Amid an off-season surgery that nearly placed his availability status for NASCAR’s exhibition event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in question, Denny Hamlin responded with resurgence and early momentum after surviving a war of attrition evening to win the third annual Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, February 3.
The three-time Daytona 500 champion from Chesterfield, Virginia, led twice for 58 of 151 laps in an event where he claimed the pole position for The Clash based on setting the fastest lap during the event’s practice session that set the starting lineup. The event was bumped a day early from its original starting time on Sunday amid threat concerns of rain and flash flooding.
Despite losing the lead to Joey Logano early, Hamlin regained the lead on the third lap and led through Lap 49 until he was overtaken by teammate Ty Gibbs. Amid a series of bumps and on-track chaos ensuing throughout the event, Hamlin would then capitalize on a 10-lap restart to overtake Gibbs and Logano for the lead. He retained the lead to fend off Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney during a two-lap shootout to achieve his fourth career victory at The Clash.
The eligibility for the event included all NASCAR Cup Series chartered and non-chartered team competitors. The lineup for The Clash was initially set to be determined through each competitor’s fastest lap time from their final practice session that was originally scheduled to occur on Saturday. This would then be followed by four heat events and a Last Chance Qualifier Race between Saturday and Sunday that would feature 36 participants battling for 23 entrance spots.
With the exhibition event being rescheduled to occur on Saturday night instead of Sunday due to the threat of rain and flooding on Sunday within the Southern California region, the starting lineup was instead determined through the event’s practice sessions separated into three groups, including the final session being a qualifying session, where the first 22 starting spots were determined based on practice speeds while the 23rd and final provisional spot was left for the top finisher in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series standings who has not qualified for the event.
At the conclusion of the practice sessions that included qualifying, Denny Hamlin secured the pole position for the main event after posting a pole-winning speed at 68.498 mph in 13.139 seconds during his practice session. Joey Logano joined Hamlin on the front row after he posted the second-fastest speed at 67.925 mph in 13.25 seconds while Ty Gibbs, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace and Justin Haley started in the top 10. The following names that included Tyler Reddick, Ryan Preece, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Todd Gilliland, Michael McDowell, Noah Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe started 11th through 22nd, respectively, while Ryan Blaney was awarded the provisional, 23rd and final, starting spot into the main event based on being last year’s Cup Series champion.
The following names that include Josh Williams, Carson Hocevar, Josh Berry, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric, Christopher Bell, Kaz Grala, Harrison Burton and Zane Smith did not qualify for the main event.
When the main event commenced under green, Hamlin and Logano dueled for the lead amid two tight-packed lanes entering Turn 1 until Logano used the outside lane to rocket his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang Dark Horse ahead of Hamlin through Turn 2. Despite Hamlin’s efforts in side-drafting and making contact with Logano to stall his momentum, Logano managed to withstand his ground as he proceeded to lead the first lap. With Logano leading Hamlin, Ty Gibbs and Alex Bowman battled for third place before William Byron joined the battle along with Kyle Busch.
Two laps later, Hamlin prevailed in his early battle and on-track skirmish with Logano to lead for the first time in his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota Camry XSE, where he moved in front of Logano in Turn 3, as Ty Gibbs would assume the runner-up spot over Logano during the following lap. Gibbs would then find himself locked in a tight situation of fending off Logano, Byron and a bevy of competitors for the runner-up spot while teammate Hamlin retained the lead by the fifth lap mark.
Through the first 10 laps of the event, Hamlin was leading by six-tenths of a second over teammate Ty Gibbs followed by Logano, Byron and Kyle Busch while Alex Bowman, Ryan Preece, Kyle Larson, Justin Haley and Ross Chastain were scored in the top 10. Behind, Bubba Wallace occupied 11th place in front of Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr. and Michael McDowell while Noah Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Todd Gilliland, Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. John Hunter Nemechek and Ryan Blaney rounded out the 23-car field.
Ten laps later, Hamlin extended his advantage to nearly a second over teammate Gibbs while Logano, Byron and Busch occupied the top five in front of Bowman, Preece, Larson, Haley and Chastain. Meanwhile, Blaney, mired in 22nd place, was trying to carve his way up the leaderboard to avoid being pinned a lap down.
Another 10 laps later, Hamlin lapped last-place Noah Gragson, all while having his advantage shrink to within four-tenths of a second over teammate Gibbs and nearly a second over third-place Logano. In the process, Byron and Busch remained in the top five ahead of Bowman, Larson, Preece, Haley and Wallace.
At the Lap 50 mark and with the leaders mired in tight lapped traffic, the battle for the lead re-ignited as Gibbs used the lapped competitors of Gragson to move into the lead. Behind, Logano challenged Hamlin for the runner-up spot while Busch and Byron remained within close distance.
Just past the Lap 60 mark, Gibbs stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over Logano while Busch, Larson and Byron moved into the top five. Meanwhile, Hamlin fell back to seventh behind Bowman while Haley, Wallace and Chase Elliott were mired in the top 10.
Then 10 laps later, the first caution of the event flew after Todd Gilliland spun sideways into the Turn 1 outside wall as he became the first retiree of the event.
With the event restarting on Lap 71, where Gibbs and Logano occupied the front row, Logano and Gibbs dueled for the lead through Turn 1 until Gibbs bounced off of Logano and nearly got loose, which allowed Busch to place Gibbs and Logano in a tight three-wide battle for the lead until the latter muscled ahead from the outside lane in Turn 2. Logano would retain the lead through Turns 3 and 4 over Busch while Gibbs fell back to third in front of Larson and Byron. During the following lap, Hamlin would overtake Bowman for sixth place while Wallace tried to follow suit.
Then on Lap 74 and just as Logano was within reach of reaching the halfway segment under green flag conditions, the caution returned after John Hunter Nemechek was sent for a spin in between Turns 3 and 4 after Corey LaJoie threw a divebomb move beneath Nemechek entering Turn 3 that sent the latter into a spin.
During a one-lap shootout to the halfway mark, Logano and Busch dueled for the lead through the first turn until Logano managed to pull ahead with the lead through Turn 2. Shortly after, Larson and Gibbs placed Busch in a tight three-wide battle for the runner-up spot through Turn 2, which resulted in Larson assuming the runner-up spot as Gibbs and Busch nearly got sideways amid light contact, which allowed Byron to join the battle while Logano retained the lead. As the field returned to the start/finish line to reach the halfway mark on Lap 75, the event was placed in a brief intermission period. By then, Logano was scored the leader followed by Larson, Gibbs, Byron and Busch while Hamlin, Wallace, Bowman, Reddick and Chastain were scored in the top 10.
At the conclusion of the intermission period, the event restarted under green on Lap 76. At the start, Logano retained the lead over Larson, Busch and Ty Gibbs until Larson made his move on the inside lane as he challenged Logano for the top spot during the following lap. The caution, however, would return on Lap 77 after Bowman bumped Reddick into Wallace entering Turn 3 as Wallace spun his No. 23 Columbia Toyota Camry XSE in between Turns 3 and 4. Amid the incident, Elliott took his car to the Coliseum’s infield area due to a mechanical issue to his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
When the race restarted on Lap 78, Logano and Gibbs dueled for the lead again while Reddick, who restarted in the top 10, made a bold three-wide move on the inside lane to move his No. 45 Jordan Brand Toyota Camry XSE up within the top five just before entering Turn 1. Amid more bumps and side-by-side action within the field, the caution quickly returned after McDowell and Stenhouse bumped against one another and proceeded to send Chastain for a spin in Turn 1 while LaJoie slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting Chastain’s No. 1 Busch Light Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The incident resulted in McDowell and Stenhouse rubbing fenders under a cautious pace to express their displeasure towards one another. Meanwhile, Reddick, who made the three-wide move during the restart, was assessed a restart violation and sent to the rear of the field for pulling out of line before reaching the start/finish line.
During another Lap 78 restart, Gibbs muscled ahead of Logano and cleared the field through Turns 1 and 2. Entering Turn 3 and as Gibbs retained the lead, Larson bumped and sent Hamlin up the track and almost into the path of Byron, which enabled Larson to move into third place followed by Truex while Hamlin was left battling and bumping Busch for fifth place. Four laps later, Larson engaged in repetitive bumps into Logano’s rear bumper for the runner-up spot while Truex maintained his distance in fourth place. Amid the battles, Gibbs stretched his advantage to more than two seconds.
By Lap 90, Gibbs was leading in his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE by more than two seconds over Logano, who was continuing to fend off Larson for the runner-up spot as Truex, Busch, Hamlin, Preece, Byron, Bowman and Blaney followed suit in a tight single-file line in the top 10.
At the Lap 100 mark, Ty Gibbs continued to lead by more than two seconds over Logano while Larson, Truex, Busch, Hamlin, Preece, Byron, Blaney and Bowman continued to run in the top 10. Behind, Wallace occupied 11th place in front of Chastain, Bowman, Haley and Keselowski while Stenhouse, Reddick, McDowell, Nemechek, LaJoie and Gragson occupied the remaining top-21 spots on the track.
With 35 laps remaining, Ty Gibbs retained the lead by within two seconds over Logano. By then, Busch was up in third place in his No. 8 Morgan & Morgan Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 followed by Hamlin and Truex while Blaney continued his late march to the front in sixth place. Meanwhile, Larson dropped to seventh ahead of teammate Byron, Briscoe and Wallace while Preece was down in 11th ahead of Chastain, Bowman, Haley and Keselowski.
Down to the final 25 laps of the event and as the leaders were navigating through lapped traffic, Gibbs continued to lead despite having his advantage decreased to a second over a hard-charging Logano. Behind, Hamlin trailed in third place by two seconds while Busch and Truex followed suit in the top five. Gibbs would continue to lead Logano by more than a second with 20 laps remaining, all while trying to bump and place Chastain a lap down.
With 14 laps remaining, Haley, who was having a steady run within the top 15, fell off the pace due to a mechanical issue to his No. 51 Walmart Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Amid the issue, he managed to coast his entry into the infield without drawing a caution. Amid Haley’s late issues, Gibbs retained the lead by a second over Logano.
Then with 10 laps remaining, the caution flew after McDowell, who was battling Chastain for 13th place, made contact with Chastain through Turn 2, which resulted in the latter sending the former sideways as he spun his No. 34 Margaritaville at Sea Ford Mustang Dark Horse backward towards the outside wall in Turn 3.
As the event restarted with 10 laps remaining, Gibbs and Logano briefly dueled for the lead through Turn 1 until Gibbs slipped and moved Logano up the track, which resulted with Logano getting sideways and losing his momentum as Hamlin issued his challenge for the lead beneath teammate Gibbs through Turn 2. Then in Turn 3, Hamlin moved into the lead over teammate Gibbs as Busch joined the battle and tried to shove Gibbs up the track in Turn 1 while Hamlin locked up his front tires. Hamlin, though, maintained his ground through Turn 2 over teammate Gibbs and Busch while Logano was mired back in sixth behind teammate Blaney and Larson.
With seven laps remaining, Hamlin went wide entering Turn 1, which allowed teammate Gibbs to draw even with Hamlin entering Turn 2 until Hamlin quickly rocketed back ahead with the lead. Hamlin would continue to retain the lead by a tight margin over teammate Gibbs, Busch and Blaney with five laps remaining despite getting constantly bumped by Gibbs through the turns.
With four laps remaining, however, Gibbs overshot Turn 1, which allowed Busch to draw even with Gibbs entering Turn 2. As Busch and Gibbs made contact entering Turn 3, Blaney tried to shove his way in between both, but Busch assumed the runner-up spot during the following lap. Blaney would follow suit into third place followed by Logano as Gibbs fell back to fifth. Then just as Hamlin was about to start the final lap of the event, the caution flew after Gibbs was bumped and sent for a spin off the front nose of Larson in Turn 3 as he plummeted below the leaderboard.
With the field restarting under green for a two-lap shootout to conclude the event, where Hamlin and Blaney occupied the front row, Hamlin launched ahead from the inside lane as he fended off both Blaney and Busch through Turns 1 and 2. Despite locking up his tires entering Turn 3, which allowed Busch to try and get to Hamlin’s rear bumper, Hamlin maintained the top spot as he started the final lap of the event.
During the final lap, Hamlin again locked up his front tires entering Turn 1, which nearly provided another opportunity for Busch to use the bumper. Hamlin, though, managed to pull away from the field through Turn 2. With Hamlin placing a reasonable gap between himself and Busch with the lead through Turn 3, he was able to smoothly navigate his way to the fourth turn and streak across the finish line to claim the first checkered flag of the 2024 Cup Series season.
With the victory, Hamlin notched his fourth career victory in The Clash, which makes him the second-winningest competitor in The Clash behind Dale Earnhardt, who has six Clash victories, and his first in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He also recorded the first NASCAR victory for the new Toyota Camry XSE Cup Series’ stock car as the nameplate racked up its eighth victory in The Clash. The 2024 Clash victory was also the fourth in five years and the 12th overall for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“A lot of it was just what happened in front of me, with [Gibbs] and [Logano], and you just never know what was going to happen there, but I got a really good run off of Turn 2 and just got position and was able to hang on from there,” Hamlin said on FS1. “It’s so chaotic, the restarts, with everyone just bumping and banging, but it feels great to win here at [Los Angeles]. [The win]’s just a great momentum boost. It doesn’t do much more than that, but I’ve cleaned off all the trophies every January 1st into the entryway of the house and now, we get to add one pretty quick. Really happy about that.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, a two-time winner of The Clash, settled in the runner-up spot for the second time in three years while Ryan Blaney, the reigning Cup Series champion, navigated his way from the rear of the field to settle in third place. Amid the disappointment of ending up in second place in The Clash, Busch remained optimistic ahead of the 2024 season.
“[The runner-up finish] definitely does sting,” Busch said. “I felt like the first half [of the race], we were better. [I] Had a better car than [Hamlin], but some of the adjustments we made weren’t as good, some of the adjustments they made were better. All in all, just glad to have a good night. Glad to come out of here in one piece, even with all the bumping and banging and everything else that happens. We’ll try to figure out rest of the year.”
Logano, who led eight laps, came home in fourth place followed by Larson while Bowman, Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Truex and Byron finished in the top 10. Notably, Ty Gibbs, who led a race-high 84 laps, ended up in 18th place, the final competitor on the lead lap.
There were seven lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured a total of seven cautions.
1. Denny Hamlin, 58 laps led
2. Kyle Busch
3. Ryan Blaney
4. Joey Logano, eight laps led
5. Kyle Larson
6. Alex Bowman
7. Chase Briscoe
8. Brad Keselowski, one lap led
9. Martin Truex Jr.
10. William Byron
11. Ryan Preece
12. Bubba Wallace
13. John Hunter Nemechek
14. Tyler Reddick
15. Ross Chastain
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17. Corey LaJoie
18. Ty Gibs, 84 laps led
19. Michael McDowell, one lap down
20. Noah Gragson, three laps down
21. Justin Haley – OUT, Engine
22. Chase Elliott – OUT, Steering
23. Todd Gilliland – OUT, Brakes
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 66th running of the Daytona 500. Qualifying that will determine the front row for the main event will occur on February 14 and air at 8:15 p.m. ET on FS1 while the rest of the lineup will be determined through the Bluegreen Vacation Duels on February 15, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on FS1. The Daytona 500, which will officially launch NASCAR’s 76th season of competition, is scheduled to commence on February 18 with the event’s coverage to occur at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.