Long: Thank God they walked away

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
19 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Thank God Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked away. Thank God Danica Patrick walked away. Thank God Chris Buescher walked away.

Now they and the NASCAR industry need to ask, “What the hell are we doing?”

Another Talladega Superspeedway demolition derby has ended, and more questions remain about restrictor-plate racing after seeing cars upside down, slamming into walls and careening out of control.

Now that there is a Sprint Cup Drivers Council, the Race Team Alliance and more collaboration in the sport than ever before, it’s time for action. Everybody has a voice and there no longer needs to be a sense of resignation that days like Sundays are acceptable. Races like Sunday are not entertaining so much as ridiculous.

How much money did car owners see destroyed? Think more than $5 million – a conservative estimate. That’s not good business.

Even more so, the clock is ticking on the human toll. The next restrictor-plate race is in two months at Daytona International Speedway. A year ago, Austin Dillon’s car sailed into the catch fence after the finish there. He was uninjured.

Credit NASCAR for the safety devices that allowed each driver to walk away Sunday and also from the incidents in Saturday’s Xfinity race. Let’s be honest, there also was some luck involved.

Also understand there aren’t any easy answers. If there were, NASCAR would have enacted them. Go ahead and call for the banking to be knocked down at Talladega, but that’s not going to happen. Taking the restrictor plates off the cars will reduce pack racing but increase the speeds and significantly raise the odds that cars get airborne.

Questions must be asked, and all areas examined. Yes, Buescher was clipped, and that sent his car tumbling down the backstretch, but Kenseth’s car was turned sideways and picked up by the air.

“I hate it,’’ reigning series champ Kyle Busch said. “I’d much rather sit at home. I got a win. I don’t need to be here.’’

But he has to be with a rule that states a driver must start each race. Sponsors also expect these drivers to compete each weekend, along with the fans who pay to see these drivers perform.

Thank God Michael Annett walked away. Thank God Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walked away. Thank God Matt Kenseth walked away.

That the description of Sunday’s carnage — 35 of the 40 cars were involved in accidents — is “typical Talladega’’ is sadly true and gut-wrenching.

Of course, that is how drivers have to look at it, or they never could get in the car.

When is enough enough with this type of racing?

“I’m a capitalist,’’ winner Brad Keselowski said. “There’s people still paying to sit in the stands, there’s sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Kind of sounds like it’s self-policing, and there’s enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.’’

They will.

Not everyone, understandably, was as enthused.

After his second crash of the day, Earnhardt said: “Hell, I’m going home. I’m done.’’

Buescher added his name Sunday to the list of those who have gone airborne in a Cup race at a restrictor-plate track.

“I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point,’’ he said.

Dillon knows that feeling too well. His Daytona crash last year wasn’t the only time he’s been airborne. His car got up in the air in 2013 at Talladega when he was subbing for Tony Stewart.

“It’s just not a fun thing to be a part of,’’ Dillon said. “I think as a group, all of us want it to be where we’re not leaving the ground. We’ll get some smart people on it. I have total faith in NASCAR that they’ll do their job and work on that. But, man, wild day.’’

How many times do we have to leave Talladega more grateful than enthused about a race that had 37 lead changes and saw both two sets of brothers in the top 10 (Austin Dillon was third, Ty Dillon was sixth in relief of Stewart, while Kyle Busch was second and Kurt Busch was eighth) and saw two rookies in the top 10 (Chase Elliott was fifth and Ryan Blaney was ninth)?

“Sitting in cars for a lot of years, the line is hard to describe,’’ six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said of this type of racing. “We have some races that seems pretty mellow and others that don’t. Plate racing is plate racing. The thing I don’t like to see is cars upside down and we saw a couple today.

“That’s the part that I really don’t like and hopefully we can try to keep them on the ground.’’

Sooner than later.

Thank God A.J. Allmendinger walked away. Thank God Joey Logano walked away. Thank God Kevin Harvick walked away.

Thank God this race is over.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

1 Comment

LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash