Gateway prepares for NASCAR return in 2014

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With the Camping World Truck Series heading for Gateway Motorsports Park next season, NASCAR racing will be back in the St. Louis region, which spawned the likes of the Wallace brothers (Rusty, Kenny, and Mike) and Ken Schrader.

A successful event could put Gateway on the list to “move up” and eventually re-gain its spot on the Nationwide Series calendar, which it held from 1997 to 2010 (the last year seeing two NNS races at the track) before it was shut down by former owner Dover Motorsports. But first thing’s first.

“We are re-introducing stock car racing to the area,” NASCAR vice president of racing operations Jim Cassidy told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend. “The first step in doing that is bringing back the trucks and making it the biggest and best event we can.”

Now under the care of Curtis Francois, Gateway has been growing over the last year thanks to Francois’ renovations to the tune of $11.5 million. He entered a lease for the track in 2011 and then bought it outright this past spring.

Since taking control of Gateway, Francois has lured back the NHRA and now has been able to do the same with NASCAR. He told the Post-Dispatch that he expects the local community to support the CWTS event and “a new Gateway.”

“The fans in our region deserve great racing and the NASCAR truck series brings great racing,” Francois said. “We’re doing everything at the track to make it relevant in updating the facilities and to provide a great fan experience.

“…We’re certainly talking to a lot of [local business] people this year that we weren’t talking to last year. I do believe that the reason is they can see and feel the energy that’s at the track. We’re getting great feedback from the business leaders.”

Tickets for the Gateway 250 on June 14, 2014 go on sale this Friday.

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.