Hamlin, Kyle Busch primed for milestone Clash starts

With Kevin Harvick set to join the FOX Sports’ NASCAR broadcast team for the 2024 season following his retirement from full-time Cup Series competition, Denny Hamlin enters this year’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum weekend with the most starts in the Clash as an active Cup competitor at 18, all occurring in consecutive years.

Hamlin and former teammate Kyle Busch, who has made 17 starts in the Clash, will also enter this weekend with potential milestone starts in the Clash set to occur. By earning a spot and competing in the main event at The Coliseum, Hamlin will tie Harvick, Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace for having the fourth-most starts in the Clash at 19 while Busch will tie brother Kurt, Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte for eighth place in the Clash’s all-time starts list at 18.

Hamlin’s debut in the Clash occurred during the 2006 season at Daytona International Speedway. By then, the Chesterfield, Virginia, native had made his first seven career starts in the Cup Series in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 FedEx entry in the second half of the 2005 season, where he recorded three top-10 results and notched his first career pole position at Phoenix Raceway in November, the latter of which earned him a spot into the 2006 Clash.

During his first Clash start, Hamlin pulled the upset by leading three times for 16 laps and fending off a bevy of Cup stars amid a two-lap shootout to win the event and become the first Rookie-of-the-Year candidate to win the Clash. The Clash victory would serve as a pivotal moment for Hamlin, who would proceed to win his first two Cup points-paying victories by sweeping both Pocono Raceway events, qualifying for the Playoffs, settling in third place in the 2006 final driver’s standings and capturing the Rookie-of-the-Year title.

Following the 2006 season, Hamlin finished no higher than ninth place during his next three starts at The Clash as he would be involved in two final lap accidents during the three years. Then after finishing in fifth place during the 2010 Clash event, Hamlin was in a prime position to win the 2011 Clash as he pulled a slingshot move on drafting partner Ryan Newman entering the frontstretch on the final lap and came across the finish line dead even with Kurt Busch. With Hamlin overtaking Newman’s No. 39 Wix Filters Chevrolet by racing below the double yellow line boundary zone, however, he was relegated to 12th place, the final competitor scored on the lead lap, as Busch would be awarded the victory.

Three years later, Hamlin achieved his second career Clash victory after overtaking teammate Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski amid a three-wide pass for the lead with two laps remaining before steering his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to victory in an event where he led a race-high 27 laps and where only eight of 18 starters finished the event. Another two years later, the Virginia veteran would fend off a late challenge from former teammate Joey Logano amid an overtime shootout to claim his third Clash victory after retaining the lead before a multi-car wreck on the final lap that concluded the event under caution. Ironically, Hamlin, who led a race-high 39 laps, rallied from being involved in an early incident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. During the 2016 season, he would proceed to win the 58th running of the Daytona 500 and achieve his first Great American Race victory after edging Martin Truex Jr. across the finish line by 0.010 seconds, which stands as the closet margin of victory in a 500 event.

Following the 2016 Clash victory, Hamlin would finish no higher than sixth three times in the next five Clash events that continued to occur at Daytona. Since the Clash’s move to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2022, he has finished no higher than ninth, which occurred during the previous season’s event.

Through 18 previous starts at The Clash, Hamlin has racked up a total of three victories, five top-five results, 10 top-10 results, 201 laps led and an average-finishing result of 9.89.

Ironically, Kyle Busch’s first start in the Clash also occurred in 2006, a year after he won his first two Cup career victories, claimed his first pole position at Auto Club Speedway and achieved the 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year title. Driving the No. 5 CARQUEST Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Busch ended up in 15th place despite leading four laps. The following season, the Las Vegas native led a race-high 39 laps and was leading with eight laps remaining until he was shoved out of both the lead and draft by Tony Stewart. Stewart would proceed to win while Busch, who dodged a final lap wreck, managed to finish seventh.

After not being eligible to compete in the 2008 Clash due to not securing a pole position in 2007, Busch returned to the featured event in 2009. By then, he was campaigning in his second season piloting the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and was coming off a season where he had notched 10 victories and finished in 10th place in the final standings. Ultimately, Busch would finish in 10th place after being involved in a final lap wreck and would finish fourth and 16th, respectively, during his next two Clash starts (2010-11).

Then during the 2012 Clash, Busch achieved the impossible by rallying from two near spins amid a shower of sparks to draft Stewart to the lead on the final lap and pull a successful slingshot move on Stewart to win his first career Clash event by 0.013 seconds. By then, Busch recorded the fifth Clash career victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and the first for the Toyota nameplate. As noted earlier, Busch’s victory occurred after he slipped sideways twice on different occasions, but managed to straighten his car amid a shower of sparks to finish and ultimately, win the race.

The first incident occurred with 28 laps remaining after Busch, who was carving his way to the front, attempted to turn left and move his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota in front of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet amid the draft in Turn 1 when he made contact with Johnson and veered sideways twice through the superspeedway’s banked apron before managing to proceed without completely spinning sideways as the field scattered to avoid him. Then with two laps remaining, Busch was running in the runner-up spot behind Stewart and had Jeff Gordon drafting him through Turns 3 and 4 when Busch veered sideways off of Gordon’s No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet and triggered a multi-car wreck.

As a result, Gordon was turned across the outside wall and sent on his side before he slid across the track and barrel-rolled three times entering the frontstretch before coming to rest on his roof. Amid the carnage, Busch veered sideways three times across the apron in a shower of sparks before he fully spun below the track entering the frontstretch and managed to keep his car intact before he proceeded and eventually navigated his way to victory.

During his next eight starts in the Clash, Busch notched two top-three results and four top-10 finishes in the Clash, with his best result being a runner-up result in 2017 after edging Alex Bowman and Danica Patrick in a three-wide photo finish. Then in 2021, when the Clash occurred on the Daytona road-course layout for the first time, Busch capitalized on a final lap incident involving Ryan Blaney and reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott to storm to his second Clash career victory.

Busch’s 2021 Clash victory would serve as the final time where the exhibition event occurred at Daytona International Speedway. For the previous two seasons, where the Clash occurred at The Coliseum, Busch has finished in the top three during both events. He finished in the runner-up spot behind Logano despite leading a race-high 64 laps and ended up in third place during the 2023 Clash in his first event driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Through 18 previous starts at The Clash, Busch has achieved two victories, seven top-five results, 12 top-10 results, 131 laps led and an average-finishing result of 7.71.

Photo by David Myers for SpeedwayMedia.com.

Currently, Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the top two active Cup Series competitors with the most starts in the Clash at 18 and 17, respectively, followed by Joey Logano (15), Martin Truex Jr. (12), Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski (nine) and Kyle Larson (eight), as they attempt to race their way into the main event to extend their current starts streak in The Clash and contend for more victories.

Hamlin’s three Clash victories place him in a four-way tie with Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick for the second-most wins in The Clash while Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most Clash wins at six. Meanwhile, Busch is tied with Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano for the third-most Clash victories at two.

The starting lineup for the 2024 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be determined through four Heat Race qualifying events that will set the majority of the grid and occur on Saturday, February 3, beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1 followed by a 75-lap Last Chance Qualifying Race that will occur on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. on FOX. Afterward, 23 competitors from a field of 40 will make the main event, The Clash, which will occur on Sunday and air at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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