Martin Truex Jr. wins Sunday’s Busch Light Clash, my top 10 takeaways

Sunday night was a return to the Busch Crash. The second rendition of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a lot rougher than the one of a year ago. This year’s 150-lap event played to a tune of 16 caution flags flying around the quarter-mile oval. Last year’s had just 5 including two of which after the halftime break.

This year’s race had 11 cautions after the break.

However, the best car won as Martin Truex Jr. was quickest in practice on Saturday afternoon and turned that into becoming the 25th different winner of the Busch Light Clash. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led the final 25 laps in the process en route to scoring the exhibition race win after being winless in the 2022 season.

“Yeah, just a really good race car, but the guys did a great job with this Bass Pro Shops CLUB Toyota Camry, Tracker Boats, Reser Fine Foods, Auto-Owners, True Timber, Rocks, Cessna, just all of our partners that let us do this,” a smiling Truex Jr. said after scoring the win on Sunday.

“Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins, and to come out here and kick it off this way, really proud of all these guys. Tonight was kind of persevere, not give up, just battle through and we found ourself in the right spot at the end.

“Sometimes they work out your way and sometimes they don’t. Tonight it went our way, and we made some good adjustments, too.”

Truex passed Ryan Preece on Lap 125 when Preece’s No. 41 Ford briefly lost power. Austin Dillon also got by Preece for second with 20-to-go as the two set sails for the gold medal in front of a raucous crowd in Tinseltown.

The thing is, Truex was maintaining his advantage over Dillon until Michael McDowell ran out of gas with 10 laps left to bring out the 15th caution of the night. Dillon trailed Truex by 1.828 seconds prior to the yellow.

“On the restarts at the end, it’s frustrating when you’ve got a big lead, and like the 34 was trying to — he rode around at like 10 miles an hour for three or four laps; he should’ve just got off the damn track, you know what I mean? Obviously he wasn’t going to finish the race, so why was he just riding around? So that was frustrating.

“Then the other stuff, it’s just guys getting into each other on a tiny little track and getting spun out and things. The restarts you’re just trying to get a good jump and then not screw it up.”

On the ensuring restart, Dillon chose the line up inside of Row 2 which allowed Bubba Wallace to take the front row. Wallace and Dillon would have an intense battle for that second spot before Dillon punted Wallace in Turn 1 on Lap 143.

The final restart would see Dillon make the same decision to line up in Row 2. His Richard Childress Racing teammate of Kyle Busch would take the front row alongside his former teammate. Busch got a great launch but had nothing for Truex. He eventually let Dillon by to try and get the win, however Truex was just too good.

Truex topped Dillon by .786-seconds to give Toyota their 7th Clash win.

“I hate it for Bubba; he had a good car and a good run,” Dillon said. “But you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there, released the brake and all kinds of stuff, and then when I got down, I was going to give the same. Probably was a little too hard.

 “We were a little better on the long run and I got by him pretty clean the first time, and I chose to restart there behind Martin thinking that if we could get off 2 and then I could just race, but it just doesn’t go that way.

“You’re just getting beat and beat, and then when we went through 1 and 2, I mean, I got crossed up. I thought I was going to wreck into the inside wall and I got hit, and my spotter told me, release the brake, release the brake, got shoved all the way to the third lane outside.

“So after that he said, three wide, I think, one time, two wide, and then, I mean, yeah, I was probably pretty frustrated at that point.

“But yep, the Bioethanol Chevy was pretty good. My teammate let me try and go get Truex at the end. That was nice, and yeah, it’s been fun. Hopefully we can do this more often.”

Busch finished third in his No. 8 Chevrolet to give RCR both cars in the top three, while a pair of Hendrick Motorsports teammates of Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson to finish fourth and fifth respectively. It was Larson’s second straight fifth placed finish in this race too.

“Yeah, it was a battle all night long, but you can’t count us out,” Busch said. “You always got to bet on us with the BetMGM Camaro.

“We used the outside on a lot of passes. Everybody would get bottled up on the bottom and start bumper tagging, and I would just go around them outside. When you’re deep in the field you can kind of do some of that and work your way around.

“But overall, good to get back up to third. Could have gotten second, but like Austin said, I let him go there. He was better than us in practice and was better than us in the beginning of the race there on the long run, so I thought he could have a shot of trying to get closer to the 19, and I’ll push him through the 19 in order for us to get the one-two, but never made it there.”

Truex wasn’t to be denied this weekend. Despite being quickest in practice a day ago, he was only 22nd in qualifying. That relegated him to a 6th placed starting spot in his Heat Race. Last year, it was difficult to pass, so he was in danger of going to the LCQ. Instead, Truex came from 6th to win.

On Sunday night, he had a clean race from his front row starting spot to score the win.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” Truex noted. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.

“The 41 was really strong. He had some issues. We’ve certainly been in that position a lot, as well. Not sure how that would have worked out if he didn’t have issues. He was really strong. Then like the restarts just worked our way.

“I was having tons of brake issues all night and throughout the second half of the race, so just lucky to be able to put it all together and hang on to those restarts and put it all together with the brake issues I was having.”

Truex says that this gives them massive momentum heading into Speedweeks at Daytona. He’s made five Championship 4 appearances in the last 8 years. However, Truex Jr. entered 2020 having only two wins in his last 43 races run too. Then came a four-win season and all the momentum back in 2021. That was subsequentially lost in a winless campaign in 2022 to give him 6 wins in his last 115 tries.

Now, he’s the only one coming to Daytona with a win in 2023. 

“It’s huge. It’s a huge confidence booster,” Truex said. “Just reminds you that you’re doing the right stuff. You know, we’d like to win them all. We’re 1 for 1 right now, so that’s a good way to start. Daytona 500 is a huge race. It’s the biggest race of the year for us, and going there with momentum is great. Been really close there before; it would be an awesome one to check off the list.

“Honestly, we were probably the worst car here last year, literally, besides maybe the guys that didn’t have charters. We were just God awful. We barely made the race. Rode around the back and I spun out by myself on the last lap it was so bad, you know, trying to pass one car.

“To come back this year and be first in practice, I was really honestly nervous last night. I went to bed thinking today was going to suck. It was going to be a long day because it’s going to be hard to pass and we were starting sixth in our heat on the outside.

“They only take five. It’s like, well, if you finish fifth you’re still going to suck in the race because you’re going to start 20th. To be able to drive up through the field in the heat and win that was just huge. It was a huge confidence builder.

“I knew after that if we could just be smart tonight and stay up front all night we’d have a shot at it. But it’s a big deal. Any of these races are hard to win. All of them are hard to win. Doesn’t matter if there’s points or not. We’re proud of this one. It’s a big deal.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: Justin Haley, driver of the #31 Celsius Chevrolet, (L) and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, talk during qualifying for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Coliseum on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

RCR, Kyle Busch Becoming Clash Podium Regulars

The NASCAR Cup Series has come to the LA Coliseum twice now, and we’ve had the same two drivers finish second and third on the podium each year. The main difference is, they swapped spots between this year and last. A second difference between the last two years?

They’re also now teammates.

Tyler Reddick qualified second in last year’s Clash for RCR. He led every lap in his heat race to score a front row starting spot in the process. In the main event, Reddick led 51 laps but had a mechanical failure under caution while leading. His teammate Austin Dillon would start 10th but charge to finish 3rd.

A year later, Kyle Busch replaced Reddick in the No. 8 Chevrolet while Dillon returned to his No. 3 Chevrolet. Busch was second quickest in Saturday’s qualifying while Dillon was sixth. They shared the front row in the second Heat Race. Neither would win. Truex Jr. did. Busch was 2nd and Dillon 3rd.

This time around, it was Dillon in 2nd and Busch in 3rd for the main event. Last year, it was Busch in 2nd and Dillon in 3rd in the main event. Which leads us to see that RCR and Busch are the top overall Clash drivers in LA despite not having a win yet.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t necessarily know what it is, but sometimes drivers will take to places,” Busch said. “But this place here being a short track, me growing up short track racing with some of the late models and stuff that I have done, I’ve been to a lot of places like this. Been Legends cars as well too over the years.

“But I’m sure many of those guys out there have, as well, whether it’s been dirt, whether it’s been pavement. I don’t know, yeah. Having good stuff obviously helps. Last year being in the JGR stuff we were really fast. Our teammates were terrible this year; now our teammates are good, or the JGR cars were good and we got beat by one of them, but Austin and I worked hard together today on, A, working together, but, B, all the information to put ourselves in the best possible spot.

“Good collaboration between the RCR bunch.”

Dillon agreed with his new teammates’ assessment.

“Yeah, I’ll just echo what Kyle said. It was really fun,” he said. “Our car was really good. It really kind of turned on that last practice. We figured out that our car was pretty good on the long run. We were able to qualify decent, which is good for us. Not a great qualifier usually at the short tracks.

“Felt like if we could just maintain we could have a shot. Kyle helped me there at the end. He knew we had a fast car, so let me try and got a shot at Martin. That was nice, so hopefully I can pay back the favor we go to Daytona and work together well. It’s a great start for all of us.

“As far as the track question and being up here, I’ll give a shout-out to all my Bowman Gray boys back in Winston-Salem North Carolina. I grew up going there and watching that place, and this is about as close as it gets to Bowman Gray Stadium.”

Busch even went from the back to the front in Sunday’s Clash as he was spun by Joey Logano on Lap 86. 64 laps later, he crossed the finish line third.

“I don’t know. I mean, I felt like in the first 50 laps of the race we had probably a third-place car, and then we kind of tapered off after the long run there a little bit in the first half and we worked on the car,” Busch said on how he got from the back to the front.

“We made it better in the second half but never had an opportunity to show it, getting dumped by the 22. Then we had to turn around and just try to work through traffic. A lot of guys were getting bottled up on the bottom. I’d go high, go around a few of them, then they would start blocking high because they would see that, so I would cross over and get underneath them and move them back up the track in order where I wanted to run where my car was best.

“So, yeah, some of the guys in front of me, some cautions. Obviously, there were some more there towards the end, guys spinning. A lot of guys, more contact as the end of the race happened. Not just one would wash out. Like two or three would get washed out, so you could pick off a couple at a time.”

Busch did note that he and Logano, who’ve had a past history with one another, may have some future fireworks coming as he wasn’t too pleased with Logano’s move on him.

“Logano didn’t get hit by nobody. He just flat-out drove through me, so he’s got another one coming. I owe him a few,” he said.

Busch also spoke to the fact that he liked having a car owner on the radio again. He said that when he was with Hendrick Motorsports, Rick would get on a time here or there to talk, but when he was with JGR, Gibbs never would say anything. Tonight, Childress was very vocal on Busch’s radio including being fired up when Logano spun him.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s good. It’s cool,” said Busch. “You know, Rick would get on the radio just a little tiny bit when I was at Hendrick, and then Joe, he never got on the radio. I think they disconnected his button. A long time ago they did that.

“But yeah, Richard, I know he’s prone to key up a little bit here now and again. That was fine. He come on the radio and he goes, he just flat out drove through you, and I’m like, well, what do you want me to do about it?

“Trust me, I started behind him a couple times on restarts and never really got a great chance. I probably could have, but it was more important to go forward than retaliate. I don’t think there’s a lot of others that thought that way. Look at where they finished.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 BetMGM Chevrolet, and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Choose Rule Key

When NASCAR adopted the choose rule, they did so to spice up the restarts. It added a strategy mix to going back to green. They knew that some tracks had a more preferred line than the others, so this new way was giving it back to the drivers and teams to decide which lane they wanted. It was fair game now. Didn’t like your restart lane, it’s your fault. You chose it.

However, to what made you want to choose the non-preferred lane, was because most would choose the one that was superior. It gave track position to the ones that dared to choose the lane that may not get a better launch than the other.

For the Coliseum, the outside lane was the one you didn’t want to be in. Which is why the leader chose the inside, the second place at the time chose the inside lane behind him and the third place driver usually chose the front row. More times than not, the driver that was second, that elected to restart third, got back to second a lap later.

It was that big of an advantage.

Kyle Busch was second coming to the final restart in the second Heat Race. He chose to restart on the Inside of Row 2 and gave Kyle Larson the outside starting spot on the front row should he want it. He took it. Busch finished 2nd, Larson 4th.

That’s what happened nearly every time including the final two restarts for which Austin Dillon was second before the cautions and always chose Row 2. He’d finish second.

The big gaffe came by pole sitter Aric Almirola. He forgot that you had to choose the restart spot with 2 to go before going green and not the customary one to go. By missing it, he’d have to restart on the outside lane instead of the preferred lane on the front row. He’d fade to 6th on the restart and the rest of the night was downhill from there.

Heat Races Better Than LCQ’s, Feature

The four, 25-lap Heat Races, were far better than the pair of 50-lap Last Chance Qualifiers and the 150-lap main event. One could say once the checkered flag fell on Heat Race 4, it went all downhill from there. The heat races were each action packed compared to the longer caution free LCQ’s. Neither LCQ had a lead change compared to 7 combined in the heat races.

Little did we know, the caution free LCQ’s were better than the crash fest main event.

In Heat Race No. 1, Justin Haley started on the pole but it was Aric Almirola who passed Haley with six laps-to-go en route to the win. Alex Bowman followed him across the finish line followed by Haley, Noah Gragson and last year’s winner, Joey Logano, taking the 5th and final transfer spot. Harrison Burton was the only one in the top 5 of the starting lineup not to transfer as he spun on Lap 2 via contact with Gragson.

In Heat Race 2, Martin Truex Jr. came from 6th to take home the statement victory while his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Kyle Busch took second in his No. 8 Chevrolet. Busch’s new teammate, Austin Dillon, was third while Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the transfers. Harvick only got by when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was used up by Chase Elliott in Turn 1 on the final lap and then used his bumper to get back to Elliott in Turn 4. Harvick skated by both to take the final spot. Stenhouse Jr. was in the transfer for 24 of the 25 laps but lost out in the end.

Denny Hamlin easily won the third heat race with Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez taking the five transfers. Pole sitter Christopher Bell faded and 11 laps into it, he was down to 5th. He was bumped out by Suarez in the end as Suarez brought out a late race caution when he punted Brad Keselowski.

William Byron led flag-to-flag in the fourth and final heat race as it was the only one that didn’t feature a caution. Bubba Wallace came from 4th to 2nd while Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones took the transfers.

Michael McDowell and Chase Elliott won the LCQ’s.

Starting Position Didn’t Matter As Much

Last year, the four heat races were won by pole sitters. This year, only 1 of them was.

The starting positions for the transfers a year ago were:

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)

This year it was:

2-3-1-6-5 (Heat 1), 6-1-2-3-4 (Heat 2), 2-4-5-8-3 (Heat 3), 1-4-3-6-5 (Heat 4), 1-2-4 in each LCQ.

That’s vastly better than last year.

Martin Truex Jr. came from 6th to win his Heat Race and went from being a 3rd-5th place car early on in the Clash to win.

Even Kyle Busch who went to the back following being spun on Lap 86 rebounded to finish third.

If you wanted to pass, you could.

New Faces In Feature, RFK Still Not In A-Main

Last year’s Busch Light Clash had a 23 car field for the main event. This year’s was extended to 27. That’s added four more spots for the second go-around. Only 3 drivers that made the A-Main last year didn’t make it this time, however 1 of the 3 wasn’t in attendance as Cole Custer moves from the Cup Series back down to the Xfinity Series.

Harrison Burton spun in his first heat race and then overshot a corner in his LCQ to go from in the transfer to out. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was in the field from the first heat until that last corner and was fourth in his LCQ when only the top three advanced.

In saying that, six newcomers made the field with Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain and Todd Gilliland making the race when they didn’t in 2022 while rookies Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs made the field in their debuts.

Two drivers that didn’t make it last year or this were the RFK Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher. They looked just as lost this time around as they did a year ago.

“It’s definitely a bummer again,” Buescher said. “We fought hard and thought we had made some improvements.  I think we did, but ultimately it didn’t yield a much different result here.  We had some really good short track runs last year, obviously Bristol and Richmond and a couple of others, and then there were a handful that didn’t go real good, I’m thinking like Loudon, so maybe it’s one of those deals where we’ve got to dissect what’s similar and what’s plaguing us at times like these or races like this and get back on track.  It’s definitely not the way you want to start the year, but we’ll be ready for Daytona. We’re racers, though, so it hurts your feelings.  You want to be better than that and we just weren’t.  It’s not much like other places we go and it’s kind of like bumper cars out there in a lot of ways, but it’s still a race and we need to be more competitive.”

Keselowski notes that he felt like they were better over last year, but just didn’t have enough still this time around. Luckily for them he notes, that there’s no where else that a track like this translates over to and that they were each good in the final race of 2022 at Phoenix as well as being really strong in Daytona last year as well.

“We’re better than we were here last year but not enough better to make the difference,” he said. “This track has gotten slick, but we’ll go swing at them next week. There’s no other track like this and we were really good at Phoenix.  We’re excited to see what we can do there.  Of course, Daytona was really good for us last year, but we have to figure something out for this track, clearly, and we’ll just keep working on it. We are getting a better understanding of the car, but just not better enough of what it needs on the vehicle dynamics side.  We’re still working through that.  We’ve got some new hires and new things going on that started last week and we’ll see if we can get better. We just never could get the corner.  We were just really loose in with both of our cars and just couldn’t turn the wheel.”

Transfer Drama

Adding a 5th spot to the mix greatly helped the heat races in the sense that it allowed another driver though and helped the action to get into the A-Main. The first three heat races saw end of race drama to get by.

In Heat Race 2, it was Chase Elliott pushing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out of the inside groove in Turn 1 on the final lap. Stenhouse Jr. got Elliott back in Turn 4 for that final spot. The contact however sent both up the track and allowed Kevin Harvick by. The only reason that was allowed to occur is because Harvick was outside the transfer originally and punted Austin Cindric with five-to-go to bunch the field back up.

Similar incident at the end of the third heat race. Daniel Suarez punted Brad Keselowski with six-to-go to bunch the field up. Suarez used that to get bunched back up and made the final transfer too.

The first and final heat races didn’t have any late incidents.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Freightliner Ford, enters the track during practice for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Coliseum on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Learning From 1st Year Helped…And Hurt

Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson finished in the top five of last year’s inaugural Busch Light Clash as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The only difference between these three in this year’s in comparison to the one from a year ago was that instead of it being Busch in 2nd, Dillon in 3rd and Larson in 5th, this years went Dillon in 2nd, Busch in 3rd and Larson in 5th.

Joey Logano topped Busch a year ago while Martin Truex Jr. topped Dillon by just .786-seconds.

However, despite some familiarity inside the top 5 of the two events, the pair of 150-lap races couldn’t have gone any differently.

Last year’s saw just 5 cautions. This year’s…16.

As far as to why?


“Yeah, and everybody has gotten a little better since last year, so the parity was close,” Austin Dillon said. “There were a lot of fast guys. The little bit, if you are faster than someone, you kind of have to bump them, because they can kind of check up on the exit of the corner and stop you.

“If you get that run and you’re there, you kind of have to use it or be used.

“Everybody has learned a lot from last year. There was quite a bit of bad cars last year.”

Last year was the first time of this next Next Gen model race car. No one truly knew how to race it. A sequential shifter was vastly different than anything they’ve raced before. The handling, everything was different. They were even shifting on this track.

It was a big learning experience.

That, plus a football stadium that they’ve never raced on before was a new set of circumstances as well. The track produces some close quarters racing, but this last year they learned that the bumping and banging didn’t damage their cars like they use to. As a result, they entered this weekend’s race knowing what to expect. They’ve adapted.

“Last year was the first race for this car and we didn’t know how tough they were at the time,” said the 2021 series champion. “There was not as much slamming.”

Larson ponders if this new car and this track could be a culprit too. Now that they’re used to both, they’ve found that you can be much rougher with these new cars and they won’t break as easily. In the past, you these hits that these drivers were making would have knocked them out of the race. Now, they can continue on as if nothing ever happened.

“I think people didn’t quite know how strong the noses and rear bumpers were,” Larson continued. “I don’t know. I mean, just a product of this track and this car. I don’t think you would see that style of racing with the previous generation car just because they wouldn’t be as strong. You’d knock the radiators out racing like that.

“I think the cars are just so stiff that that’s just kind of how it goes. Not saying it’s right, but the cars are built that way. Yeah, I don’t really know how to answer it other than that.

“This year it was just like everybody just ran through the person in front of them. If you got a hole to get down, somewhere to get down, then the three or four cars behind would just shove them through the two in front of them. A lot of accordion, and just difficult on the restarts, especially where I was, middle of the pack.”

Kyle Busch agreed with both drivers and also says that last year’s show was clean, but maybe it should have looked more this way than that and cautions than this may be the way this race runs from here on out.

“I mean, last year’s show I felt like was relatively clean and good racing, some bumping, some banging, but we could run long stretches of green flag action, where today was I would call it a disaster with the disrespect from everybody of just driving through each other and not just letting everything kind of work its way out,” Busch said.

“But it’s a quarter mile. It’s tight-quarters racing. Actually this is probably how it should have gone last year, so we got spoiled with a good show the first year. Maybe this was just normal.”

With so many stoppages for cautions, does that make a case to return in 2024?

“There are just no repercussions to driving in and using the bumper of the car in front of you,” Denny Hamlin said. “They hit someone in front of them, and the car two cars up spins. The only way to do it is to officiate unnecessary contact and (send them) to the rear. But the whole field would be black-flagged if we raced like that. I don’t really have a good answer.”

Uh Oh Moment

A late arriving crowd in a major market isn’t shocking. Lakers games, Miami Heat games, etc, we’ve all seen them practically empty at tip off by near full by time we get to halftime. It’s cool to be late. There’s a lot to do in these cities. So with another late arriving crowd for the Clash, it’s not honestly all that surprising. The thing is, to make matters worse in these set of circumstances, the “start time” on the tickets printed was 5 p.m. locally. That’s 8 p.m. ET. That’s after all four heat races and both LCQs were already concluded.

For a race that has mostly new fans, they wouldn’t know that all that action occurred prior. How would they? 70% of the attendance last year had never been to a NASCAR race before. A lot in attendance this year followed the same set of circumstances.

That’s something that needs to change moving forward.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Safety Improvements May Not Be All The Way Fixed

Bubba Wallace noted on his scanner early in the race that he felt like contact to his rear bumper was just as hard now as it was last year. See, this is the main area to which NASCAR placed emphasis on improving. That’s because rear contact hits to his Next Gen was felt far worse than the previous car. It’s to what caused Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman to miss some time last year due to concussion like symptoms.

Both relatively innocent hits caused each to miss multiple weeks. For Busch, he’s still dealing with the effects from his Pocono crash. NASCAR went back to the drawing board and felt like they had a way to help.

However, Sunday night was concerning with drivers discussing the hits that they were feeling.

“I mean, truthfully, it didn’t really feel much different at that speed and just the bumper car action that you get through the middle of the corner,” said Kyle Busch. “Yeah, like Austin said, when you get hit a few times, your head is getting jacked into the back of the head rest and you’re getting the whiplash effect. But what the damage to the cars looks like front and rear, underneath, you have no idea, but it’s still a brunt of a hit.

“But if we had the old cars that we used to have, nobody would have a radiator left. I think half the field would be parked in the infield. Might not be a bad thought, but get some of those squirrels out of there, but yeah, it’s a necessary evil to the fronts, for as hard of a shots as some of the guys were taking, Bubba’s bumper, you could see the damage that he had to it, so he might have been one of the ones that got hit the hardest.”

His teammate, Austin Dillon, said that the first 30 laps or so of the race, his head was against the head rest almost every lap.

“It was just bang, bang, back and forth, every corner,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how aggressive it was the first run. There was nothing but just hammer each other and hope to come out the other side.

“I got hit one time at the end, I was telling Kyle, when we got back in line, it knocked the wheel out of my hands. I couldn’t believe it. Just kind of picked up the gas and caught it back.

“But you’re taking some pretty good blows out there and trying to stay calm. It still doesn’t feel good. I think the positive part is NASCAR has showed us things that they’re trying to do to help that area of the car, for the low speed impacts, the lower speed impacts. We’re making progress. That’s the biggest thing.”

Kyle Larson notes that he didn’t have many hits to the rear of his car last year, but there was one instance that did stand out to him to think that this could to be an issue.

“Yeah, definitely,” Larson said on if he could still feel the hits on Sunday night. I didn’t really — I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, wow, like that was a hard hit.

“I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and this was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do, it’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

If they’re feeling this in cars going less than 100 mph, what happens when they back into the wall at speeds in excess of 150 mph?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 06: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, and Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Is Race Back Next Year?

NBC Sports reported last year that NASCAR agreed to a 3-year deal with the Coliseum and USC. The final 2 years (2023, 2024) are option years that NASCAR has until early May to make the decision on coming back the following year or not. So, do they come back in 2024 or do they move this event around to other venues now that they know it can work?

Last year’s event was a success but I wonder now after a shitshow of an event on Sunday, how realistic is it to ask if this comes back? Do they maybe move it around?

“It’s something that I think we’ll certainly look at,” Ben Kennedy said after last year’s successful event. “Los Angeles, as we’ve mentioned from the start, is really an important market for us. It’s important for us to get here in a big way, too. It’s been two years since we’ve competed in Southern California. To be able to get back here to downtown Los Angeles at the L.A. Coliseum, come back a few weeks later at Fontana, I think it was really important to us.

“The Coliseum, USC, have been tremendous partners. That will be certainly an important part as we think about this. But to your point, too, if we can prove this out, a proof of concept, it does open the door to other locations in the future.”

Corey LaJoie said that if this truly is a success and they can do this anywhere, his vote is to go to the AT&T Stadium (the home of the Cowboys).

“It all depends on the footprint,” he noted. “If this model works then it can open a lot of doors for the future.”

Kennedy, agreed with that.

“I think as far as venues go, I talked to Kevin (Harvick) in the elevator yesterday, he was talking about that,” he said. “I think it does open the opportunity and door to do that. I think it’s going to be really important as we think about those venues, the size of it. I think the Coliseum was a perfect footprint as you think about the size of the field itself.

“I don’t know that we’d want to make the radiuses of the corners that much tighter. I think you probably play with the straightaway length a little bit. I think it will be an important factor. If we are going to take this to other locations, I want to make sure that the racing product is good for our fans.”

Steve O’Donnell didn’t put those rumors to bed. In fact, he heightened them.

“I think everything is open. To Ben’s point, you look at the footprint, one of the unique things about this stadium is the Olympics and the track that they had around a football field doesn’t really exist anymore in the purpose-built football stadiums. It’s a lot tougher to look at that footprint of what might have the room for us.

“Certainly, if you looked, and I’m not advocating that we’re taking the Clash overseas, I don’t want anyone to take that away, but it does open up the opportunity for us if we wanted to showcase NASCAR, we’ve always talked about, Ben and I, you have to go to a road course, they have to build a track somewhere if you’re in Europe. Not anymore. We’ve proven out you can go to a cool stadium with a track around it, we know what to do, we can go in and out, some opportunities there.

“Ben, if he hasn’t already, is already studying the footprints of a lot of different stadiums in the U.S., what works, what may not work, but also pretty happy here.”

So, if you get a second straight hit, it’s a risk to move it away, but why not explore? You want to take the Clash to other venues while the attention is high rather than it trending down. Does coming back to LA a third straight year in 2024 risk the popularity going downward?

One potential thing could be a points paying race. On Saturday, the Auto Club Speedway President said that there’d be no racing there in 2024 and maybe even in 2025 too as they’ll reconfigured the race track. So, without a points paying race in the LA market, there’s word that they could come to the Coliseum as a points paying event instead.

“Sure. I think NASCAR whatever deems is important to them,” Hamlin said. “I’m sure having a race in this area is very important with the talk of the two-mile oval in Fontana, you would have no more and they may be taking a year off while it rebuilds. Certainly I think they’re going to be open to options and maybe this does fall in that slot or we go somewhere else.”

Harvick questions on what you could do with this race at other venues, so why not take it to somewhere else?

“I think that, to me, as I look at this, there are a lot of possibilities of things that you could do with other venues,” Kevin Harvick said.  “I like it as something that could move around and go to different spots and I think when you look at the stadium aspect of things, it opens up possibilities to take this event to different countries and different parts of the world to expose our sport, or you could have a Stadium Series.  I don’t know.  I think there are a lot of options.  I think this has opened a lot of doors that probably in the past weren’t really expected to be opened because when I came here last year I really thought this was gonna be a joke, personally.  And it was probably one of the races that I had the most fun at last year.  You look at the atmosphere and everything that happened, it was a great event and I think coming back this year everybody is looking forward to it.”

Keselowski agreed.

“I think it’s a great venue.  They did a heck of a job.  Similar to Kevin, I had some pretty big concerns coming into it last year and I was blown out of the water by what I saw here.  I thought they did an amazing job.  The potential is here to do so many different things – points races or carry the idea to other venues that I think it’s certainly in one year’s time earned a lot of respect within the industry that opens up numerous doors and opportunities.  How that plays forward, I know I’m pretty open-minded to it as both a driver and an owner and look forward to see it do just that – play out.”

The thing is, with so much carnage in the main event, was it too much. Did this year’s race give fans enough to want to come back in 2024 or is it time to maybe move on or…scrap it all together?

I don’t think Sunday’s event unfortunately was enough to bring new fans back in 2024. It definitely would be a hard sell to make this a points paying race. The main event struggled to gain any traction and that’s with 27 cars. Imagine adding 13 more spots and double the amount of laps run to the mix.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Los Angeles, California

Sunday, February 5, 2023

                1. (2)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 150.

                2. (10)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 150.

                3. (6)  Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 150.

                4. (5)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 150.

                5. (14)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 150.

                6. (11)  Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 150.

                7. (16)  Ryan Preece, Ford, 150.

                8. (12)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 150.

                9. (3)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 150.

                10. (4)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 150.

                11. (9)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 150.

                12. (18)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 150.

                13. (23)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 150.

                14. (13)  Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 150.

                15. (7)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 150.

                16. (17)  Joey Logano, Ford, 150.

                17. (15)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 150.

                18. (1)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 150.

                19. (19)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 150.

                20. (26)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 150.

                21. (22)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 150.

                22. (8)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 150.

                23. (25)  Todd Gilliland, Ford, Fuel, 140.

                24. (21)  Michael McDowell, Ford, Fuel, 137.

                25. (27)  Austin Cindric, Ford, Engine, 106.

                26. (24)  Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, Suspension, 81.

                27. (20)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Suspension, 16.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  21.831 mph.

Time of Race:  1 Hrs, 43 Mins, 4 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .786 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  16 for 0 laps.

Lead Changes:  4 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Almirola 1-16;D. Hamlin 17-42;B. Wallace 43-82;R. Preece 83-125;M. Truex Jr. 126-150.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Ryan Preece 1 time for 43 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 40 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 26 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 25 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 16 laps.

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