NASCAR Barometer:  Kyle Busch Takes Third Season Win at Gateway

NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Busch Takes Third Season Win at Gateway

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Neither lightning nor multiple late-race restarts could stop Kyle Busch from turning his pole position for Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway into his third race win of the 2023 season. The No. 8 machine was quickest in the field throughout the entire weekend, and Busch nearly swept the stage wins on his way to victory, too. The only real pressure he faced was the effort required to survive the many restarts, including one final overtime finish, that built up due to multiple stoppages in the final miles. Busch held strong with four fresh tires on the outside line each time, though, and comfortably pulled ahead the final two laps to claim victory. In its first two appearances on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, the unique Gateway oval has not failed to disappoint.

The teams and drivers face a long-haul outing to the west coast this coming week with Sonoma Raceway next on the schedule. The natural-terrain road course will be the second of six road course visits this season. Tyler Reddick won the last one at Circuit of the Americas, but it was Daniel Suarez who scored his first series win at this track last year. The challenging circuit in California's wine country requires settling into a rhythm and maximizing the car's handling through many off-camber turns and undulating elevation changes. Kyle Busch is a two-time winner at the track and will be seeking to become the just the second driver this season to score two

Neither lightning nor multiple late-race restarts could stop Kyle Busch from turning his pole position for Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway into his third race win of the 2023 season. The No. 8 machine was quickest in the field throughout the entire weekend, and Busch nearly swept the stage wins on his way to victory, too. The only real pressure he faced was the effort required to survive the many restarts, including one final overtime finish, that built up due to multiple stoppages in the final miles. Busch held strong with four fresh tires on the outside line each time, though, and comfortably pulled ahead the final two laps to claim victory. In its first two appearances on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, the unique Gateway oval has not failed to disappoint.

The teams and drivers face a long-haul outing to the west coast this coming week with Sonoma Raceway next on the schedule. The natural-terrain road course will be the second of six road course visits this season. Tyler Reddick won the last one at Circuit of the Americas, but it was Daniel Suarez who scored his first series win at this track last year. The challenging circuit in California's wine country requires settling into a rhythm and maximizing the car's handling through many off-camber turns and undulating elevation changes. Kyle Busch is a two-time winner at the track and will be seeking to become the just the second driver this season to score two wins in a row.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch - Busch dominated the first segment at Gateway after delivering a monster qualifying lap Saturday afternoon to earn the top starting spot and then being forced to wait out a lightning delay. His early-race speed did not dissipate as the race wore on either. Busch finished second in the second stage and then was at the front again in the final segment. He withstood the pressure of multiple late-race restarts, using the outside line each time to carry as much corner speed as possible, to capture his third checkered flag of the season. It was anything but a straightforward finish for the fastest car of the day, but the veteran leveraged every bit of his experience to execute each restart in the best possible way to keep the lead and capture the victory. The coming trip to Sonoma could be a good one for him, too. Busch has two Sonoma wins with the most recent coming in 2015. 

Ryan Blaney – The speed that carried Blaney to Victory Lane a week ago at Charlotte was present for him again at Gateway. The Team Penske driver started Sunday's race alongside Kyle Busch on the front row and then held off Busch to win the race's second stage. The race's late restarts caused him to slip back just a little as multiple drivers battled for the top spots, but he walked away with a valuable sixth-place finish and the confidence of knowing that the prior week's victory was no fluke. The top-10 was his ninth of the season, and the only driver level with him on that total is William Byron. While Blaney does not have a win at Sonoma, he has been quite good on the road course. He finished in the top 10 four out of six times and has an average finish of 14.2. He finished last year's race in sixth, which was his third consecutive top-10 finish at the track.

Kyle Larson – The No. 5 team's effort at Gateway was another championship-like performance. At the start of the race Larson struggled with handling and did not have the pace to compete much higher than the top 20. The team made multiple adjustments to give Larson what he needed and coupled that with quick pit work to gain track position through the second stage. By the end of that segment Larson had fought his way up to the top 10 and grabbed a stage point for his effort. Late in the race the team opted for a two-tire stop to put Larson in touch with the leader, giving him a chance to race for the win. Larson distinguished himself with just two fresh tires throughout the multiple late-race restarts, battling hard for the lead. Those at the front who had four new tires ultimately pushed him back to fourth at the finish, but that was enough to give him his third top-five from the last five races including the All-Star Race win. 

William Byron - Byron continues to make a strong case as one of the favorites to be among the championship four in the season finale. He was the first driver to reach three victories this season and hasn't missed finishing in the top 10 (besides the All-Star Race) since mid-April. The Hendrick Motorsports driver and team had another standout race Sunday, too. The No. 24 car came to life after the team earned Byron some positive track position, which enabled him to lead 30 laps and consolidate a position inside the top 10. Stage points in both segments combined with Sunday's eighth-place finish will continue to support his efforts to get a top seed in the playoffs to help ensure advancing as far as possible. It is a methodical approach that will pay dividends later. In four previous starts at Sonoma, Byron has one top-10, his ninth-place finish last season when he started back in the 20th position.

DOWNGRADE

Bubba Wallace - Crashing out late in Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300 brought Wallace's run of top-five finishes to a screeching halt. Circumstances weren't shaping up terribly for the No. 23 despite missing out on stage points in the first two segments. Quick pit work and chassis adjustments had Wallace moving into a decent finishing position before a failed brake rotor took him out of action like several others. Wallace's 30th-place finish was his worst result since Talladega and his first outside of the top 30 since March. He still holds down a playoff position by virtue of his points, but additional winners could quickly push him out of the top 16 if he doesn't find a win himself. Sonoma may also prove to be difficult for him. His best finish from four starts at the track is 14th in 2021. He retired from last year's race with an engine issue.

Brad Keselowski - Engine gremlins struck down Keselowski early Sunday, which was a disappointment considering the competitiveness he and the team had been showing recently. He had been on a run of finishes no lower than 20th stretching all the way back to Martinsville but found himself down two laps to the leaders before the finish of Sunday's second stage. The team checked the engine and replaced sparkplugs, but they were unable to resolve the issue and sent Keselowski back on track to just make as many laps as possible. The many late cautions enabled him to pick up some extra ground, too. The former champion is still searching for his first points win with his new team as a partial owner. He has never won at Sonoma, but his best finish there is third. He finished 10th in last year's race and led three laps. His average finish from 12 track starts is 16.1.

Chase Briscoe - The front of Briscoe's No. 14 machine ingested a chunk of Carson Hocevar's blown brake rotor sending Briscoe to the garage for significant repairs on his damaged radiator. As severe as that incident was, it was not the most severe of the week for he and the team. Earlier in the week NASCAR assessed the No. 14 team a massive 120-point penalty, suspended crew chief John Klausmeier, and fined him $250,000 for racing that event with a counterfeit part underneath the car. It was a massive penalty, one of the biggest in NASCAR's history, and it means even if Briscoe were to win and secure a playoff position, he would likely have to win a race in each round in order to advance. While Briscoe and the team haven't been as competitive as they would have liked this season, it remains a tough pill to swallow knowing their season hopes are effectively over before the season's halfway mark.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick's spin on the second lap of Sunday's race was the last action before lightning delayed proceedings for nearly two hours. When the racing got back underway Reddick seemingly had recovered and was making his way back through the field. By the end of the second stage he was back in contention and establishing himself among the top runners. However, like several others before him, a brake rotor failure sent him careening into the outside wall and out of the race a mere 30 laps later. The momentum that was starting to build with consecutive top-five finishes, starting with the All-Star Race, was swept away in an instant. The good news for the No. 45 team is that they still have their win from the Circuit of the Americas keeping them in the playoffs, and this coming week's race is another road course. Reddick has made himself a driver to beat on the road courses, but his best Sonoma finish is just 19th.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Sunday's race was shaping up to be another above-average drive from Stenhouse as he and the team work to build their arsenal for the playoffs. Stenhouse spent much of the day running in the top 10 after qualifying 12th, and it looked for much of the afternoon that he would be able to score back to back top-10 finishes for the first time this season after his seventh-place run at Charlotte. He picked up stage points in the second segment, but was a victim of one of the many late restarts as Austin Dillon and Austin Cindric collided with Dillon's car pinning Stenhouse hard against the outside wall, forcing him out of the race with the damage. It was an unlucky exit instead what could have been another outperformance. Stenhouse has the lowest points tally of the 2023 race winners and has time to improve before the playoffs get underway. Bad luck like Sunday's will give them some extra challenges to overcome, though.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ross Chastain - After an enviable start to the 2023 season Chastain and team find themselves behind the ball heading to Sonoma. He sits 12th in the standings but lacks a win and hasn't finished in the top 20 in the last three points races. The team is in their biggest slump of the season so far, and Gateway should have been a place to end it. Chastain was able to squeeze out a few stage points in each segment but failed to make a lasting impact in the top 10, ending the race in 22nd position. Just as Gateway was, Sonoma should be a chance for Chastain to turn things around. However, three straight races scrapping for the top 20 has fantasy players carefully considering how reliable of an option he may be. A return to the top 10 this coming week would be the goal, but at the moment that would have to come against his current run of form.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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