Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered after the 2023 Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

Martin Truex Jr. might like to forget 2022 happened as he went winless and missed the playoff cut, but he kicked off the new season by edging former teammate Kyle Busch for bragging rights in the second heat of the day.  From there, Truex took home bragging rights in the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, his first trip to victory lane in over a year.

Truex had one of the fastest cars on track all weekend long; it just took a few laps to get going. With caution after caution after the halfway break, he spent 50 laps trying to get to the front. But once he did, Truex worked over leader Ryan Preece for the lead and then sailed away from the field Sunday (Feb. 5), including on the final restart. It might not be a points win, but it gives him some much-needed momentum after the season the driver called “a disaster.” 

There was speculation that Truex, who signed a one-year extension with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2023, would announce his retirement after this season. And he might still hang up his helmet, but if he does, it’ll be with another trophy on the shelf.

And don’t forget… Ryan Preece. Preece took over the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing from Cole Custer and showed what he can do in a competitive car on Sunday night (Feb. 5). Preece worked his way through the field, using the outside line to an advantage few others could find. He took the lead just after halftime and hung on for restart after restart. An electrical issue cost him several positions in the closing laps and possibly the win as Truex worked his way by with just 25 to go. Preece rallied back to finish seventh, leading the most laps in the race (43).

Preece is an underrated driver who has found a champion in owner Tony Stewart. If Sunday is any indication, Stewart made a good call, and his No. 41 could be a team to watch in 2023.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

The 25-lap heat races and last chance qualifiers were entertaining and featured an intensity that’s absent in longer races where saving equipment is priority number one. Since caution laps don’t count in the Clash, there’s an opportunity for late moves. Overall, this take on a Saturday night short track race works very well for this event.

But does that mean NASCAR should do it more often? Probably not.

See also
Martin Truex Jr. Prevails in Caution-Filled Running of the Clash

Since the Clash is an exhibition race, the sanctioning body can keep the field for the main event much smaller than a points race. Most weeks, simply the knowledge that the chartered teams will make the show changes the objective a bit. Starting a spot or two deeper is preferable to starting in a backup car, and the big picture is always the most important to teams, especially for those realistically racing to contend for a title.

Heats work fine for the lone dirt race on the schedule, and the qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway still send a handful of teams home and have been a tradition forever. But that’s plenty. Some things are fun because they’re a rarity and quickly lose their luster when they become an everyday thing.

Where… did the other heat winners wind up? 

Aric Almirola missed the main show in 2022, but this time around, he wasn’t watching from the grandstands. After leading the first few laps, he got a little roughed up, punted out of the racing line after missing his lane choice on the first restart. The damage was done from there; mired in traffic, Almirola lost a lap before the halfway point. He eventually finished 18th.

Denny Hamlin missed the 2022 title race, so kicking off the year right has to be on his mind. Unfortunately, after looking strong early, Hamlin became a pinball courtesy of his own driver when Bubba Wallace moved him out of the groove to take the lead. From there, Hamlin, stuck in the outside lane, dropped into deep traffic. Just before halfway, he went for a spin off the bumper of Ross Chastain. Hamlin finished a disappointing ninth but he’s still got a good shot of gaining momentum in two weeks, attempting another Daytona 500 win.

William Byron cruised to the win in the fourth heat while most of the action played out behind him. In the main event, Byron lingered in the top five or six for much of the race. He didn’t make a lot of noise, but that netted him 10th despite getting shuffled back in the late going.

When… was the moment of truth?

The heat races and last chance contests were the best action of the night. There was some good, hard racing, and much of the night played out like a local short-track event, at least part of the goal for NASCAR.

But the 50 laps after the halfway break were brutal, with cars sometimes not completing a single lap on a restart before another spin and another caution. Sixteen yellow flags is a lot for a 150-lap feature, and the race stretched well past its anticipated finish. 

Unpredictability is great in racing. Hard racing is great, too. The spin cycle fans were treated to on Sunday wasn’t either one. The racing up front after the restarts was intense and fun, but deep in the field, it was chain reactions, one after the other to the point it simply took too long to get through that stretch. 

If the race attracted casual fans, there’s a danger of them tuning out with a run like that. For the diehards, there was no rhythm and the cautions got stale quickly. Perhaps counting caution laps until there are 50 or even 25 to go would be the way to go in the future.

Call it good intentions with struggles in execution, but there need to be some changes to the Clash, especially if this race becomes a points-paying event in the future.

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

Enjoy the quiet this week, because the engines roar to life for real next week as the NASCAR season opens at Daytona. The Daytona 500 is one of the few races that will see NASCAR Cup Series teams fail to qualify before the event. One driver in danger of going home empty-handed is seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, whose part-time entry will have to make it either on speed or through one of the qualifying races.

Who to watch for the Great American Race? There’s someone for everyone, but keep an eye on Kyle Busch. Driving for Richard Childress Racing, he’s entered the season seemingly relaxed, and while he’s never won the Daytona 500, RCR has always put contenders out on superspeedways. After all, Austin Dillon won the summer race last year and has a 500 win as well. And while Busch has the stress of last year behind him, he’s certainly got something to prove.

How… likely is a points race at the Coliseum?

As a long-term installation on the schedule, it’s unlikely simply because of the cost and work of putting down the temporary surface only to tear it up year after year. It’s a massive, impressive undertaking, and one that would get old quickly. The caution-filled racing was also tiresome this time around.

But with Auto Club Speedway off the schedule next year and quite possibly the year after that at the track, currently a two-mile intermediate, reinvents itself as a half-mile oval, L.A. becomes a possibility as a stopgap. Construction at Auto Club will take over a year and NASCAR wants to keep a points race on the West Coast in the meantime. 

The Clash would likely have to undergo a format change, though. The 150-lap event is currently less than 50 miles long. It would have to be expanded to 400-500 laps to match other short track points races.

Perhaps the biggest challenge would be to race 40 cars on the quarter-mile surface. The 27-car Clash lineup is tight and NASCAR has to include the 36 chartered teams in a points race at a minimum (that’s if they left any open teams out entirely). It’s doable, but only if absolute chaos is the goal. 

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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DoninAjax

“It’s doable, but only if absolute chaos is the goal.”

ABSOLUTELY!!!!!

janice

from some of the pre-race interviews these “stars” really had no clue about nascar. that wiz interview was painful. he wanted no part of that. then gwen stefani was another enlightening interview. i think bowyer was wishing she hadn’t stopped in the booth. and oh my… the “grid walk”…someone needs to explain to ty gibbs who michael waltrip is.

i loved how “sold out” the venue was. can tell the LA area is really excited about nascar.

and the driver intros…….that actor should of had cue cards!

Last edited 1 year ago by janice
eddo

Kyle Harvick is my vote for 2023 Rookie of the year….

janice

that was hilarious!

Tom B

After watching this show I really have to change my view of NASCAR. I have been watching almost every open wheel and stock car racing on TV since the inception. This show has turned me off. That not Racing and that’s not Entertainment. This years Buffoons are Adam Alexander and Clint Boyer with help of woman enabler. It is ridiculous to spend all this money building a track and driving 6000+ miles for a non point race. The Motegi Japan exhibition race made more sense.
This is a great track venue. Smooth as a billiard table. Clean and every seat is fantastic. But it’s for Midgets, Mini-Sprints, Dwarf/Legend/Bandolaro Cars and Go Karts, not full size Stock Cars. It could take over the Chili Bowl but for asphalt racers. A two week show. All seats $5.00.

Kicks

It used to be that you had to qualify for the Clash by winning a pole during the previous year. That added a bit of prestige to the event. Now it’s open to everybody so there is less glamour to the event.

Carl D.

I’ve yet to watch a memorable Clash. The racing at the Coliseum Sunday was entertaining, but it wasn’t memorable. I’m okay with that for an exhibition race, but not a points race. And 40 cars on that track will never work.

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