NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before Gateway

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken’s picks to watch before this weekend’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, with one additional special suggestion due to the NASCAR Cup Series only racing at the track two times.

2022 Enjoy Illinois 300:

The Cup Series made its debut at WWT Raceway in June 2022. The Xfinity Series raced at the track from 1997 to 2010, with Elliott Sadler capturing the inaugural race there in 1997. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick each won back-to-back races at the track following Sadler’s triumph. The Truck Series made its debut at the track in 1998 in a race won by Rick Carelli. The Truck Series has raced one time at the track nearly every season from 1998 to the present day.

Fast forward to the inaugural Cup Series event at the track in 2022, and it didn’t disappoint.

A packed grandstand saw a thriller as Kevin Harvick’s brake rotor failure sent him into the wall with fewer than five laps remaining, setting up an overtime finish.

Race leader Kyle Busch chose the outside lane on the restart, with Joey Logano below him. When the green flag dropped for the final time, Logano took control of the lead and held on to capture his second victory of the season and the 29th of his Cup Series career.

Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

2023 Enjoy Illinois 300:

Another classic finish occurred in the Cup Series’ second visit to the track as the fans saw five restarts over the final 40 laps of the race. Kyle Busch, who was the fastest car in qualifying, survived the chaos and beat Denny Hamlin to the line by 0.517 seconds for the victory.

It was the 63rd Cup win of Busch’s career and the third over the first 15 races of the 2023 season.

Busch’s victory was extra special for his crew chief, Randall Burnett, who was born in Fenton, Missouri. He had family in attendance for the win, which was the sixth of his Cup Series career.

Ryan Blaney led 83 laps, the second most on the day behind Busch’s 121, finished sixth and left the track with a 14-point advantage over William Byron in the season standings.

Kyle Busch hoists the trophy and celebrates in Victory Lane at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Kyle Busch hoists the trophy and celebrates in Victory Lane at World Wide Technology Raceway.

1953 Langhorne:

Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania was a 1-mile circuit on the Cup Series schedule from 1949 to 1957. The May 1953 edition of the race at the track, also known as the “Great Left Turn,” saw 35 competitors draw names out of a hat for qualifying positions after rain washed away qualifying.

Buck Baker, a former Charlotte, North Carolina bus driver, was relegated to a 25th-place starting effort after an unlucky draw. The pole position went to Tim Flock’s No. 91 Hudson.

The pole winner led early, but engine issues took power away from Flock, and he finished fifth.

Baker quickly made his way through the field to the point where it looked like Baker and Lee Petty were the two cars to beat. Baker was out front for 28 laps as they raced past the halfway point. He came in to pit, which allowed Petty to pace the field once again.

It took Baker 26 laps to catch Petty, but he held on for the final 14 laps for the win. Petty finished second, followed by Fonty Flock, Harold Buchanan and Tim Flock.

This race is currently the fifth oldest race in the NASCAR Classics Library.

Buck Baker poses for a photo.
Buck Baker poses for a photo.