Fantasy Update: Saving Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell for later in the playoffs

Brad Keselowski drives at Bristol
Meg Oliphant
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By using the trio of Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell in each of the opening two playoff races, it’s put me in a little bit of a bind this weekend at Bristol. All three were lightning quick with the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates sweeping the front row. Larson was quickest in practice, but he got loose in qualifying and will start from the rear. My suggestion is, if you’ve used any of these drivers twice, steer clear of them for Bristol even while knowing they could have a great performance. Just trying to think ahead with limited uses remaining for all three.

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Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:

Starter 1: Brad Keselowski
Starter 2: William Byron
Starter 3: Chase Elliott
Starter 4: Kyle Busch
Starter 5: Chris Buescher
Garage pick: Martin Truex Jr.

NEXT IN LINE: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs.

RISING: For all the talk of how much Martin Truex Jr. has struggled over the last decade at Bristol, he wheeled his No. 19 Toyota on Friday. There was nothing flashy about the 2017 champion in practice, but the James Small-led team found pace in qualifying and will start fifth. Knowing Truex has to show up and perform, I’ve moved him into my garage.

It feels like it has been abruptly overlooked at how solid Byron has been over the last two Bristol races. He’s scored stage points in all four stages and has consecutive third-place finishes. After his – you guessed it – third-place qualifying run, Byron said he felt great about the race pace in his car and had a boatload of confidence.

FALLING: This is going to sound contradictory, but bear with me. Larson might have the quickest car in northeastern Tennessee this weekend (he paced the field on single-lap speed in practice). Unfortunately for the No. 5 team, he got loose on both of his qualifying laps and was the slowest car in qualifying. Clean air is important at Bristol, so it might be challenging to pass during the race and could cause him to miss out on stage points. If that happens, it might be a wasted use.

Might as well throw Joey Logano into the same category. The two-time Cup champion typically runs well at Bristol, but like the rest of the 2023 season, the No. 22 team was just middle of the road in practice. Qualifying was worse, as he ranked 28th. It’s going to be an uphill fight for Logano, and he’s dropped from my lineup this weekend.


Martin Truex Jr. vs. Kevin Harvick

This is been the biggest flip from earlier in the week. Harvick was in my lineup; now Truex is. It’s hard to imagine the regular season champion missing the Round of 12 entirely, but we are 500 laps away from that possibility. Advantage goes to Truex on Friday, as he outran all bubble drivers besides Bell. Harvick was 27th on the long run. Granted, who am I to go against the No. 4 team.

Bubba Wallace vs. Joey Logano

Bristol has often served as a true wild card where anything can happen. That might need to be the case if Logano is to outrun Wallace this weekend. On paper, Logano has every statistical advantage. But the Toyotas showed up in qualifying, putting five of its six entries into the final round. Wallace shattered his best qualifying effort at Bristol and will start ninth (his previous best was 14th).

Chris Buescher vs. Christopher Bell

At this point, does Bell even want to start from the pole position? It didn’t bode well for him at either Darlington or Kansas to start the Round of 16 with multiple miscues on pit road. Buescher messed up in qualifying and turned just the 20th-best speed. Bell might be the hedge here, but I’m sticking with Buescher, despite Toyota lighting up the leaderboard in qualifying.

Ryan Blaney vs. Kyle Busch

Blaney is the only Team Penske car to crack the top 25 in qualifying. He even outqualified Busch, who arguably fills a spot on the Mount Rushmore of drivers at Bristol. Still, Busch is the choice here, as the No. 8 Chevrolet was better than Blaney on long-run averages.