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 while he felt like they were better over last year, they just didn’t have enough still this time around. Luckily for them he notes, that there’s nowhere 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. It’s more about not letting the Clash derail the momentum.
“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.”
Buescher had three top 10 finishes in the opening 15 races of the 2022 season. In the final 21, he had 7 including a win at Bristol.
Keselowski had just three top 10’s for the entire regular season. In the 10 race playoffs, he had three and it would have been four if not for a DQ in the penultimate race at Martinsville.
Now, it’s to Daytona to where both RFK cars swept the Duels. That’s why Keselowski notes that the momentum is still there. It’s up to them on how far the Clash will affect their performance moving forward.