After enduring a difficult 2022 season mired with no victories and missing the Playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. responded back with vengeance by winning the second annual Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 5.
The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Mayetta, New Jersey, took care of business at the start of the weekend by being the fastest competitor during Saturday’s practice session before winning the second of four Heat qualifying events, which placed him on the front row for the main event. During the main event, he led the final 25 of 150-scheduled laps and survived a chaotic evening mired with multiple on-track incidents and restarts, including the last one with seven laps remaining, to fend off Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch for his first career victory in the Clash.
The eligibility for the event included all NASCAR Cup Series chartered team competitors along with open teams. The lineup for the heat qualifying events was determined through a single-round and single-car qualifying session that occurred on Saturday, Feb. 4.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s qualifying session, Justin Haley posted the fastest-qualifying lap at 67.099 mph in 13.413 seconds and started on the pole position for the first heat event. Kyle Busch, who posted the second-fastest qualifying lap at 66.406 mph in 13.553 seconds, started on the pole position for the second heat event while Christopher Bell, who posted the third-fastest qualifying lap at 66.328 mph in 13.569 seconds, claimed the top starting spot for the third heat event. Lastly, William Byron, who posted the fourth-fastest qualifying lap at 66.196 mph in 13.596 seconds, was awarded the number one starting spot for the fourth and final heat event.
The lineup for the exhibition feature was determined through four 25-lap heat races as nine competitors from a total of 36 competed in each. The top-five finishers from each heat (20 total) earned a one-way ticket to the Clash. Afterward, the competitors who did not advance to the Clash via the heat races participated in two 50-lap Last Chance Qualifying races. The top-three finishers in each Last Chance Qualifying event advanced to the Clash while the rest were left on the sidelines.
In the first Heat event, Aric Almirola, who started on the front row alongside Justin Haley, capitalized in a race-long battle against Haley to win and claim the pole position for the main event as he also made the Clash at Los Angeles for the first time in his career. Also transferring to the main event were Alex Bowman, Haley, rookie Noah Gragson and reigning series champion Joey Logano, all of whom finished in the top five in the first heat event, while Michael McDowell, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher were sent to the Last Chance Qualifiers.
In the second Heat event, Martin Truex Jr. prevailed in a five-lap shootout to beat Kyle Busch and win as he claimed a front-row starting spot for the main event. Busch, who led a race-high 18 laps, settled in second followed by teammate Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick, who edged Chase Elliott at the finish line to claim the fifth transfer spot as he makes his 19th and final career start at the Clash. Meanwhile, Elliott joined Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Cindric (who spun twice) and BJ McLeod as competitors who were sent to the Last Chance Qualifiers.
In the third Heat event, Denny Hamlin overtook teammate and pole-sitter Christopher Bell on the sixth lap and retained the lead for the remainder of the event, which included two late-race shootouts, to win and claim the third-place starting spot for the main event. Joining Hamlin in the main event were Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and, Daniel Suarez, who rallied from a late run-in with Brad Keselowski and overtook Todd Gilliland on the final lap to claim the fifth and final transfer spot. Meanwhile, Bell, who spun with three laps remaining, was sent to the Last Chance Qualifier along with Gilliland, Keselowski and JJ Yeley.
In the fourth and final Heat event, William Byron cruised to the heat event after leading all 25 laps as he claimed a second-row starting spot for the main event. Byron beat runner-up Bubba Wallace by more than a second as both, along with top-five finishers Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones, who fended off rookie Ty Gibbs, and AJ Allmendinger on the final lap, transferred to the main event. Meanwhile, Gibbs and Allmendinger joined Corey LaJoie and Cody Ware as the next four competitors to be sent to the Last Chance Qualifier.
Prior to the event, Logano was the lone competitor who was guaranteed a spot in the 2023 Busch Light Clash based on a point provisional and being the reigning Cup Series champion. With both Logano and championship runner-up Chastain earning a top-five result in their respective heat events and racing their way into the main event, however, Bell was the next competitor in line to be guaranteed a spot for the Clash based on the points provisional after finishing in third place in the 2022 Cup standings. Despite having the option to not run the Last Chance Qualifier and take the provisional to start in 27th and last place for the main event, he opted to compete in the first Last Chance Qualifier as he started alongside pole-sitter McDowell.
In the first Last Chance Qualifying event, Michael McDowell led all 50 laps en route to the qualifier victory to claim a transfer spot for the Clash. Bell and Todd Gilliland finished second and third as they both also transferred into the main event while Harrison Burton, Brad Keselowski, Ty Dillon and JJ Yeley failed to qualify.
With Bell racing his way into the Clash based on a transfer spot, Elliott, who started on the pole position for the second and final Last Chance Qualifying event, was the next competitor in line to be guaranteed a provisional to compete in the main event. In addition, Chris Buescher, who initially did not earn a transfer spot in the first Last Chance Qualifier, was left to await his fate of racing or not racing in the main event, based on if both Elliott and Austin Cindric would earn transfer spots through the upcoming qualifying event.
In the second and final Last Chance Qualifying event, Elliott led all 50 laps and edged rookie Ty Gibbs in a photo finish to win and race his way into the Clash. Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger, both of whom finished second and third, also transferred along with Cindric, who finished fifth but was awarded a provisional to make his first career start in the Clash, where he will roll off the starting grid in 27th and last place. This officially left Buescher out of the event along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Corey LaJoie, Cody Ware and BJ McLeod.
When the main event commenced under green, the 27 starters battled against one another for positions through two lanes around the one-quarter mile short track, among which included front-row starters Almirola and Truex until Almirola pulled ahead to lead the first lap by a fender over Truex. During the following lap, Almirola managed to clear Truex and control both lanes through the first two turns. Behind, Truex managed to settle in second in front of a side-by-side battle between Denny Hamlin and William Byron while Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch battled for fifth place.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Almirola was leading by nearly half a second over Truex followed by Hamlin, Bowman and Byron while Busch, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley and Austin Dillon were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Tyler Reddick was in 11th ahead of Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney while a flurry of names led by Joey Logano duked it out for spots within the top 20.
Ten laps into the event, Almirola extended his advantage to more than a second over Hamlin, who was being pressured by teammate Truex for the runner-up spot, while Bowman led a parade of competitors in fourth place.
Six laps later and just as Almirola started to catch and lap the competitors at the rear of the field, including Todd Gilliland, the first caution of the event flew when Erik Jones, who was trying to challenge Harvick for position midway in the field, spun his No. 43 Allegiant Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through Turns 1 and 2 after getting bumped and turned by McDowell as he became the first retiree of the event.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 16, Hamlin and Almirola dueled for the lead until Hamlin prevailed during the following lap by a fender. Shortly after, Truex got sideways entering Turn 1 after he got hit by Byron as he bumped and rubbed against Almirola, which moved the latter up the track as he fell out of the battle toward the front of the pack.
Then on Lap 23, the caution returned when a domino effect within the middle of the pack resulted in Chase Briscoe bumping and sending Ryan Blaney spinning his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang through Turns 3 and 4. Blaney’s incident ignited a stack-up and chain reaction as Daniel Suarez, Elliott and Gibbs sustained damage to their respective cars while trying to avoid Blaney.
During the following restart on Lap 23, Hamlin retained the lead ahead of Busch and Truex as the rest of the competitors behind jostled for positions. Hamlin would continue to lead through the Lap 35 mark. By then, teammate Truex was in second followed by Wallace and Austin Dillon while Busch was back in fifth. The third caution of the event would then fly on Lap 42 when Gibbs bumped Gilliland into AJ Allmendinger entering Turn 2 as Allmendinger spun his No. 16 Action Industries Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the Turn 2 outside wall. The caution period allowed Elliott, who was lapped by Hamlin, to cycle back on the lead lap.
With the event restarting under green on Lap 42, Hamlin retained the lead by a narrow margin through the first two turns. Then entering Turn 3, an accordion effect that started with Truex bumping into the rear of Wallace on the inside line resulted in Wallace bumping and sending his owner Hamlin up the track as he lost the lead and was relegated back to sixth. This, however, allowed Wallace to move into the lead followed by Truex, Byron, Dillon and Busch.
At the Lap 50 mark, Wallace was leading by six-tenths of a second over Truex followed by Byron, Dillon and Busch while Reddick, Preece, Bowman, Larson and Logano were running in the top 10. Amid the battles around the circuit, Hamlin had fallen back to 12th.
Ten laps later, Wallace continued to lead by four-tenths of a second over Truex while Byron, Dillon and Busch remained in the top five. By then, Almirola was lapped by Wallace while Hamlin was still mired in 12th.
Then with two laps remaining in the first half of the event, trouble struck for Hamlin as he spun his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota TRD Camry entering Turn 2 after getting bumped by former rival Chastain. Hamlin’s incident generated the event’s fourth caution and set the stage for a two-lap shootout to conclude the first half of the event.
During the two-lap shootout, Wallace managed to fend off Austin Dillon and retain the lead for two cycles around the Coliseum before the event reached its halfway mark and the competitors entered an intermission period. With Wallace out in front, Truex managed to move into second followed by Dillon, Byron and Reddick while Preece, Busch, Bowman, Logano and Larson were scored in the top 10. In addition, 23 of the 27 starters were scored on the lead lap.
At the conclusion of the intermission period, which included a performance by rapper Wiz Khalifa, the race proceeded under green with 75 laps remaining. At the start, Wallace remained as the leader by a narrow margin over Truex before Truex started to ignite a challenge for the top spot followed by Dillon. The caution, however, was quick to return during the following lap when Gibbs got bumped by teammate Hamlin and spun his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry in Turn 2.
Over the course of the next five laps, starting with 74 laps remaining, Wallace retained the lead ahead of Truex, Dillon and Preece amid three caution periods and three separate incidents that involved Harvick, Bell, McDowell, Hamlin, Gibbs and Gilliland. Then during a restart with 68 laps remaining, Preece, who had slowly moved his way up the leaderboard and was running within the top five, executed his mark as he moved into the lead over Wallace, which dropped Wallace into the runner-up spot while Bowman and Truex battled for third place. It only took three laps for the caution to fly due to an incident in Turn 2 that involved Allmendinger, Cindric and Bell. Then as Preece retained the lead during the following restart with 65 laps remaining, the caution quickly returned a lap later when Logano, who overshot his entrance into Turn 3, got into the left-rear quarter panel of Busch’s No. 8 BetMGM Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as Busch spun and plummeted below the leaderboard.
As the race resumed under green flag conditions with 64 laps remaining, Preece managed to fend off Bowman to retain the lead while Truex was in third ahead of Wallace while Austin Dillon and Byron were in fifth and sixth.
Down to the final 50 laps of the event, Preece was leading by three-tenths of a second over Bowman followed by Truex, Wallace and Dillon while Byron, Larson, Haley, Reddick and Briscoe were in the top 10. By then, all but two of 27 starters were running on the track, with 26 scored on the lead lap.
Six laps later, the caution flew when Haley spun his No. 31 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Turn 2 after getting hit by Reddick, who got hit by Briscoe entering the turn.
With the race restarting with 44 laps remaining, Preece and Bowman engaged in another brief battle until the former prevailed. Three laps later, another accordion effect resulted in Briscoe spinning in Turn 3 as he also collected Gragson, thus drawing another caution period. As the field attempted to restart with 41 laps remaining, where Preece outdueled Bowman with the lead, it only took four laps for the caution to return as Blaney wrecked against the outside wall in Turn 2 after getting bumped by Reddick and Chastain.
Amid a restart with 37 laps remaining, Preece pulled ahead once again through the first two turns to retain the lead as Truex started to intimidate Bowman for the runner-up spot by bumping him. A few laps later, Truex carved his way into second, which allowed Wallace to challenge Bowman for third as Austin Dillon joined the battle.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Preece was leading by half a second over Truex followed by Wallace, Dillon and Bowman. Behind, Byron was in sixth ahead of Larson, Chastain, Gragson and Reddick.
Then with six laps remaining, Truex overtook Preece and assumed the lead, with the latter reporting a mechanical issue but keeping his No. 41 United Rentals Ford Mustang on the track. Soon after, Preece started to fall off the pace as both Dillon and Wallace moved into podium spots.
With 15 laps remaining, Truex was out in front by more than a second over Dillon and more than two seconds over Wallace while Bowman and Byron were in the top five. Meanwhile, Preece was back in sixth while Chastain, Busch, Larson and Reddick were in the top 10. By then, McDowell was also starting to fall off the pace due to a mechanical issue.
With 10 laps remaining, the caution flew when McDowell stopped on the track amid a fuel issue with his No. 34 FR8Auctions.com Ford Mustang. The caution erased Truex’s steady advantage over Dillon as the field stacked up for a 10-lap shootout.
At the start of the 10-lap shootout to the finish, Truex managed to persevere over a brief challenge from Wallace to retain the lead as Dillon ignited a challenge on Wallace before overtaking him for the runner-up spot. Wallace, however, fought back as he repeatedly bumped against Dillon through the straightaways and the turns in front of Busch and Bowman. Then with seven laps remaining, Dillon delivered the final blow to Wallace as he sent the latter spinning into the Turn 1 outside wall with the caution flying. Under the caution period, Wallace pulled his No. 23 DoorDash Toyota TRD Camry in front of Dillon and hit the right-front fender of Dillon’s No. 3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to express his displeasure before dropping back to the rear of the field.
As the race restarted with seven laps remaining, Truex engaged in a tight battle with Busch, who had methodically carved his way back to the front, before the former prevailed on the inside lane during the following lap and through Turn 4. As the laps started to dwindle, Truex retained the lead as Busch surrendered the runner-up spot to teammate Dillon with four laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Truex retained the lead with a decent advantage over Dillon. As a series of late battles and chaos ensued within the middle of the pack, Truex was able to cruise away with the lead and cycle his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry around the quarter-mile short track for a final time as he crossed the finish line in first place and claim the first checkered flag of the 2023 Cup season.
Truex’s first Clash career victory occurred in his 12th start in NASCAR’s exhibition event as he also recorded the 11th Clash victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and the seventh for Toyota. The 2023 season is set to mark Truex’s 18th full-time season competing in NASCAR’s premier series as he sets his sights on winning a second Cup championship.
“It was just a really good race car,” Truex said on FOX. “The [pit crew] guys did a great job with this Bass Pro Shops Club Toyota Camry. Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins. To come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of all these guys. Tonight was just kind of persevere, not give up and just battle through it. We found ourselves in the right spot at the end. Sometimes, they work out. Sometimes, they don’t. Tonight, it went our way and we made some good adjustments too.”
With Truex winning the event, Austin Dillon nursed his wounded No. 3 car to a second-place finish while teammate Busch settled in third place in his first start driving for Richard Childress Racing. At the conclusion of the event, all three competitors took part in the series’ inaugural medals ceremony beneath the Coliseum’s Olympic cauldron.
“I hate it for Bubba [Wallace],” Dillon, who achieved his fourth top-five result in the Clash, said. “He had a good car and a good run. You can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me into the corner. I saved it three times through there, released the brake, all kinds of stuff and when I got down, I was gonna give the same [to Wallace]. Probably, it was a little bit too hard. The Get Bioethanol Chevy was pretty good. It’s beat up, used up. [Thanks to] Teammate [Kyle Busch] for letting me go try and get Truex at the end. That was nice. It’s been fun. Hopefully, we can do this more often.”
“It was a battle all night long,” Busch added. “You can’t count us out. You always gotta bet on us with the BetMGM Camaro. We’ve used the outside [lane] on a lot of passes, everybody would get bottled up on the bottom [lane] and start bumper-tagging, and I’d just go around them on the outside. When you’re deep in the field, you can do some of that and work your way around. Overall, good to get back up to third. We could’ve got second, but like Austin [Dillon] said, I let him go. He was better than us in practice and was better than us in the beginning of the race there on the long runs. I thought he could have a shot at trying to get closer to [Truex] and I’ll push him through [Truex] in order for us to get the one, two [finish], but never made it there.”
Bowman and Larson claimed top-five results while Reddick, Preece, Chastain, Hamlin and Byron finished in the top 10.
There were four lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured a total of 16 cautions as 22 of 27 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Martin Truex Jr., 25 laps led
2. Austin Dillon
3. Kyle Busch
4. Alex Bowman
5. Kyle Larson
6. Tyler Reddick
7. Ryan Preece, 43 laps led
8. Ross Chastain
9. Denny Hamlin, 26 laps led
10. William Byron
11. Justin Haley
12. Kevin Harvick
13. Christopher Bell
14. Noah Gragson
15. Chase Briscoe
16. Joey Logano
17. Ryan Blaney
18. Aric Almirola, 16 laps led
19. Daniel Suarez
20. AJ Allmendinger
21. Chase Elliott
22. Bubba Wallace, 40 laps led
23. Todd Gilliland – OUT, Fuel
24. Michael McDowell – OUT, Fuel
25. Austin Cindric – OUT, Engine
26. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Suspension
27. Erik Jones – OUT, Suspension
The NASCAR Cup Series teams and competitors will be taking a one-week break before returning to action at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the 65th running of the Daytona 500. Qualifying that will determine the front row for the main event will occur on February 15 at 8:15 p.m. ET on FS1 while the rest of the lineup will be determined through the Bluegreen Vacation Duels on February 16, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on FS1. The 500, which will launch NASCAR’s 75th season of competition, is scheduled to commence on February 19 with the event’s coverage to occur at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.