Busch Light Clash in rear view mirror, my top 5 takeaways a day later

Martin Truex Jr. 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. Truex beat Bubba Wallace off the line to the second to last restart while Wallace and Dillon battled for second behind. The two exchanged blows before Dillon sent Wallace into the wall for the knockout punch.

That setup a final restart. Once again, Dillon chose to lineup behind Truex instead of alongside. That gave the outside of the front row restarting spot this time to Truex’s former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Kyle Busch. Like the time before, Truex got a great launch and set sail to the Busch Light Clash victory.

Truex Says Win Validates Everything They’ve Been Doing, Hopeful It Leads To 2023 Success

Martin Truex Jr. entered the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season on the heels of a winless campaign. In fact, he’d not won in his last 44 starts.

“Mad,” Truex Jr. described as his feelings enter the 2023 season.

Despite a winless year without a playoff berth while driving for one of NASCAR’s top teams, Truex felt like they had a solid year overall. They were good enough to be well within the top 10 in points accumulated for the entire season. At the end of the regular season however, they were in the top five still. Unfortunately for Truex, due to 15 different winners eligible for the postseason via wins already and Ryan Blaney making a wild comeback at Daytona in the regular season finale, Truex was left on the outside looking in.

“Yeah. Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year,” Truex continued.

“If you look at all the statistics, we had a decent year. We were consistent. We scored a lot of points. We struggled on short tracks and road courses, which ultimately is what kept us out of the playoffs.

“Just so many times that we felt like we were doing the right things and probably should have won a couple races, and they got away from us. That was very, very frustrating. Knowing that we were doing everything we needed to do to win, it sucked.”

Truex said that he spent the last three months just waiting to go out and show the garage what he can do again. He’s determined to show them all that they’ll have to deal with him more this year than last.

“We’ve been very fired up this off-season, working very hard, all of us,” he said. “It’s just nice when it all works out and you can come to the track and things go the way you hope they will.

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that. We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Truex started the weekend off quickest in Saturday’s practice session. Then he only qualified 22nd not too long after. Here we go again, he felt. Then came Sunday. They stated sixth in their Heat. Truex in just a few short laps, found the front and never looked back en route to a heat race win. That rewarded him with a front row starting spot for the Main Event.

Truex just kind of hung around and was in the right spot at the right time.

Truex topped Dillon by .786-seconds to give Toyota their 7th Clash 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 05: Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 BetMGM Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident as Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, pass during the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

RCR Duo’s Top 3 Finishes, Come With Some Drama

Kyle Busch started 6th in Sunday’s Busch Light Clash and the box score shows he finished third. However, that doesn’t paint the whole picture.

Busch was spun by Joey Logano on Lap 86. 64 laps later, he crossed the finish line third. How?

“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 soon 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.

“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.”

His teammate, Austin Dillon, finished one spot ahead of Busch in the running order but his runner-up result didn’t come without controversy either.

Dillon passed Ryan Preece for second with 20-laps-to-go in Sunday’s Clash. He got helped with the aid of a caution for Michael McDowell with 10 to go. Dillon knew that the outside on the restarts was a lame duck position. So, he left a spot to restart on the front row open and took the Inside of Row 2 instead. Bubba Wallace who was running third at the time elected to take the front row spot.

Wallace got a great restart, but Dillon didn’t want to look foolish by letting Wallace get away so they trades blows while battling for second. Dillon ended up giving Wallace the knockout punch with 7 to go.

“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.”

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)

Familiar Faces In Top 5 For Good Reason

The inaugural Busch Light Clash in the LA Coliseum saw Kyle Busch finish second, Austin Dillon finish third and Kyle Larson finish fifth. The second go ’round, saw Busch and Dillon flip-flop while Larson remained in fifth. That’s not a coincidence.

“I’ll give a shout-out to all my Bowman Gray boys back in Winston-Salem North Carolina,” Dillon said on why he had a pair of top three finishes in as many tries here. “I grew up going there and watching that place, and this is about as close as it gets to Bowman Gray Stadium.”

As far as why Busch has been so good in the first two years of this event, Busch said it’s more about experience for himself too.

“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.”

Perfect Storm To Create The Race We Saw On Sunday Night, So Does NASCAR Come Back?

Now that the dust has settled on what was a chaotic second rendition of the Busch Light Clash, we have to take stock in what this race truly is – an exhibition race. This is what you get when you create a basically winner-take-all show.

The original concept for the Busch Clash was for a Sunday afternoon event, a week before the Daytona 500, and to fit it all in during a half an hour TV window on CBS. It was to build attention for the Great American Race. That’s why the short sprint race only included a field of pole sitters from the previous season. I mean, as few as 7 drivers were in the Clash in 1981.

Well, the exhibition race had become 55 laps longer than the inaugural event in 1979, formed a field as large as 28 and gone away from anything that the race was initially found on.

The Busch Clash had become the Busch Crash.

Even worse, not only was it full of crashing, it was downright boring. It had become unwatchable. Literally. Crowds fell to an estimated 5-10k in paying attendance in the final years that it was held at Daytona.

The first segments were full of cars running in tow with one another. The second segment was run with cars trying to save fuel until the end of it, then having manufacturers pit together for drafting partners.

From there, it was the usual crash fest in the end. Just look at how the last one on the oval ended in 2020. We’d see a six-car crash that was sparked by a block by Joey Logano with 10 laps-to-go in regulation. Then, on the restart with three laps remaining in regulation, we saw a bizarre crash in the tri-oval between nine cars. From there, a crash on the first overtime restart when Denny Hamlin cut a tire while leading, took out 10 more cars which was followed by a three car crash on the next restart.

That left six cars on track for the third overtime, one of which being a lap down.

So, I ask, why race for 75 laps when 65+ of them are run single file and we get every car crashed in the end?

I mean when you show up with 18 cars for this race and all of them have damage, there’s a problem. In 2019, 17 of the 20 cars crashed in one accident at the end before the rain fell too.

That’s 38 cars and 35 of them crashed in a two year span.

So, NASCAR moved the race from the oval to the road course in 2021. That felt awkward. Having a road course race during Speedweeks. The attendance was dismal and so was the rating.

Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for the 2021 Clash in primetime on the road course. That was down almost 1 million people as 2.455 million tuned into the 2020 Busch Clash. Granted, the 2020 race was on the oval and was held on a Sunday afternoon compared to a weeknight in 2021. It still shows that doing the same thing again in 2022 wasn’t going to be ideal.

Enter the LA Coliseum.

Last year’s race was tame in nature compared to this past year’s. However, it’s a perfect storm as Sunday’s second edition mirrored the final years of Daytona – a crash fest.

 “Maybe it got a little out of hand at times,” quipped fourth place finisher, Alex Bowman.

However, maybe what we witnessed was a given. It’s a football stadium. The quarter-mile track produces some close quarters racing. When you throw in 27 cars racing in the same piece of real estate, what do you expect?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but you also have to go below the surface to figure out more.

Last year’s race was naturally calmer than this year’s for good measure. It was the first one with the Next Gen and first one on a football field. No one truly knew what to expect inside or outside of the car. Now….they do. They’ve all adapted and one thing that they’ve figured out is that the bumping and banging didn’t damage their cars like they use to.

Knowing that track position matters here, these drivers had to take action in their own hands to move through the field. And that’s what they did.

“When they build a racetrack in a football field, that’s what we’re here to do,” Bowman said. “We’re here to put on a show and be exciting. We all knew when we heard about this event, whenever it was the first time that we were going to come here, people were going to run over each other. It’s too easy.”

Now that they’re used to both the car and track, they’ve also found that you can be so much rougher with these new cars than ever before. In the past, these hits that these drivers were making now 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.”

Maybe it is. Plus, moving it to a night race and the track being a madeshift surface, it made the track extra slick. With lower speeds and a slick surface, it made drivers having to do burnouts under caution just to put heat in their tires. That too created havoc on those restarts and when you get 27 cars, remember, on a quarter mile track and each are slipping and sliding around, what do you expect?

“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.”

So knowing what we now know, what does NASCAR do for 2024?

We know NASCAR holds the option for a return or not for next season. We know Auto Club Speedway won’t have a race for sure next season either. Los Angeles is the second biggest market and there’s no reason to avoid a trip to Southern California in 2024.

 I don’t care. I’ll be here wherever we’ve got to go,” Kyle Busch said.

Brad Keselowski sees it as a giant positive not only for the drivers side, but from an ownership standpoint as well.

“It’s an interesting event.  When you look at the revenues of the race teams, the majority of the revenues are coming from the sponsors, so it does OK for that,” he says. “But when you look at it for the value to the industry, it’s probably, in my opinion, the second-most valuable event that we have all year to the Daytona 500. “To be in Los Angeles, which is certainly a huge market, I read some graphic the other day from NASCAR that we have more fans in L.A. than any other area, which is hard to think of, but of all the regions we go to, there are more NASCAR fans than anywhere else, so I think we lose sight of that sometimes.  But to be able to be in their backyard and to engage them for a key event, I think that’s really important.  Of course, for our TV partners this is a tremendous event as well.  They’re the lifeblood of our sport in so many different ways as probably the primary revenue generator, so from the team perspective it’s probably more neutral, but from an industry perspective this is a significant event for us.”

Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing as well as a driver for JGR, agreed.

“The value is the location is the biggest thing,” Denny Hamlin said. “A lot of team sponsors are probably headquartered somewhere near here so there’s a value in activation that comes with that and it’s also valuable to introduce new fans to the sport. I think that with roughly 40 percent of the audience members that show up this weekend will be new to our sport. Just helps grow the sport in general. Pretty positive thing from that standpoint.”

His 23XI Racing driver, Bubba Wallace, says that the diversity of the city of Los Angeles is massive to the sport and to be able to bring NASCAR to race in front of them, is a win-win.

“I think it’s big and I think I said it at this time last year, but getting into a market where it’s so diverse and exposing our sport to eyeballs is important,” said the newly wed. “We have to continue this trend whether it’s here in LA or we move it somewhere else, whatever it may be. I think this is a start of changing the face of NASCAR and it’s fun to be a part of. For me to just go out and compete and represent our sponsors and our team and we have MJ (Michael Jordan) watching and everybody knows who MJ is so have to do it right.”

So, it sounds as if the most simple aspect would be for the Clash to return to this very spot. However, do you risk oversaturating this race and it lose it’s appeal again?

The Clash was left for dead following the 2021 race on the road course. It was hyped and a must-see event in 2022. The crowd dropped off from 2022 to 2023 and the racing that was there to witness was less than advertised. Don’t you think it drops off again in 2024?

So why not try another venue like the Coliseum to spice it back up again?

“The Coliseum, USC, have been tremendous partners. That will be certainly an important part as we think about this,” Ben Kennedy said last year. “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.

“I think as far as venues go, 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.”

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.”

Part of the thought process then is if the Clash moves to a new venue, does NASCAR just come back to the Coliseum in Fontana’s date?

“Sure. I think NASCAR whatever deems is important to them,” Hamlin said before the race weekend. “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.”

Hamlin changed his tune after the race while race winner Truex Jr. said that this track in no way shape or form should host a points paying event.

No way could this track hold more cars than it did on Sunday. 27 proved to even be too much. The sweet spot is better for around the 23 mark for what we saw in 2022. How do you incorporate a points paying race without the entire field? What about pit stops? What about the embarrassing action we witnessed in Sunday’s race.

It just can’t happen. Joey Logano agreed too.

So what do you do then with the Clash and this venue for 2024…

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Great Lakes Flooring Ford, and Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 FR8Auctions.com Ford, practice for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Coliseum on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/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?

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.

Top Stat

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.

The thing is, 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.

The transfer spot in the heat races are more than likely to be among bigger teams with bigger names so the action is closer. The drivers behind the transfer figured out that if you cause a late race caution, the field gets bunched back up. It worked in half of those races. The LCQ’s are for more of the drivers running in the back anyways so the physicality isn’t as intense.

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