ill.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Stream: fubo (try for free)

What to watch

At this time last week, the Coca-Cola 600 was thought to be all about Kyle Larson and how he would fare as the fifth driver in history to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coke 600 on the same day. Now, the question is exactly how Larson will respond after his bid at the Indy-Charlotte Double turned into a complete failure beyond anyone's imagination.

A dark cloud seemingly followed Larson anywhere he went on race day, as a four-hour rain delay kept the Indy 500 from starting on time and prevented him from making it to Charlotte Motor Speedway before the Coke 600 began. Larson finished 18th at Indianapolis -- good enough to earn Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors -- but he arrived in Charlotte at the same time as a race-ending storm that prevented him from ever getting in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Justin Allgaier drove Larson's car to a 13th-place finish in his stead.

Larson was clearly devastated after the fact, speaking to no media save for a 30-second walk-and-talk with Fox Sports. He later spoke to NBC Sports at the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration, confessing that he did not enjoy race day and that he was racked with guilt over how the situation ended up unfolding.

"I don't know if I ever quite fully got in the correct mindset," Larson said. "I feel like I had a lot of weight on me and a lot of guilt of not being able to be in two places at one time. I just was never in the right mindset. I didn't enjoy anything about yesterday."

Larson compartmentalizing his busy racing schedule and reconciling it with his obligations in NASCAR is nothing new, but the crushing disappointment of his Indy-Charlotte Double attempt ending in failure -- combined with this week being dominated by discussion and debate over whether he should get a playoff waiver after missing a race -- presents a major distraction to him and his team. At least in the short-term, a positive on-track response by Larson this week is important to keep last week's disappointment from turning into something that lingers and inhibits his pursuit of another Cup championship.

In two starts at Gateway so far, Larson has finishes of 12th in 2022 and fourth a year ago.

News of the week

  • After weeks of talks that such news could be coming, the demise of Stewart-Haas Racing became official Tuesday when Tony Stewart and Gene Haas announced they would shut their team down at the end of the 2024 season. The team's four Cup charters will be up for sale, and their four drivers -- Josh Berry, Noah Gragson, Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece -- among other personnel are now all free agents for next season.
  • Following the announcement of SHR's shutdown, Front Row Motorsports announced its plans to expand from two to three cars for the 2025 season, following reports that the team was one of the parties looking to purchase a charter from SHR. Front Row has run a third part-time car, the No. 36, since 2020 after last running three full-time cars in 2019.
  • In the Xfinity Series, NASCAR issued a 25-point penalty to Austin Hill and fined him $25,000 for an incident in last Saturday's race at Charlotte in which he was deemed to have violated the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct. Hill retaliated against Cole Custer after the two were involved in an incident in Turns 1 and 2, ramming into the back of Custer and spinning his car out as the two drove down the back straightaway.
  • Former NASCAR Cup Series star Clint Bowyer will make his return to racing next month, coming out of retirement to drive the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway. It will mark Bowyer's first start in any of NASCAR's national touring series since he stepped away at the end of the 2020 season to take a broadcasting job with Fox Sports, and it will also mark his first Truck Series start since Kansas in 2016.
  • Beard Motorsports announced Thursday that NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Parker Retzlaff will make his Cup Series debut behind the wheel of their No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona in August. Retzlaff has raced full-time in the Xfinity Series for Jordan Anderson Racing since the start of the 2023 season and has a best finish of third in this year's season opener at Daytona.

Pick to win

Brad Keselowski (+1200) -- Even with Keselowski's Cup results at Gateway being a little lacking -- he ran 20th in 2022 and 29th last year -- it certainly helps that he's had past success here in Xfinity Series competition, winning in the fall of 2010. It also helps that Keselowski has finished either first or second two races in a row, and that RFK Racing has seen at least one of their drivers finish either first or second in five of the last six races. Keselowski is the hot hand right now, and I expect him to stay hot as the summer months begin.