LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Martin Truex Jr. stayed in the hunt long enough to start 2023 with a bang by securing a win in the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 5. He was followed by Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson as they rounded out the top five.
Truex’s win on the quarter-mile stadium track marks his first in any NASCAR Cup Series event since his win at Richmond Raceway in 2021.
But What Really Happened?
Some good quality nighttime short track exhibition racing fun.
For the first 75 laps, there were only four cautions that slowed the field within the quarter-mile stadium. All in all, that’s not that bad, especially at a short track race.
But after Wiz Khalifa performed during the race’s halftime show, something new seemed to be in the air that hindered driving ability.
Caution after caution. Spin after spin. The field would bunch up again and again, making no progress in the race’s distance since caution flag laps weren’t counted.
It didn’t end until lap 143, and with a mad dash taking place over eight laps, the Clash finally ended with many drivers upset with one another after multiple spins that saw a total of 16 caution flags waved.
But as an exhibition race with no points rewarded in the entertainment capital of the world, all of that is just fine.
The new (and improved) Busch Light Clash was mostly made to bring an entertaining product into a new market featuring a weird track with an interesting venue in an interesting location.
And let’s face it. It’s working.
But for once, let’s just keep it the way it is and not try to fix what isn’t broken by making it into a points race.
With the announcement that Auto Club Speedway – the season’s only other southern California track – will not be featured on the Cup Series schedule next year because of its reconfiguration, many are clamoring to find another venue that will replace it as the series’ points race in SoCal.
Naturally, all eyes darted to the Coliseum.
The thing is, the Clash, or at least the quarter-miler it’s raced on, was never meant to be a points-paying event. Can you imagine racing 36 cars on it at once?
Heck, 27 seemed to be too much already.
Who stood out?
Most of Sunday night’s race was divided into sections with different leaders exchanging the point, only to lose it after an optimistic divebomb from the driver behind went wrong.
But the night’s laps led leader, Ryan Preece, seemed to be the one to beat late in the race.
The former career modified racer from Connecticut had plenty of experience on short quarter-mile flat tracks in modifieds.
It was showing. Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver led the race-high 43 laps. If it weren’t for a mechanical failure, Preece would have undoubtedly been at least fighting for the lead near the end. Instead, he ended his second career Clash with a seventh-place finish.
But for the first half of the race, Bubba Wallace was the man of the hour.
The 23XI Racing driver led the second-most laps with 40 after sending his team owner Denny Hamlin wide only to be shuffled back into third on lap 83 by Preece.
While Wallace stayed in the hunt for most of the second half, however, a hard battle with Austin Dillon saw him spin well out of contention.
With no time left, Wallace didn’t recover and finished 22nd.
He isn’t happy about it.
Who fell flat?
After what was a successful 2022 that saw him with the most wins, laps led and finish fourth in the standings, Chase Elliott had a disappointing beginning to 2023.
The Napa Chevrolet’s woes really began during qualifying when he posted a lackluster lap time that saw him have to start his heat from near the back. It wasn’t until Elliott clinched his transfer spot in his last chance qualifying race.
Yet after the qualifying headaches, the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s night only got worse.
Despite the attrition and high spin rate, Elliott spent most of the night trying to fight to stay on the lead lap. He never quite recovered and finished 21st.
Better than last time?
To put things into perspective, there were three times as many cautions in this one 150-lap race than there were last year.
With the new version of the Clash taking place under the lights this year, it gave fans and audiences a prettier venue to look with lights glistening off the cars as they rotated around the short circuit.
It also made it easier to look at when they were pacing around at a painful 30 mph under yellow flags.
And there was plenty of that on Sunday.
Despite the higher amount of chaos, however, there was greater competition. While 2022 only saw three different leaders, Sunday night’s version of this new Clash had five drivers exchange the top spot. That’s not bad considering they were being stopped every few laps.
In addition, the nighttime racing made braking into the corners harder with more tire lockup, meaning dive bombs, rear bumper slams and hurt feelings were much more common than one year ago.
In all, NASCAR really didn’t need the Busch Light Clash to be better than last year. It just needed to be as good.
And it was.
Paint scheme of the race
With the showcase of most of the field’s 2023 liveries being on full display only a few feet from the red carpet in the entertainment capital of the world, we finally saw what new fashion statements teams were making for the year.
Yet as more things change, the more they stay the same, and if a scheme isn’t broken, why fix it?
That’s just what Team Penske and Austin Cindric asked.
It’s the same scheme that won last year’s Clash version of Paint Scheme of the Race, albeit with some slightly brighter blue highlights.
Not to mention, with this year’s Clash being under the lights, that Tron-style blue design stood out within the quarter-mile circuit even more than it did last year.
The biggest race of the year.
The Daytona 500.
The NASCAR Cup Series will officially begin its 2023 season as it almost always has – on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Cup qualifying for the Great American Race begins on Wednesday night, Feb. 15 at 8:15 p.m. ET with the field-setting Bluegreen Vacation Duels beginning at 7 p.m. ET. the next day on Feb. 16.
Finally, the 500-mile main event will see the green flag wave at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 19.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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