Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin Puts on a Clinic in L.A.

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

For most of the race it looked like his younger teammate was the class of the field, but by the end of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it was veteran Denny Hamlin atop the podium.

Hamlin didn’t have the speed that teammate Ty Gibbs boasted for much of the night, and he wasn’t quite as aggressive as Joey Logano or Kyle Busch in pursuit of the win, but Hamlin knew how to race the track and his competition, and the raced them in that order.

Hamlin led twice for 58 of the 150 total green-flag laps, one of just four drivers who led laps Saturday night. There may have been a little luck involved — his car was just fast enough to keep a charging Kyle Busch off his bumper on the final lap — but the 43-year-old Hamlin had things well in hand, kicking off 2024 with a win.

See also
Ryan Blaney Begins Title Defense With Top-3 Charge in Busch Clash

And don’t forget Ryan Blaney. Sometimes a driver dominates a race, and sometimes he just keeps his head down and works to make his car and his approach to the track better. The latter is, over time, what makes drivers champions.

On Saturday, it was defending Cup champion Blaney having to make the best of a difficult situation. Blaney’s No. 12 was not fast enough to make the race on speed. He had to fall back on the provisional starting spot that went to the highest-finishing driver in 2023 not to make the race on speed.

By the end of the night, though, Blaney had worked his way into the top five, and when the checkers flew, the top three. Blaney nearly squeezed past Kyle Busch on the last corner, finishing third. 

While entering the weekend  too slow to earn a second glance is not the way to repeat a championship season, the ability to overcome that situation is invaluable. 

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

NASCAR made a great last-minute call to move the race up a full day in order to have an opportunity to race, but despite free admission to the event, the crowd was sparse at best. You read that right — the event was free for anyone who wanted to come … and very few took the offer.

So, after three years, has the shine worn off? Will the race return to the city of Angels for a fourth time, or is it time to go somewhere — anywhere — else?

It’s a big ask (demand, really; the 36 chartered teams are required to show up) for teams to make a 3000-mile cross-country trek with the Daytona 500, a points-paying race and the sport’s Super Bowl, looming on the horizon. Rumors of taking the Clash to Mexico make even less sense on that front.

It may be time to sunset this race altogether. But if not, it should come back closer to home. Charlotte Motor Speedway has a quarter-mile track…

See also
5 Points To Ponder: Should The Clash Be Moved To The Summer?

Where… would a spring exhibition race really make sense? 

In reality, Charlotte in February is an iffy proposition. Temperatures can be in the mid-60s but they can also be in the 30s or 40s. The quarter-mile on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway is interesting – teams could possibly make a single hauler trip with equipment. But the little oval is far from the grandstands, making it unappealing to attend.

Of course, NASCAR could go back to Daytona’s big oval, where the race was held for years. But that’s not a great solution either in an era where practice time has been pared down to almost none as it would give the teams racing in the Clash significant extra Daytona 500 practice, which is not only a step backwards in terms of parity, but has the potential to make that aspect much more important to teams than actually trying to win the Clash.

But the extension of the NFL season, pushing the Super Bowl up a week, means that the Clash would either have to run on Saturday the week prior to the 500 or keep the two-week gap between events that doesn’t really make sense. Any momentum from a great Clash is immediately halted for the Super Bowl.

Maybe it’s just time to say goodbye.

When… was the moment of truth?

Moving the race was a great call. Even better was the decision to refund fans who had purchased tickets and opening the doors to all for free. The late audible did limit the number of fans who could rearrange their plans to attend, but NASCAR handled it well. There may well have been significant pressure from local authorities who have more important things to deal with from the storm system than a NASCAR race.

Does this set a new precedent for race weekends? It shouldn’t, or at least it should be a truly last resort, save for races like the Chicago street race on a temporary course where an extended stay would be detrimental to the city.

Moving a race start up an hour or so is different than moving it up a whole day. When there are other races scheduled, those teams are also impacted, and they aren’t operating on the budgets the Cup teams have, so extra days in a hotel are a huge expense.  If qualifying is cancelled, there are times when a team will go home without the opportunity to qualify, and if that happens to a popular driver, it’s even more frustrating for fans.

Weather is going to happen when sports take place outdoors, and there’s just no getting around that. However, NASCAR can take steps to mitigate weather issues. They’ve improved at scheduling — the weather in Phoenix is more likely to be dry in March than parts of the east coast. There are still ways to make delays and postponements less common, like starting races at a time of day when weather is less likely.

There’s a reason the summer race at Daytona started before noon for years.

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

You shouldn’t, there’s just some football game on. But the following week is the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s opening weekend (Speedweeks is gone in favor of Speed Couple of Days). All of NASCAR’s national series will be back on track. 

While the days of well over 50 Cup teams showing up to try and earn a spot in the Great American Race are well behind us, there will still be a little drama in qualifying as someone will go home, and one of the vulnerable ones is a seven-time champion. The qualifying races may be a formality to fans these days, but they won’t be for newly-anointed Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson and any other drivers not assured of a starting spot.

The new season brings new possibilities, new opportunities. Hope springs eternal.

See also
Ty Gibbs' Dominant Clash Ends in 18th, Spat with Joey Logano

How… likely are we to see a new rivalry pop up between Joey Logano and Ty Gibbs?

Logano schooled Gibbs in Los Angeles, and Gibbs didn’t like it, making his displeasure clear on track and off as the two confronted each other after the checkers, with Logano obviously angry at Gibbs’ antics.

While most would-be rivalries in NASCAR have fizzled quickly in recent years (and this likely here too), the sport could use a real one. The problem is, real rivalries are rooted in respect, and that seems lost here.

Still, it’s an interesting prospect. Gibbs is probably in way over his head taking on Logano, but the similarities between the two are hard to overlook. Logano was once Joe Gibbs Racing’s hot young prospect, though he found more success after moving on to Team Penske.

Gibbs is now the much-anticipated young talent and while he hasn’t won a race yet, he has shown improvement, and for much of Saturday night’s exhibition, looked like he had the win in his pocket…before getting shuffled out of the lead by Logano, Busch and Kyle Larson on a restart. Finding himself back in the field, Gibbs’ edge was gone.

Gibbs tried to rough up Logano’s bumper on a subsequent restart, sparking the post-race fireworks.

Keep an eye on these two in the next few weeks. It may not be a lifelong rivalry in the making, but it could be a volatile situation this year.

About the author

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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

Didn’t Baby Busch finish second?

I imagine Hamlin said “I deserved to win.”

jim

Looks like Nascar trying to be F1.
Losing their identity.

janice

maybe the people that had tickets for sunday, when the race was moved up, possibly they were in process of storm prep? from what i have seen california has been hit with crazy weather. at least i read where the ticket holders will be able to receive a refund.

this race, in my opinion, is past it’s expiration date. save the teams the money of preparing a car, transporting it and the support staff and drivers to the west coast before the start of the season. the clash use to be part of the hype of speed weeks, but not much is the same as it was 25 hrs ago. they now qualify on wed, use to be they’d qualify the first 2 positions the sunday before 500.

looks like the tempers were up with the same group of drivers too.

wildcats2016

We had it on watching on TV. Saw the 1st 75 laps and wasn’t terribly excited by any of it. Fell asleep before the next 75 laps began so had to read about who finished where. Although having this race at Daytona is another opportunity for a wreckfest, at least I tended to stay awake.

MikeinAZ

Yes, they need to move the clash away from LA. I would say move it to Talladega or back to Daytona.

MikeinAZ

Wasn’t thrilled with another Gibbs win, but I’ll take that over another Hendrick win any day of the week.

Joshua

Suggesting that we have less racing is a bullshit thing to do from a NASCAR webpage. We need MORE writers espousing the positives of more racing and a return to SPEEDWEEKS. How many years did the Clash have to worry about the Superbowl before NASCAR got in bed with FOX, etc? A long time. Races need to be longer, the cars are more durable and the drivers actually train. Bring it back to Daytona and stop worrying about the Chinese Gen Z TikTok addicts. If you returned NASCAR to how it was, old fans would come back. Time to give up the gimmick and time for Frontstretch to do away with Amy. Get a fan to write for you.

DoninAjax

I’m reminded again of the line that applies to a lot of people: “You can’t handle the truth!”

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