The shortest offseason has concluded with the NASCAR Cup Series back in action on Saturday from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Martin Truex Jr. set the early pace in opening practice for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fastest in both the opening practices, setting a fastest lap of 67.360 mph on the quarter-mile track.
Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace, who drives the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, was second fastest followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 Ford. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet and Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford rounded out the top five in practice.
Ty Gibbs’ No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was sixth fastest before the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate had to park and make a quick exit as smoke poured out of his car. Gibbs was fine, the car taken to the garage and the team was able to make repairs so Gibbs could use it in qualifying later Saturday night.
“We have a very fast Monster Energy Toyota TRD and I’m very excited to be to here in L.A.,” Gibbs said. “The track is really cool. I feel like we have a lot of speed. Definitely sucks catching on fire but that’s part of it.”
Briscoe, who was also fast Saturday, but had an incident with the wall between Turns 3 and 4 in the final practice session. While racing hard alongside A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet for several laps, the two cars touched multiple times before Allmendinger nudged Briscoe’s No. 14 SHR Ford into the wall. There wasn’t any major damage and both cars continued.
All but one car among the 36 entered this weekend turned practice laps faster than the pole-winning speed in 2022.
Defending winner Logano was only 21st quickest in practice and spun out in the third session after contact with Tyler Reddick.
Justin Haley set the fastest lap in Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum qualifying Saturday night at the quarter-mile purpose-built track inside the famous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The 23-year-old Indiana-native drove the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet to the top qualifying position with a lap of 67.099 mph and will start out front for one of the four heat races Sunday afternoon to formally set the 27-car field for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum non-points exhibition opener Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Two-time series champion Kyle Busch will be making his debut for the Richard Childress Racing team from the front row of the second heat race; his No. 8 RCR Chevrolet second fastest overall at 66.406 mph.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, who advanced to the 2022 Championship 4 Round, will start his No. 20 JGR Toyota on pole in the third heat race and Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will start the No. 24 Chevrolet out front in the fourth heat race.
“I feel like we were a pretty good car in practice there, just wasn’t getting the full potential out of the race car and obviously in qualifying our lap was just dominant,” Haley said. “I feel pretty confident about where we are. It’s obviously a good place to start the season. Not sure why we’re so good here. I wish I had this talent at all the races but pretty thankful and it’s really cool to give Kaulig Racing their first pole, my first pole as a driver in my second year as a driver here.”
The qualifying session consisted of three laps – one warm-up and two timed, the faster of the two-timed laps counting toward their starting position in the four heat races.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr., who was fastest after practice Saturday afternoon, was only 22nd fastest in the night-time qualifier.
Two cars – the No. 54 JGR Toyota driven by Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ty Gibbs and the No. 12 Team Penske Ford driven by Ryan Blaney – will both start last in their heat races. Blaney’s qualifying time was 11th fastest at the time but ultimately disallowed because after spinning on a hot lap he drove the wrong direction to the back straightaway and spun his car around to complete the lap at speed. It’s illegal to drive backwards on track.
Gibbs was also penalized after it was determined his Joe Gibbs Racing crew made unapproved adjustments just prior to the qualifying session. Gibbs’ Toyota caught fire during the final practice session and was taken to the garage for repairs. The team was able to fix it without going to a back-up car, however NASCAR determined some of the repairs fell into the “unapproved adjustments” penalty category.
“First off want to thank my whole Monster Energy team they’ve worked so hard,” Gibbs said. “We have to start last in the heat race but we’ve got a great car.
“It’ll be fun,” he added with a smile.
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles, California
Saturday, February 4, 2023
1. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 67.099 mph.
2. (8) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 66.406 mph.
3. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 66.328 mph.
4. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 66.196 mph.
5. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 66.176 mph.
6. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 66.152 mph.
7. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 66.074 mph.
8. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 66.065 mph.
9. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 66.060 mph.
10. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 65.992 mph.
11. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 65.871 mph.
12. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 65.775 mph.
13. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 65.626 mph.
14. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 65.531 mph.
15. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 65.526 mph.
16. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 65.493 mph.
17. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 65.459 mph.
18. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 65.374 mph.
19. (45) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 65.250 mph.
20. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 65.137 mph.
21. (42) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 65.109 mph.
22. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 64.977 mph.
23. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 64.921 mph.
24. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 64.888 mph.
25. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 64.795 mph.
26. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 64.702 mph.
27. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 64.678 mph.
28. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 64.660 mph.
29. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 64.586 mph.
30. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 63.889 mph.
31. (15) JJ Yeley, Ford, 63.140 mph.
32. (51) Cody Ware, Ford, 62.867 mph.
33. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 62.116 mph.
34. (78) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 58.793 mph.
35. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 22.332 mph.
36. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
Lineups/Who Is Now Behind
The format to set the 27-car feature field Sunday afternoon includes four 25-lap heat races with the top-five finishers advancing to the feature. There will then by a pair of ‘last chance qualifiers’ with the top-three finishers in each advancing to the feature with one final starting spot awarded to the highest 2022 championship finisher that hadn’t moved into the main event field otherwise. Nine cars entered will miss the feature show.
With that said, several big named drivers are already on the outside looking in to start their respective heat. That’s crucial because track position is the name of the name here.
- Starting spots of cars that advanced through heats and LCQ’s last year.
- 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)
In Heat Race 1: Defending Race winner and series champion, Joey Logano, starts on the bubble in 5th. Noah Gragson, Michael McDowell and Chris Buescher have to pass him or any of the four in front to avoid the LCQ.
In Heat Race 2: Martin Truex Jr., Austin Cindric and Chase Elliott are each outside the top 5 at the drop of the green flag.
In Heat Race 3: It’s Tyler Reddick starting on the bubble with Brad Keselowski (6th) and Ryn Blaney (9th) coming from behind.
In the 4th and final heat race, Ty Gibbs is the biggest name on the outside looking in.
Heat Race 1 Lineup:
Row 1: Justin Haley, Aric Almirola
Row 2: Alex Bowman, Harrison Burton
Row 3: Joey Logano, Noah Gragson R
Row 4: Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher
Row 5: Ty Dillon
Heat Race 2 Lineup:
Row 1: Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon
Row 2: Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick
Row 3: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr.
Row 4: Austin Cindric, Chase Elliott
Row 5: BJ McLeod
Heat Race 3 Lineup:
Row 1: Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin
Row 2: Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe
Row 3: Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowksi
Row 4: Todd Gilliland, JJ Yeley
Row 5: Ryan Blaney
Heat Race 4 Lineup:
Row 1: William Byron, AJ Allmendinger
Row 2: Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace
Row 3: Erik Jones, Ryan Preece
Row 4: Corey LaJoie, Cody Ware
Row 5: Ty Gibbs R
RCR/Kaulig Lead Familiar Names Up Front
RCR saw Tyler Reddick qualify second, win his heat race and start on the front row. His teammate, Austin Dillon, would finish 3rd after starting 10th. Justin Haley with Kaulig qualified third, also won his heat race and would on top of that, start there.
Kyle Busch topped them all in earning the top starting spot and pole in 2022.
This year, Busch replaces Reddick with RCR while Reddick slides over to 23XI. On Saturday, Haley and his Kaulig teammate AJ Allmendinger were P1 and P8 in qualifying. RCR had P2 and P6 with Busch and Dillon respectively.