Crew chiefs must develop their approach to today’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum using only last year’s data, plus this year’s practice and qualifying.
Fans wagering (for fun and/or profit) must contend with the same lack of data as they make their Clash picks.
The shortest regular-season track is a half mile. A quarter-mile track is a different beast, even with a year’s worth of Next Gen experience.
“Last year everything was brand-new – the track, the format and the car,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott, said in a team release. “We’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what we’re going for this time around, but the track is so unique that even with going there last year, we’re still learning.”
As are the fans.
There are a few changes to keep in mind as you make your Clash picks.
NASCAR increased the field from 23 cars to 27. With 36 drivers entered, only nine will miss the Clash. Even without points on the line, no one wants to head home before the main event’s green flag.
Last year, equipment failures caused four out of five DNFs in the main race. Expect fewer mechanical issues this year.
But perhaps more aggression.
Don’t pay too much attention to practice
Last year’s practice times showed no correlation with Clash performance. Eventual winner Joey Logano finished practice last year with the 26th fastest lap — also known as the 11th-slowest lap. But he qualified fourth.
This year, despite losing about 40 hp to mufflers, Martin Truex Jr. set a fastest lap of 13.361 seconds. Truex’s lap beats last year’s best practice lap time of 13.455 seconds, set by Chase Elliott.
Although only seven-tenths of a second separate the fastest practice lap and the slowest, the change is far from linear.
- The top 11 drivers are separated by just 0.048 seconds out of a 13- to 14-second lap
- Brad Keselowski, who didn’t make the race last year, had the third slowest practice time.
- Tyler Reddick ran the most total practice laps with 117. He was followed by Kevin Harvick (116), and Noah Gragson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom made 115 laps.
- Most drivers ran their best times in their first or second session. Austin Dillon, however, ran his best time on lap 109 of 112.
- The top three in practice also had the three best 10-lap averages.
Qualifying is the key to good Clash picks
Last year, qualifying position correlated well with driver finish in the Clash. If your driver qualified on the front two rows for his heat race, last year’s results suggest that the only thing keeping him from making tonight’s Clash is an accident or mechanical failure.
That’s bad news for Ty Gibbs, who wasn’t allowed to qualify and will start in the back of the field. It’s also a negative for Ryan Blaney, who posted a 40-second lap, however, Blaney has a shot at the provisional and Gibbs doesn’t.
The heat races are only 25 laps, which doesn’t leave much time for passing. Heat race starting position is highly correlated to heat race finishing position.
- Last year, the pole-sitter for each of the four heat races held the lead for the entire race.
- Of the 12 drivers starting in the top three for each heat race, nine drivers — 75% — finished in the top three.
- Only the top-four finishers of each heat race advanced last year. This year, the top five move on. Last year, 16 of the 25 drivers (64%) starting in positions one through five finished in the top five of their heat races.
- No driver who started a heat race from ninth finished better than sixth. That’s not encouraging news for Blaney and Gibbs, among others.
That means Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron are pretty much guaranteed locks for a good starting spot in the Clash.
The 20 drivers who qualified in the top five for their heat race have a very high probability of making it through to the main — and of finishing well there.
As was the case last year, practice showed little correlation with qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 22nd despite posting the best practice time.
The Last Chance Qualifiers
Three drivers from each of the two last chance qualifiers fill out the final rows of the Clash starting grid. Last year, drivers were more aggressive in these 50-lap races than the first four heats.
Again, the closer to the front a driver starts, the better his chance of making the race. Last year, both pole-sitters finished in the top three and advanced.
The last chance qualifiers are long enough for a driver starting in the rear to make it to the front. Last year, Ty Dillon came from 10th place to win the second race. He was subsequently disqualified for jumping the final restart and Harrison Burton, who had started seventh, advanced. If you’re looking for long-shot Clash picks, don’t count the back of the field entirely out.
The Big Show
Last year, the 150-lap main had five lead changes and five cautions.
- Of last year’s four heat-race winners, two finished in positions one and two, while the other two didn’t finish the race.
- Of the six drivers who advanced from the last chance qualifiers, none finished higher than A.J. Allmendinger in ninth.
- Allmendinger tied with Erik Jones for most spots gained. Jones started 16th and finished fourth.
- Excluding drivers who failed to finish the race, Danial Suárez had the biggest position loss, starting fifth and finishing 14th.
If you want to avoid the frontrunners, you might want to keep an eye on Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth, and had the seventh best 10-lap average run during practice. Austin Dillon didn’t put together a strong 10-lap run, but his team found something in the last minutes of practice that allowed him to go from finishing practice in 22nd to qualifying sixth.
And although Bubba Wallace qualified 16th, he ranked first in runs of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 laps. He was second in five-lap speed.
Good luck with your Clash picks!