Just when the Cup Series season was becoming clearer, the blue oval has dominated the weekend thus far at World Wide Technology Raceway. Ford drivers Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe have paced the field this weekend, with Briscoe winning his first career pole. In addition, all four Team Penske drivers — including Harrison Burton with the Wood Brothers — made the final round of qualifying. Ford is the clear-cut favorite entering Sunday’s 300-lap race.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Joey Logano
Starter 2: Chase Briscoe
Starter 3: Ryan Blaney
Starter 4: Christopher Bell
Starter 5: Ross Chastain
Garage pick: Tyler Reddick
NEXT IN LINE: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick.
RISING: In practice on Friday, Team Penske swept the top three spots. Ryan Blaney was quickest in the session until Joey Logano made a late run in qualifying trim. The No. 12 car has been sporty thus far, and many drivers have compared Gateway to Phoenix Raceway. Earlier this year, Blaney led a race-high 143 laps in the desert. The No. 12 team needs a good run, too, having not earned a top-10 finish in a points-paying race since Easter.
If you want to go out on a limb this weekend, Harrison Burton has been strong. It’s the first time he’s made it to the second round of qualifying in the Cup Series and was 12th quickest in practice. Burton has a couple of things going for him this weekend: He’s driving a blue oval and an affiliate teammate to Team Penske.
FALLING: For the first time this season not a single Hendrick Motorsports car made the second round of qualifying. Earlier this week, I said to stay away from Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott and save their starts for later in the regular season. With those drivers starting 15th and 16th, on top of William Byron and Alex Bowman lining up 24th and 25th, save all of the HMS drivers for a different weekend.
Of the 36 Cup drivers, Kevin Harvick is the only one to win at Gateway in both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Thus far, the No. 4 car has been a touch off, putting up the 20th quickest lap in qualifying. Methodically, Rodney Childers has worked on the No. 4 ride all season, and typically hits on it by the end of the race. However, Harvick is off my lineup for this weekend.
Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Larson: It seems like any other week this would be a tough matchup, especially now that Hamlin is putting together finishes. But this week, the No. 11 Toyota seems to be quite a bit better than the No. 5 Chevrolet. Sure, Cliff Daniels will likely make Larson better during the race, but the advantage goes to Hamlin.
William Byron vs. Ross Chastain: As noted above, Byron is in the falling category, and Chastain could have been placed on the rising list as he wasn’t in my lineup earlier this week. Chastain has been one of the two best Chevrolets this weekend, with the other one coming from Richard Childress Racing.
Christopher Bell vs. Alex Bowman: Bell is on the verge of winning a race this season, entering the weekend with four consecutive finishes of sixth or better. Bowman, part of the HMS quarter, has struggled too this weekend. Bell is the clear choice here, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him battling for the checkered flag.
Chase Briscoe vs. Tyler Reddick: Now we’re talking. Entering Sunday, this is the toughest matchup on the board, as both drivers have top-five starting spots. While Briscoe won at Phoenix earlier in the year, Reddick was close in trail and had a couple of shots on late restarts. This is a tossup, but given Ford’s dominance this weekend, the No. 14 team has the upper hand.