Beneath the glow of the Olympic cauldron ablaze in the east and the sun setting in the west, Kyle Busch set the quick time in qualifying on Saturday for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The thing is, while he was P1 out of the 36 qualifiers, it didn’t necessarily net him the pole for the main even on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). He still had to race in his heat race under the bright blue California skies on Sunday afternoon instead.
The top four qualifiers from Saturday night (Busch, Tyler Reddick, Justin Haley and Joey Logano) each did get to start on the pole for the four 25 lap heat races though as a reward for their qualifying performances. That proved beneficial. Each driver led every single lap in their heat to advance to the 150 Lap A-Main later on today.
By virtue of doing so, Busch will start on the pole in his No. 18 Toyota with Reddick alongside in his No. 8 Chevrolet. Haley and Logano will share Row 2 while Daniel Suarez rounded out the top five in the starting lineup in his No. 99 Chevrolet.
The first three races were pretty tame in nature while the fourth race was a little more wild. We saw the only two cautions in the heat race when Ty Dillon put fluid on the track on Lap 6. The other caution came from contact via Kurt Busch, Landon Cassill and Austin Cindric on Lap 9.
Still, what’s wild was, the fifth place starter in all four heats finished fifth and earned front row starting spots for the two 50 Lap Last Chance Qualifiers.
Also, 2 of the 4 heats saw the entire top four of the starting lineup advance while the second heat saw starters seventh and sixth advance on.
The biggest movers in the heats were Austin Dillon who started sixth and finished third in the second heat and Chase Briscoe who started seventh in the same heat and by the end of the opening lap was fourth. By Lap 8, he was up to second, the spot where he’d finish which transferred him to the A-Main. The Indiana native will start 6th in the A-Main.
Cole Custer started on the outside of the front row in that second heat and fell quickly to sixth but steadily moved his way back up to take the final transfer spot.
Speaking of that, the outside starting spots are treacherous. The low line has such an advantage that you have to find your way back to the bottom quickly or risk losing several spots. It happened to Custer as well as Chase Elliott too who went from second to fourth in the third heat. Kyle Larson had that happen in the fourth heat as Michael McDowell got him for second on the Lap 11 restart, but Larson got back by three laps later once the field got strung out a bit.
At the end of the four heats, we saw seven different teams represented in the top seven of the starting lineup (JGR, RCR, Kaulig, Penske, Trackhouse, SHR and HMS). In fact, 10 different teams took the first 16 guaranteed spots if you throw in Front Row Motorsports, Petty GMS Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing.
That left some big names on the outside looking in for the pair of 50 lap LCQ’s. Four past champions weren’t locked in with Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch still having to race their ways in.
There was a catch though. Among the seven spots left to the main event, the 23rd and final one goes to the top finisher in the 2021 points not already locked in. With Larson winning the title over Truex Jr. last year and he locking himself in via the fourth and final heat, Truex elected to forego his starting spot in the second LCQ and to take the final spot.
He was starting fifth and didn’t feel it was worth the risk to get up to third and potentially wreck his race car so he sat the race out and advances on.
In the first LCQ, we saw the first big crash of the weekend when Todd Gilliland hooked Aric Almirola entering Turn 3 on Lap 4. That ended the day for Almirola. Also, BJ McLeod called it a day early too meaning we had eight cars for three spots over the final 40+ laps.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole and led all 50 laps to take in one of the three spots in his No. 11 Toyota. Kevin Harvick quickly drove to second from his fourth starting spot to finish there in his No. 4 Ford while AJ Allmendinger passed Ross Chastain with 18 laps remaining to take the third and final spot in LCQ #1 to advance to the main event.
The second and final LCQ was definitely the most action packed race of the day so far. We saw a plethora of cautions, 7 in general, and even the first lead change too when Alex Bowman passed pole sitter Bubba Wallace on Lap 26. Wallace, got Bowman back on Lap 28 when they’d run side-by-side before Wallace’s 23XI Racing teammate of Kurt Busch passed them both on Lap 30.
The caution shortly came out after for Austin Cindric, Landon Cassill and Ryan Preece on Lap 32. Then, nine laps later, Ty Dillon got into Brad Keselowski and Cassill to bring out the third yellow. On the restart, another caution came for Cindric and Dillon again.
On Lap 42, Wallace got back by Busch and he was put in a bad position when he got shoved into the wall on Lap 45. Just prior to that, Harrison Burton got by Wallace for the lead too.
On the ensuing restart, more chaos happened with a big pileup between Wallace, Cindric, Preece and Alex Bowman brought out the sixth yellow.
Afterwards, we’d see just seven cars running for a five lap shootout. A few laps into it, Preece, who was running third, shoved second place Dillon into leader Burton. That caused Burton to spin and go from the lead to seventh.
Dillon took over the lead again with Wallace, Preece, Cindric, Keselowski, Cassill and Burton behind for the final three laps. He’d hold everyone off with Preece coming home second and Wallace in third to take the final three spots into the Big Show.
But, not long after, NASCAR issued a penalty to Dillon for jumping the final restart and taking the win away from him. That’s the second time he was penalized for jumping a start. He was also involved in 5 of the 7 cautions too as without Dillon, the race may not have been as chaotic.
In turn, Preece moved into the win, Wallace in second and now Burton back to third.
- The pole winner in all four heats and the first of 2 LCQ’s led every lap.
- We didn’t see the first lead change until Lap 26 of the 2nd LCQ
- The only cautions came in the final heat race as well as the final LCQ
- The outside starting spot on the front row is at a disadvantage. Just once in the six combined heats and LCQ’s did the second place starter finish second.
- Starting spots of cars that advanced
- 1-2-3-4 (Heat 1)
- 1-7-6-2 (Heat 2)
- 1-3-4-2 (Heat 3)
- 1-2-3-6 (Heat 4)
- 1-4-2 (LCQ 1)
- 4-1-7 (LCQ 2)
- Parity is high. 13 different teams make up the main event including 7 different teams in the top 7 of the starting lineup.
- Surprisingly off weekend from Brad Keselowski. He was only 34th in practice, 30th in qualifying, last in his Heat Race (9th) and 5th in the LCQ.
- Same for Corey LaJoie. He expected to be strong this weekend but was anything but. LaJoie, was 14th in practice, 31st in qualifying, last in his heat race (9th) and 7th in the LCQ.
- 2 past champions (Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski) as well as a playoff driver last year in Alex Bowman lead a grouping of 13 drivers that failed to advance to the A-Main.
Busch Light Clash Starting Lineup:
Row 1: Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick
Row 2: Justin Haley, Joey Logano
Row 3: Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe
Row 4: William Byron, Kyle Larson
Row 5: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon
Row 6: Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell
Row 7: Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer
Row 8: Chase Elliott, Erik Jones
Row 9: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Preece
Row 10: Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace
Row 11: AJ Allmendinger, Harrison Burton
Row 12: Martin Truex Jr.