Dale Earnhardt Jr. offers frank assessment on recent issues, NASCAR’s reaction and potential impact

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. questions what type of message NASCAR could be sending if it doesn’t further penalize Austin Dillon a week after not punishing Kyle Busch for swinging at Joey Logano.

Earnhardt made his comments Tuesday on his podcast, the Dale Jr. Download.

Earnhardt spent about 10 minutes on the topic, which branched out to how he would punish Dillon and NASCAR’s fluid enforcement of such issues through the years.

NASCAR parked Dillon after he pinned Cole Custer’s car against the wall in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Phoenix Raceway. Dillon retaliated for contact by Custer that wrecked Dillon. Custer apologized on the radio afterward and on social media. NASCAR is expected to reveal Wednesday if there will be any other penalties with the incident.

“This isn’t nothing against Austin or Kyle for that matter,’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “The only thing that I worry about really isn’t what the fans think about the penalties or to penalize or not to penalize, (or) whether the sponsors have a problem with their car getting penalized or not penalized, what I worry about is what do you want to happen in the future? Like next week, six months from now, a year from now.

“How do you want the next guy, the next driver that is in this situation, that is in Austin’s position, how do you want that driver to react? Do you want him to think that it’s OK to smash into this car?’’

A point that Earnhardt made in his podcast is that Custer is competing for the Xfinity points title, while Dillon is not.

VIDEO: When will Dale Jr. break his winless streak?

“Austin is a Cup regular in a series that is a privilege for the Cup regulars to run in,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re limiting the opportunity for the Cup regulars in that series. It’s a privilege to be in that series, and I have an opportunity to run in it, so running into one of the regulars, I know you’re mad, should have probably punched him. Just don’t run into him.

“If punching is OK, obviously going and punching or karate chopping or karate kicking or roundhouse kicking somebody on pit road is fair game, but smashing into their car on the race track in between the flags has never been good.’’

Earnhardt’s comment was in reference to Busch’s actions after the Las Vegas Cup race earlier this month. After contact from Logano caused Busch to spin and go from a likely top-five result to a 22nd-place finish, Busch walked up pit road to Logano and swung at the driver.

Earnhardt also worries that if series officials allow drivers to be more confrontational, how that might impact younger drivers racing elsewhere with dreams of competing in NASCAR.

“These kids that drive these (Late Model) cars are usually as young as 13 years old, right?’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “Incredibly impressionable. If they’re seeing this on TV on Saturday and Sunday, they’re going to take that into their mind thinking that is how you do it, that’s OK, that’s acceptable. We don’t want these kids growing up with that mindset that, yeah man, I’m going to smash into this guy because I felt he wronged me.’’

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Earnhardt also said he would have a unique penalty for Dillon.

“You don’t have to go overboard on fines,’’ Earnhardt said. “Parking Austin wasn’t the thing to do. I would have probably fined him $5,000 and made him go do an appearance for an Xfinity race. Make him think about it during his out-of-market appearance promoting another Xfinity race, maybe next time he won’t do this. Plus, you get some free marketing out of it. You got a driver on the clock promoting the next race for free. It’s good for everybody.’’

If nothing else, Earnhardt said some sort of penalty would be good.

“Even if it is a slap on the wrist, at least it is sending a message that we really don’t want this to happen,’’ Earnhardt said. “I talked to NASCAR a little bit about this. Their position is that they don’t want a bunch of buddies out there racing around. They don’t want everybody all friendly and letting each other go and slapping each other on the back and all that stuff to the finish line. They want personalities. They want drama, but I think the drama belongs in between the flags.’’

But how NASCAR oversees the drivers has changed through the years, he admits.

“It seems like the sport goes through this ebb and flow of we’re going to let them have at it and let them do whatever they want, and then they flow into a couple of years of we’re going to penalize everything, we’re going to have a six-tier penalty system … and then it flows back to there’s too many penalties, we’re just going to let them do whatever they want to do.

“We keep cycling in and out of that, and we can’t really find some sort of happy, consistent medium. I don’t know. I’m disappointed when I see what happened with Kyle and Joey, and if Austin and all those guys, if some sort of repercussion isn’t delivered. It’s just disappointing.’’

Go here to listen Earnhardt’s podcast, which covers several other topics.

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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.

“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.

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

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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. .

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