Fantasy Update: Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney remain solid 1-2 punch at Gateway

Kyle Busch drives at World Wide Technology Raceway
Jonathan Bachman
Getty Images

Hate to say that I told you so, but I noted in Fastlane this week to keep an eye on Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney. Heck, their names were in the headline itself! Both drivers and teams had about as good of a start to the weekend as one can have on Saturday, taking the front row for the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter. For Busch, it’s his first pole award with Richard Childress Racing – and his first pole since the penultimate race of the 2019 season.

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Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:

Starter 1: Ryan Blaney
Starter 2: Kyle Busch
Starter 3: Martin Truex Jr.
Starter 4: Denny Hamlin
Starter 5: Joey Logano
Garage pick: Kevin Harvick

NEXT IN LINE: Ross Chastain, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick

RISING: In the nine races since winning at Atlanta, Logano has plummeted from being the regular-season championship leader to 14th in the championship standings. Consider Gateway a refresh, as that’s what the No. 22 team did last season en route to winning its second race of the 2022 season. We all know how last year ended – Logano celebrating as a two-time Cup champion. With Team Penske putting all three of its cars in the top 10 in qualifying, this would be a nice start for Logano in your lineup.

It might have gotten overlooked last year at Gateway because Michael McDowell dropped to 18th in the finishing order, but he led a career-high 34 laps in the inaugural race at the 1.25-mile track last year. In practice on Saturday, the No. 34 Ford was fourth in single-lap speed and ranked behind only Hamlin on 10-lap averages. If you want to pick someone that enjoys flying under the radar, here’s your chance.

FALLING: During the opening minutes of practice, Brad Keselowski shredded a left-rear tire. He was astonished by the cut tire, believing the No. 6 team was conservative on its air pressure to begin the session. And while the 2012 Cup champion is superb on tracks with layouts like Gateway, it’s a cause for concern that he didn’t make a 10-lap run and starts 19th.

Gateway could be a dream weekend for Corey LaJoie, as he’s getting to drive in place of a suspended Chase Elliott. But Saturday was anything but perfect for LaJoie, as the No. 9 Chevrolet was 30th in practice and slapped the wall during his qualifying run. It’s not fair to consider one weekend the end all, be all for a driver with the opportunity that LaJoie has this weekend, but there’s only one way to go from Saturday for the No. 9 team.

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Ryan Blaney vs. Tyler Reddick: Thinking both drivers will be in the running for a competitive finish on Sunday, but Blaney has a terrific shot at winning consecutive races for the first time in his career. Team Penske has proven to be the team to beat at Gateway, which could continue Sunday.

Aric Almirola vs. Bubba Wallace: Given Almirola ranked ahead of Wallace in both single-lap and 10-lap averages, it’s not farfetched to think he could have a better finish than the No. 23 car. Almirola also rounded out the top five in the first Gateway race and is stupendous at tracks like it. But the race craft and speed Wallace has built over the last month have been impressive, so I’ll stick with the No. 23 team.

Ty Gibbs vs. Austin Cindric: Flat out, Gibbs has had more bright spots than Cindric in 2023. Some of that is because rookie drivers don’t typically have as much pace as Gibbs has displayed this season. However, Cindric led 26 laps at Gateway last season and finished 11th. This could be a breakout race for the No. 2 team, before going to a string of road courses over the next two months.

Brad Keselowski vs. Chris Buescher: Though Keselowski dropped off my lineup, he still has the upper hand on Buescher, who turned his first laps in a Cup car at Gateway on Saturday. The No. 17 car ranked 12th in practice and qualified 27th. Both of RFK Racing’s cars seem to make steady gains on their respective cars during each race, but Keselowski is the choice.