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'It was just nuts here': NASCAR weekend proves again why St. Louis shines in big moments

"Cool to see that many people, and everyone staying right down to the end and having a great race like that... Pretty big day for St. Louis but also our sport."

ST. LOUIS — A decade ago, the grandstands at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois were nearly sold for scrap metal. On Sunday, the track hosted the biggest show in motorsports, with the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 on the NASCAR Cup Series. And thanks to a sold-out crowd and likely somewhere close to 80,000 people in attendance, St. Louis proved again why it knows what to do when a big sporting event comes to town.

Rehabbing the track to even be in a position to host an event of this magnitude was the task of owner Curtis Francois and his team.

RELATED: St. Louis NASCAR race will be full circle moment for man who redeveloped Gateway speedway

After it was all over on Sunday with Joey Logano celebrating in victory lane, Francois was soaking in a victory lap of his own.

"The emotion was just joy and gratitude. As you see fans enjoying themselves, families making memories, my staff and all the unbelievable hard work that's gone into this... And seeing it all come together. And for me absolutely feelings of gratitude towards all of those who have been pulling the rope with me for years to make this happen. It's a great win for the community, it's a great win obviously for the race track and I believe it's going to pay dividends for decades to come,” Francois said after the race.

Starting with Richard Petty Day on Friday, continuing with the truck race and qualifying on Saturday and then culminating with the big race on Sunday, St. Louis was the center of the racing world for one weekend in the sun.

And show up St. Louis did.

The passion from the fans was something Francois tried to warn NASCAR about when they decided to come to the gateway city.

"When I was talking to NASCAR and I said, 'Listen guys. You know you're coming to the best sports city in the country.' And they looked at me, and I said, 'No seriously. It is.' And the fans came like we expect them to in St. Louis for big events. St. Louis is very unique in that they support their own and once they understood what this was and what the size and scale of this event meant for the area they showed up and had a great time today,” Francois said.

But it didn’t take long for the visitors to take notice of how much St. Louis was ready for this moment.

"The fans were awesome. That was one of the biggest things I saw here. When you come to a new race track you hope that the impact we make in the city and also here at the race track and for the sport is as large as it was here,” Logano said. “Sold out crowd, it was just nuts here. Cool to see that many people, and everyone staying right down to the end and having a great race like that... Pretty big day for St. Louis but also our sport."

Driver Denny Hamlin had some high praise for the weekend as well, taking to Twitter to share his thoughts on NASCAR coming to St. Louis.

The Enjoy Illinois 300 is just the latest in a long line of big-time events where St. Louis has showcased how much passion for sports resides here. From the NHL All-Star Game, to the PGA Championship and Team USA Gymnastics Trials just to name a few recent examples, St. Louis sports fans have shown up, and shown out on a national stage.

And with a turn out and reviews like we saw from Sunday, it’s likely just the beginning of NASCAR bringing big events to our town.

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