Clash at the Coliseum? Try Crash at the Coliseum.
In a Sunday (Feb. 5) night race that piled up 16 caution flags, it was Martin Truex Jr. who prevailed through the chaos of the NASCAR Cup Series season-opening exhibition at The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Just a really good racecar and the guys did a great job with this Bass Pro Shops Club Toyota Camry,” Truex told FOX after the race. “Last year was a pretty rough season for us you know, with no wins. And to come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of all of these guys.”
“Tonight, was just kind of persevere, not give up and battle through and we found ourselves in the right spot at the end. Sometimes they work out your way, sometimes they don’t. Tonight, it went our way, and we made some good adjustments too.
The race marked Truex’s first win in the Busch Light Clash, beginning 2023 on a good note after going winless last year for the first time since 2014.
The Hendrick duo of Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five finishers, while Tyler Reddick finished sixth in his debut for 23XI Racing. Ryan Preece led the most laps (43) and finished seventh for Stewart-Haas Racing, while Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and William Byron rounded out the top 10.
The race started with Aric Almirola and Truex on the front row, and Almirola quickly built up a lead in the opening laps. The race ran green until lap 17, when Erik Jones spun off the bumper of Michael McDowell. The contact broke a rear toe link on the No. 43 car, leaving Jones as the first car done for the night.
Almirola started on the outside due to a miscommunication on the ensuing restart, causing Hamlin to make quick work of him and take the lead. Almirola later fell to sixth, dropping back as the second caution of the night came out on lap 24 when a Ryan Blaney spin created a stack-up that involved Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell.
Hamlin retained the lead on the following restart and was chased by Truex, Busch and Bubba Wallace. But after a caution on lap 42, Hamlin was later moved out of the groove by his own car in Wallace for the lead; Hamlin dropped back to 12th after struggling to find a place in line.
Hamlin then spun on lap 74 with help from none other than Chastain, and that set up a two-lap shootout to halfway where Wallace led Truex, Dillon, Byron and Reddick to the break.
The race resumed after a Wiz Khalifa performance, but the drivers struggled to find a rhythm as there were six cautions in the first 10 laps after halftime. With caution laps not counting toward the scheduled distance, the laps under the pace car quickly added up.
During this rash of yellows, Preece made his way toward the front of the field and had passed Wallace for the lead with 68 laps remaining despite restarting on the outside.
Preece would then take control of the race in the longest green-flag run of the second half until the caution was brought out once again for a Justin Haley spin with 44 to go.
After two more quick cautions, Preece built up a lead once more. It did not last this time, however, as Truex’s car came to life during a long run. He passed Bowman for second, then the No. 41 for the top spot with 25 laps remaining.
It went from bad to worse for Preece, as he briefly developed an electrical problem that dropped him from second to fifth in the running order.
During this time, Truex had built up nearly a two-second lead over the rest of the field. He looked to have the race in the bag if it stayed green, but that was not the case as the 15th caution of the night was brought out with nine laps to go after McDowell stalled toward the entrance of the infield.
On the following restart, Dillon and Wallace traded paint with each other while battling for second behind Truex. After bumping Dillon out of the way for second, Dillon responded by spinning Wallace to cause the final caution.
That left Truex with two RCR cars breathing down his neck for the final seven laps. But he took care of business, holding off Dillon and Busch to win the second running of the Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
NASCAR returns in two weeks to kick off its 2023 season in earnest, running the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. The 65th edition of the Great American Race will take place on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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