NASCAR ensures star-studded ‘Logan Lucky’ stays grounded in racing reality

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CONCORD, N.C. – As crew members hustled through the Sprint Cup garage last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was one team that might have stood out.

Its car, equipment and uniforms were standard and blended in with the rest of the field furiously preparing for the Bank of America 500.

But closer scrutiny at those working on the car – while being recorded by a phalanx of cameras – would have revealed more to the story.

Or in this case, a script.

Logan Lucky spent a few days on location at Charlotte for a fully immersed shoot in the world of NASCAR. The Steven Soderbergh-directed movie, which is slated for release in the second half of 2017, is constructed around an elaborate heist during the Coca-Cola 600 and has a star-studded cast that includes Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane and Katie Holmes.

The elevator pitch for the movie is Ocean’s Eleven (another Soderbergh vehicle project) set in NASCAR with Charlotte’s 1.5-mile track as the stand-in for Las Vegas’ Bellagio.

“It is a sort of different world,” producer Mark Johnson said. “Steven is obviously so good at doing heist movies, so the idea of doing this one in a NASCAR world is very similar. It’s the same philosophy, just different characters and different worlds. In the Ocean’s movies, you’ve got George Clooney and Brad Pitt in tuxedos. I haven’t seen a lot of tuxedos here at the racetrack.”

A scene shot last Sunday highlighted the unfamiliarity for Johnson, who is well accomplished in movies (part of the Academy Award-winning Rain Man in 1988) and TV (Emmys for outstanding drama with Breaking Bad in 2013-14) but wasn’t as well-suited for stand-in work as an extra playing a NASCAR official.

“I was the only one who didn’t know what he was doing,” Johnson said with a laugh, showing off a pair of gray inspector pants. “So I just walked around the car. I was counting the tires. Yep, there are four of them. OK!”

Johnson said screenwriter Rebecca Blunt set the film at a NASCAR track because it seemed “very exotic. The idea of having a heist take place while there’s a major race going on, just seemed like too delicious a concept to ignore.”

But the producers needed help with fleshing out story concepts and critical details, such as whether a Sprint Cup car would be equipped with a rearview mirror.

A team of NASCAR and track officials was happy to assist, particularly given the film crew’s attention to detail and nuance.

“We work on a bunch of different projects — TV and some film stuff — and we’re usually fighting to make sure that things are authentic,” NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development Zane Stoddard said. “These guys want it to be embedded, which is harder to do, so the scene is being shot that it feels like we’re there at a race. AJ Allmendinger’s car was literally right next to the car that was in the movie, and you wouldn’t have known the difference aside from the army of cameras.”

As the movie crew filmed a scene involving an ornery car owner (“a bit of a horse’s ass who has a driver that he beats up without mercy – not that there’d be anyone in NASCAR like that”), Johnson said Allmendinger’s crew wasn’t distracted.

“As long as we stayed out of their way, that was fine; they had a job to do,” Johnson said. “It was good for us in that it gives a great verisimilitude to the whole world because it is real. We’re shooting a silly scene, and yet all of this reality is happening behind us that has this great context.”

Shooting, which was scheduled to wrap this week, also took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the crew took great pains to ensure the exteriors (all the way down to the colors of the concession stands) still resembled Charlotte “so the NASCAR fan would be able to see the movie and not be taken out of the, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not Charlotte. That’s not how races go or what a car looks like,’” Johnson said. It was very important to get it right.”

Stoddard, who also worked with movies crews while he was a marketing executive at the NBA, said NASCAR might be the “most difficult sport to make sure you get right because it’s not about a general audience. It’s about the guy who actually knows what’s going on inside our sport.”

The Logan Lucky production consulted with the NASCAR competition department for realism, but Stoddard said the crews didn’t need much correcting.

“These guys are real, real pros,” he said. “We’ve had a hard time finding flaws in things they’ve done.”

logan-lucky-ryan-blaneyThe film also will have some nods (or “Easter eggs,” as Stoddard calls them) to eagle-eyed NASCAR fans, too, in the form of several driver cameos. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are playing West Virginia state troopers; Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards; Ryan Blaney is cast as a delivery boy, and Kyle Larson will drive a limo.

But Johnson said he hopes the movie mostly wins over NASCAR fans with its realism.

“The NASCAR fan is rabid in his or her sense of the sport, its history and the meticulous of it where a lot of NBA and MLB people love the sports, but aren’t that specific,” he said. “We felt a real responsibility to get it right, even though the movie is taking place in a world that doesn’t – and really can’t — exist. It’s hopefully like all the movies and TV shows we do, you want to have respect for the audience. We’d love every NASCAR fan to see this movie. We want to make sure they feel the sport has been respected.”

The grassroots support will help an independently financed movie that is planning a wide release despite the lack of major studio support. Johnson said the movie plans to advertise through racetrack signage and ad buys on NASCAR broadcasts.

Stoddard said NASCAR will support the film through its digital and social channels.

“It’s in our best interests to make sure we’re leveraging everything we can to make NASCAR fans aware of this and engaged in it,” he said. “We’ve started to kick around some ideas. I know the film has the intent, just like with distribution, of being nonconforming, if you will. As we get past production and post-production, we’ll start to look at figure out what are some creative things we can do together to help drive the release.”

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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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.

Clash qualifying results

“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.

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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

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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.