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June 3, 2024

Three Up, Three Down: Drivers in focus leaving Gateway

Late-race fireworks at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway illuminated a new 2024 race winner to the NASCAR Cup Series fold as the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Austin Cindric bypassed teammate Ryan Blaney after the No. 12 ran out of fuel on the final lap.

With his WWT Raceway victory, Austin Cindric not only captured his first Cup win since his memorable Daytona 500 triumph in 2022 but also added even more intrigue to the postseason picture. Following the No. 2’s victory in the Midwest, nine Cup drivers have now won at least one contest this season.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Gateway, Portland

With Sunday’s St. Louis show in the books, here are three drivers with rising stock and three more in need of a swift rebound as the schedule next heads to the winding roads of Sonoma Raceway this Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).


1. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Austin Dillon races at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 18th

Finished: 6th

What happened: It was a slow brew for the 34-year-old North Carolina native, who finished Stage 1 in an uneventful 28th. However, tides began to turn following the stage conclusion as the No. 3 was one of six cars to stay out during a usual pit-stop visit. From then on, it was relatively smooth sailing for Dillon, who finished Stage 2 in ninth and rounded out the day with an even stronger sixth-place result. Sometimes, all it takes is a little risk and patience, and in the case of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 machine, the end result was a much-needed top 10, his second of the year and first since Texas Motor Speedway in April.

What’s next: Dillon and his No. 3 team next trek to Sonoma, where there will be work to do; in nine career Cup starts at the California road course, Dillon has zero top 10s and has yet to lead a lap. However, Dillon did finish a career-best 11th at the track in 2022 during the inaugural year of the Next Gen car, so perhaps momentum can be built on that front. Momentum is certainly on the team’s side right now, so anything can happen.

2. Carson Hocevar, No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet

Carson Hocevar races at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 20th

Finished: 8th

What happened: For a Cup Series rookie still learning the ropes, it was what you could call a banner day for Spire Motorsports’ Hocevar, who capitalized on patience and just enough speed to reel in a well-earned top 10 for his personal best Cup Series finish. The No. 77 Chevrolet jumped 12 positions from Stage 1 to finish Stage 2 in eighth and maintained that spot at the finish. Not too shabby for a 21-year-old youngster grinding his way through his first full-time Cup campaign.

What’s next: Although Sonoma will be a new track for him in terms of racing in the Cup Series, Hocevar does have experience there in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he started on the pole and finished sixth in June 2022. He did not lead any laps during that contest, but the ability to run near the front of the field could be the experience to lean on this time around in a Cup car.

3. Justin Haley, No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford

Justin Haley races at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 21st

Finished: 9th

What happened: Haley’s 28 points from the top-10 effort might not be the most when compared to other drivers who finished ahead and behind him, but make no mistake — the Rick Ware Racing camp will take what it can get, and a ninth-place triumph is definitely one to be satisfied with. Momentum really began to shift in the team’s favor during the contest’s final stage, where the Ford found increasing speed and steadying pace as the laps waned. And although the No. 51 ran out of fuel at the line, the end result was still a well-deserved top 10, his second in the last three races.

What’s next: Haley’s experience at Sonoma solely comes from the Cup Series, spanning three races total (2019, 2022, 2023). His best finish of the bunch came in 2022 when the Indiana native finished 12th as pilot of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.


1. Kyle Busch, No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Kyle Busch heads toward pit road following damage at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 10th

Finished: 35th

What happened: On paper, this looked like just the venue to get Busch and the No. 8 team back on track. And after beginning Stage 2 on the front row, it seemed as though Rowdy and Co. were on the right path to repeat last year’s win. Instead, a last-lap wreck with Kyle Larson at the conclusion of Stage 2 relegated the No. 8 to its first DNF of the season. What looked to be just the race to cash in on a plethora of points instead resulted in a next-to-last finish and only two points to show for it all at the St. Louis venue.

What’s next: Luckily for Busch, Sonoma offers an opportunity for a quick rebound. After all, in 18 career Cup starts at the California road course, Busch possesses two wins, seven top fives and nine top 10s to go along with 132 laps led. Busch has finished inside the top 10 in seven of the last eight Cup contests there, dating back to 2015. Will Sonoma be the place where Busch collects a 2024 dub?

2. Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Martin Truex Jr. looks on at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 19th

Finished: 34th

What happened: It was a forgetful weekend for the No. 19 team from the jump. The 10th-best time during Saturday’s final practice session couldn’t be built upon, and a mediocre qualifying run continued the theme. During Sunday’s contest, Truex remained at the back of the field and struggled to remain on the lead lap, even falling behind several laps due to a flat left-rear tire in Stage 2. In the end, a bottom-three finish has the No. 19 on its way back to the drawing board as Truex and Co. vie for consistent speed and steady pace.

What’s next: Sonoma should definitely perk the ears of the No. 19 camp as Truex is the defending winner at the track, leading 51 of 110 laps during the 2023 running. In total, Truex has four Cup victories at Sonoma, with three of those four coming in the last five years (2018, 2019, 2023). If any track can get the sour St. Louis taste out of the No. 19 team’s mouth, it’s the one in wine country.

3. Michael McDowell, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford

Michael McDowell looks on at WWT Raceway.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 1st

Finished: 25th

What happened: The No. 34 maintained an up-front presence early and often during the opening portion of St. Louis battle, finishing Stage 1 in second. Unfortunately for the McDowell-led team, the No. 34 couldn’t capitalize on restarts and remained muddled in the middle portion of the race pack. Pit-road action — and having the top pit stall in the field — couldn’t make up the difference, either. In the end, an opportunity to capitalize on clean air fell to the wayside, and the team will now look elsewhere to find win No. 1 of 2024.

What’s next: Speaking of looking elsewhere, hello Sonoma. On paper, McDowell’s numbers at Sonoma might not be the peachiest — the 39-year-old only has two top 10s in 11 Cup starts there. However, each of those top-10 finishes has come in his last two races at the track for the road ace. The Next Gen era has been kind to McDowell at Sonoma, and perhaps the 2023 Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course winner will translate his road-course success to a similar left-and-right-turning venue.