Bump & Run: Spinning the wheels and calling your shot

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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The opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway not only brought back the roar of Cup cars but provided a couple of topics to discuss.

Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in answering this week’s Bump & Run questions.

Should Hendrick Motorsports be worried after Jimmie Johnson spun on his own in the Clash, a year after the Hendrick cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott spun in the Daytona 500?

Kyle Petty: I’m not sure there’s much cause for concern. I’ve been going to Daytona a LONG time and have seen lots of spins off Turn 4. I don’t see this as a Hendrick Motorsports problem as much as it’s just a byproduct of the cars and the type of racing we see now at Daytona. It’s hard for teams to find that balance between speed alone and speed in a pack. It’s a razor’s edge they balance on. Sometimes you lose that balance if the car is put in certain situations — no matter who you drive for or who you are.

Parker Kligerman: There is no doubt, that the Hendrick cars are showing incredible single-car speed, which is obvious from their qualifying record here at Daytona and the superspeedway tracks last year. I think that is a testament to the fact that the superspeedway aerodynamic rules have been fairly consistent over the last few years. This has allowed the Hendrick team to continually find ways to take drag out of their cars. But over this same period of time, we have seen the Daytona track surface age, and begin to show small bits of character. 

Therefore, I do believe there is a need for worry, as many of the things that you do these days to garner single-car speed are not mechanical and are normally built into the design of the car (Underside chassis and body). Therefore it will be up to them to try to make mechanical grip in the coming practices in an effort to counter the lack of aerodynamic grip they have built into their cars. 

The fix to it all though? Be up front. As we heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. talk about during the Clash, if you are upfront in clean air where the car is actually making downforce and has all its sideforce, they drive fine. Hendrick may try to form similar strategies to that of the JGR armada, to keep themselves upfront all day. 

Nate Ryan: There certainly was an air of concern Sunday, outside of Chad Knaus’ sanguine assessment. The crew chief for Jimmie Johnson seemed the only member of Hendrick Motorsports who wasn’t worried about the spate of team cars spinning wildly in plate races, but that measured approach to problem-solving is Knaus’ style.

Among Hendrick team members who don’t have the confidence of seven championships, there probably will be some justified scrambling and urgency Monday and Tuesday to address the issues. Is it aerodynamics? Mechanical setup? Track conditions? Regardless, Hendrick should have a better idea Thursday if it’s been solved.

Dustin Long: Even though Chad Knaus expressed no worries when I talked to him Sunday, it was evident his teammates were uptight based on comments from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Alan Gustafson.

The key concern for the organization could be how do they maintain the speed in the car while keeping it stable. Based on what the Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing cars showed on Sunday, the Hendrick cars can’t afford to give up too much speed.

After his contact with Denny Hamlin on the last lap of the Clash, Brad Keselowski said: “I guarantee (Hamlin) knows and everyone else who was watching today that I’m going to make that move again and you better move out or you’ll end up wrecked.’’ Do you agree he has his competitors’ attention?

Kyle Petty: I think Brad has had his competitors’ attention on plate tracks since 2009 Talladega (see Carl Edwards). He’s arguably the best plate driver in racing right now. He understands every aspect of the draft-power-aero combination. He comes each week to the track for one reason, to win. That’s never changed. If his competitors don’t know it by now, they haven’t been paying attention! 

Parker Kligerman: To be honest, I don’t think many drivers would do what Denny did had this race been the Daytona 500 or a points race. I think in the mindset that the Clash is a fun race and the only thing that truly matters is winning, it was a last-ditch effort by Denny to block the No. 2 car. The move Brad made to me was just a normal move to the bottom with the momentum he was carrying from being pushed by the No. 22 car. 

What has people’s attention is the speed and momentum the 2 and the 22 were able to garner together. I believe in the current superspeedway rules that we have seen the last few years, we are entering an era where it no longer — for most cars — is good enough to have one “partner” drafting with you. In the current rules, it’s becoming apparent you may need three or more cars to gain enough momentum to pass the leader. 

Therefore, seeing what the 2 and 22 are able to do being only two cars is definitely being noted by their competitors. 

Nate Ryan: Yes, but I also am unsure whether he truly needed it. On the last lap of the Daytona 500 with a massive surge of momentum, wouldn’t any driver make whatever move is necessary to win?

If Keselowski was referring more specifically to using the bottom lane on such a maneuver, then drivers apparently were forewarned Sunday. But short of throwing a block much earlier, I still think any last-lap leader likely would react the same way that Hamlin did.

Dustin Long: He already had their attention based on what he’s done on restrictor-plate tracks with two such wins last year and Team Penske having won five of the last eight plate races.

The comment was more from the Adrenaline flowing after a race. The leader of the Daytona 500 should expect some sort of attack on the last lap. In this case, Denny Hamlin moved down too late.   

Watch Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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.