Here’s everything you need to know about Xfinity Series playoff opener at Kentucky

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off its seven-race playoffs Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

Thanks to our friends at Racing Insights, here’s a primer on the race, the 12 drivers that have qualified for the playoffs, and the history of Kentucky Speedway:

Kentucky Notes

  • This weekend’s race is the 23rd NXS event at Kentucky Speedway and the first of the 2017 Playoffs
  • The stage end laps for this weekend’s race are lap 45, lap 90 and lap 200
  • 2017 is the sixth season where the NXS will race twice a year at Kentucky, Kentucky will host only one race in 2018
  • The first NXS race at Kentucky was in June 2001 and was won by Kevin Harvick
  • The last eight races at Kentucky were won from a top-seven starting position
  • 20 of the 22 NXS Kentucky races were won from a top-10 starting position including eight from pole
  • Kyle Busch, with two, is the only repeat winner at Kentucky in the last seven races
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers won the pole for the last four races at Kentucky with three different drivers
  • Joe Gibbs Racing (five), Team Penske (five), Richard Childress Racing (three) and JR Motorsports (two) combined won the last 15 NXS races at Kentucky
  • The pass for the win came in the final nine laps in five of the last seven races at Kentucky
  • The winner of only two of the last 10 races at Kentucky got his first win of the season
  • Two races at Kentucky ended in an overtime finish (9/15 and 7/16)
  • The driver leading the most laps won only two of the last seven races at Kentucky
  • There were 12 cautions in this race last year, the most ever in a NXS race at Kentucky, the average green flag stretch was 10 laps
  • The track record set July 2016 of 187.318 mph (28.828 seconds) by Kyle Busch was over six MPH faster than the prior track record set in June 2005 by Carl Edwards (181.287 mph, 28.787 seconds)
  • Eight of the last 11 poles at Kentucky were won by Non-Cup Competitors
  • 11 of the 22 NXS Kentucky races were won by Non-Cup Competitors including six of the last 11
  • Elliott Sadler led only 11 laps when he won at Kentucky last September, the fewest led by a winner in the last 16 races there
  • The final green flag stretch was nine laps or less in seven of the last nine races at Kentucky
  • Austin Dillon, 2012, is the only driver to sweep both races at Kentucky in a season; his first two NXS wins came at Kentucky in 2012
  • There were eight speeding penalties at Kentucky in July, more than the prior three races at Kentucky combined
  • The last driver to recover from an in race infraction at Kentucky to go on to win was Joey Logano in June 2009 who rebounded from a speeding penalty to win
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers led 437 of the 601 laps raced at Kentucky since the repave prior to 2016 (73%)
  • Ryan Blaney is the only driver to finish in the top-10 in all three races at Kentucky since the reconfiguration

1.5 Mile Track Highlights

  • This weekend’s race is seventh race on a 1.5 mile track in 2017
  • Five of the seven Playoff races in 2017 are on 1.5 mile tracks
  • Justin Allgaier won at Chicagoland last week from a starting position of 14th, the only race won from outside a top-10 starting position on a 1.5 mile track in the last 24 races
  • Five drivers won the six races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2017, Kyle Busch with two is the only repeat winner
  • Only two of the last 10 races on 1.5 mile tracks were won by Non-Cup competitors (Justin Allgaier at Chicagoland in 2017 and Daniel Suarez at Homestead in 2016)

Who is Hot Entering Kentucky:

No. 20 Ryan Preece

  • Won at Iowa and finished second at New Hampshire in his two starts in 2017, both with JGR
  • Finished 15th and 30th in his two NXS Kentucky starts
  • 15th place finish at Kentucky in July 2016 is his best finish on a 1.5 mile track

No. 3 Brian Scott

  • Finished third at Iowa in 2017 in his only start of 2017
  • Finished Kentucky best second in September 2014, one of two top-10 finishes at the track
  • Finished top-10 in each of his last two starts on 1.5 mile tracks but his last was at Homestead in Nov. 2015

No. 22 Sam Hornish Jr.

  • Won two of his last seven starts including a win at Mid-Ohio in his last
  • Finished top-10 in five of his six NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of second in September 2012
  • Making his first NXS start on a 1.5 mile track since finishing fourth in this race last year

No. 7 Justin Allgaier (Second in playoffs)

  • 13 top-10s in 2017 with two wins (Phoenix and Chicagoland)
  • 495 laps led in 2017 are his most ever in a single season
  • Finished top-10 in five of the last seven races of 2017
  • Six top-10 finishes in 10 NXS Kentucky starts
  • Top-10 finishes in three of the last five races on 1.5 mile tracks including his win at Chicagoland last race

No. 9 William Byron (First in playoffs)

  • Won three of the last 13 races of 2017
  • Finished in the top-10 in 11 of the last 14 races (finished 25th at Mid-Ohio, 22nd at Bristol and 33rd at Chicagoland)
  • Finished seventh at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start at the track
  • Won the 2016 Truck race at Kentucky
  • Best finish in the NXS on a 1.5 mile track is seventh (three times)

No. 00 Cole Custer (Eighth in playoffs)

  • 13 top-10 finishes in 2017 including four top-five finishes
  • Finished top-10 in seven of the last 10 races of 2017
  • Led 41 laps last race at Chicagoland, more than he had in his career prior
  • Has never finished in the top-10 at Kentucky (finished 32nd and 11th in his two NXS starts there and 14th in his only Truck start there)
  • Five top-10 finishes in 10 starts on 1.5 mile tracks with a best of fourth at Charlotte in May 2016

No. 1 Elliott Sadler (Third in playoffs)

  • 19 top-10 finishes and 11 top-five finishes in 2017 lead all drivers
  • Regular season champion
  • One win (9/16) and eight top-10 finishes at Kentucky in 12 starts
  • Finished third at Chicagoland last race, his 11th top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track in the last 13 races

No. 48 Brennan Poole (Fifth in playoffs)

  • Finished top-10 in seven of the last 10 races of 2017, 12 times total
  • Won his first NXS pole at Daytona-2
  • Two top-10 finishes in five NXS Kentucky starts
  • 2014 ARCA win at Kentucky
  • Only one top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track this season (eighth at Charlotte)

No. 21 Daniel Hemric (Fourth in playoffs)

  • Finished top-10 in 12 of his 26 NXS starts with a best finish of second at Mid-Ohio
  • Finished top-10 in six of the last nine races of 2017
  • Three of his five top-five finishes in 2017 came in the last six races
  • Three top-10s in the six races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2017 (best of fourth at Chicagoland last race)
  • Finished ninth at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start at the track

Not Hot Entering Kentucky:

No. 42 Tyler Reddick

  • Three top-10 finishes in 2017 in 14 starts but none in his last five starts
  • Finished 10th at Kentucky in July in his only start at the track in the NXS, it was his last top-10 finish
  • Finished 10th in two of his three NXS stats on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 62 Brendan Gaughan (11th in Playoffs)

  • Only seven top-10 finishes in 2017, had 13 through 26 races in 2016
  • Matched his best finish of 2017 at Road America (fifth)
  • Eight top-10 finishes at Kentucky are his most of all tracks
  • Last NXS win came at Kentucky in this race in 2014
  • Finished ninth at Charlotte, only top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track this season

No. 5 Michael Annett (12th in Playoffs)

  • Finished NXS best second at Road America but it is his only finish better than 12th in the last 12 races
  • Only three stage top-10 finishes in 2017, all three on plate tracks
  • Five top-10 finishes at Kentucky are his most on a track
  • Only two top-15 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks this season

No. 23 Spencer Gallagher

  • Finished 10th at Richmond in April, his second career top-10 finish, but has only four top-15 finishes this season
  • Finished 14th at Chicagoland, his best finish in the last 10 races
  • Finished 13th at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start there, his second best finish of 2017
  • Finished top-14 in three of the last four races on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 33 Brandon Jones

  • Only three top-10 finishes in 2017 and none in the last seven races
  • Had 11 top-10 finishes after 26 races in 2017 and was in the playoffs
  • Finished 12th at Chicagoland, his best finish in the last seven races of 2017
  • Finished fifth at Kentucky in September 2015, his only top-10 finish in four starts
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last 11 races on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 16 Ryan Reed (Sixth in playoffs)

  • Has a win and five top-10 finishes in 2017
  • Finished 12th at Richmond, his best finish in his last eight races
  • Finished seventh in this race last year, his best finish in seven Kentucky starts
  • Only two top-10 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks but both came in the last 11 races

Warm Entering Kentucky:

No. 11 Blake Koch (Ninth in Playoffs)

  • Only four top-10 finishes in 2017 but three of the four came in the last eight races
  • Finished top-14 in seven of the last eight races of 2017 including the last six
  • 11 NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of 11th in this race last year
  • Two top-10 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks (ninth at Kansas in 10/16 and ninth at Chicagoland 9/17)

No. 19 Matt Tifft (10th in playoffs)

  • Seven top-10 finishes in 2017
  • Finished top-10 in three of the last six races of 2017 including his career best finish of third (twice)
  • Finished top-15 in all three starts at Kentucky, his most of all-tracks, including two top-10s (best of fifth in this race last year)
  • Six top-10 finishes in 12 starts on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 18 Kyle Benjamin

  • Started on the front-row in all four NXS starts but has only one top-15 finish (second at Iowa2)
  • Making his first NXS start on a 1.5 mile track

Also in playoffs:

No. 51 Jeremy Clements (7th in playoffs)

• Win at Road America put him into the Playoffs and gave him his five Playoff points
• Finished the regular season 17th in points
• One top-five finish and two top-10 finishes in 2017 (win at Road America, seventh at Iowa1)
• 13 NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of 12th (twice) including this race last year
• Best NXS final season point ranking prior to 2017 was 14th in 2012 and 2015

Recent NXS Trends

  • 14 different drivers won the 26 races in 2017
  • Nine races in 2017 were won by Non-Cup Competitors, five of the nine were won by JR Motorsports drivers
  • Seven of the last 13 races of 2017 were won by Non-Cup Competitors
  • The driver leading the most laps failed to win in seven of the last 11 races including the last four
  • 15 of the last 17 races of 2017 were won from a top-eight starting position, Jeremy Clements won from 24th at Road America (the lowest starting position of a race winner this season) and Justin Allgaier won from 14th at Chicagoland last race
  • Six of the last 11 races of 2017 were won from pole
  • The final green flag stretch was eight laps or less in six of the last eight races of 2017
  • The final green flag stretch at New Hampshire was 104 laps, the longest green flag stretch in a race this season
  • Five races in 2017 were won by drivers rebounding from pit road infractions: Ryan Reed at Daytona (Crew over wall too soon), Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway (Speeding), Erik Jones at Bristol (Speeding), Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen (Drove thru too many boxes) and Kyle Busch at Bristol-2 (Speeding)
  • Two races in 2017 were won from drivers starting in the rear under penalty: Ryan Blaney at Charlotte and William Byron at Daytona2
  • Sam Hornish Jr.’s pole time at Mid-Ohio set a new track record, Brad Keselowski’s round one time set a new track record at Las Vegas, Kyle Larson’s pole winning time at Bristol set a new track record
  • 19 stages in 2017 were won by NXS eligible drivers: Elliott Sadler (five), Justin Allgiaer (three), William Byron, Daniel Hemric and Blake Koch (two), Darrell Wallace Jr. , Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Preece, Sam Hornish Jr. and James Davison (one)
  • Nine of the 26 races in 2017 were slowed due to red flags
  • There were 12 cautions at Charlotte, most in a race this season
  • There were only three cautions at Pocono, New Hampshire and Richmond2, the fewest in a race this season
  • Five races in 2017 ended with an overtime finish (Daytona-1, Richmond, Daytona-2, Iowa-2 and Darlington)
  • 11 of the 25 poles in 2017 were won by Non-Cup competitors
  • Eight drivers won their first pole in 2017, only one driver got his first pole in 2016 and only two in 2015
  • The pass for the win came in the final 10 laps in 10 of the 26 races this season and in the final four laps seven times
  • Two races in 2017 ended with a last lap pass for the win (Pocono and Michigan)
  • Four races in 2017 had issues with weather: Bristol (slowed mid-race), Daytona2 (started one day, completed another and slowed mid-race), Kentucky (postponed from Friday night to Saturday), New Hampshire (slowed mid-race)
  • Only twice has a driver swept both stages and won the race: Brad Keselowski at Pocono and Kyle Busch at Bristol-2

NXS 2017 Season Breakdown:

* Different Winners: 14
* Different Pole Winners: 15
* Non Cup Winners: 6 (William Byron-3, Justin Allgaier -2, Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Preece, Ryan Reed and Jeremy Clements-1)
* Most Wins: 5- Kyle Busch
* Most Poles: 7- Kyle Busch
* Most Runner Ups: 5 – Ryan Blaney
* Most Top-fives: 11 – Elliott Sadler
* Most Top-10s: 19 –Elliott Sadler
* Most Laps Led: 731 – Kyle Busch

Among NXS Eligible Drivers

* Most Stage Wins: 5- Elliott Sadler (Brad Keselowski has the most of all drivers with eight)
* Most Stage Top-fives: 24 – Elliott Sadler
* Most Stage Top-10s: 36 –Elliott Sadler

Best Finishing NXS Driver in each Race:
* Daytona: Ryan Reed 1st
* Atlanta: Elliott Sadler 5th
* Las Vegas: Justin Allgaier 4th
* Phoenix: Justin Allgaier 1st
* Auto Club Speedway: William Byron 5th
* Texas: Cole Custer 5th
* Bristol: Elliott Sadler 4th
* Richmond: Justin Allgaier 2nd
* Talladega: Elliott Sadler 2nd
* Charlotte: Cole Custer 7th
* Dover: Cole Custer 4th
* Pocono: Justin Allgaier 2nd
* Michigan: William Byron 2nd
* Iowa: William Byron 1st
* Daytona: William Byron 1st
* Kentucky: William Byron 7th
* New Hampshire: Ryan Preece 2nd
* Indianapolis: William Byron 1st
* Iowa: Ryan Preece 1st
* Watkins Glen: Justin Allgaier 4th
* Mid-Ohio: Sam Hornish Jr. 1st
* Bristol2: Elliott Sadler 3rd
* Road America: Jeremy Clements 1st
* Darlington: William Byron 5th
* Richmond: Daniel Hemric 4th
* Chicagoland: Justin Allgaier 1st

Track History

  • The founder and developer of Kentucky Speedway was Jerry Carroll the former owner of Turfway Park. The speedway is located in Sparta KY the county seat of Gallatin County the smallest county by land area in Kentucky. The county has under 9,000 residents. Sparta has an area of 5.6 square miles and a population under 300.The track has hosted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since the 2000 season and the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2001. Indy Car races were held from 2000 to 2011.
  • Constructed on 850 acres, 63 miles from Louisville, 35 miles from Cincinnati, and 150 miles from Indianapolis, Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5-mile tri-oval with 14-degree banking in the turns and a 1,600-foot backstretch. The tri-oval is 57-feet wide and includes a 12-foot apron. The facility also includes a paved quarter-mile track. Ground was broke July 18, 1998; Opened June 16, 2000; Cost: $153,000,000. Was the largest excavation project ever in Kentucky. Nearly 7 million people live within a 100-mile radius
  • Kentucky Speedway opened with 66,000 seats, went to 106,000 Seats in 2011 and to 86,000 seats in 2017.
  • Parking For More Than 50,000 Cars (was 30,000 in 2011)
  • After many years of campaigning for a Cup race, the track was sold to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) on January 1, 2009 for $78.3 million. On August 10, 2010, NASCAR announced a Sprint Cup Race at Kentucky Speedway in 2011 as part of a triple header weekend. The weekend took the place of the Chicagoland Speedway date, which moved to September to be the leadoff race in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. It was the first Cup race awarded to a track since 2001.
  • In June 2012 the State of Kentucky completed projects that expanded Kentucky Highway 35 to seven lanes, widened the I-71 ramp to Ky. Hwy. 35 to three lanes and constructed a pedestrian tunnel that connects the massive Ford Parking lot east of Ky. Hwy. 35 to Kentucky Speedway. In addition to acquiring and engineering 170 new acres for the Ford Parking lot, Kentucky Speedway converted 50 new acres of previously unusable land to parking and added gravel aisles to 100 acres of previously all-grass parking. In total, the projects yielded parking for an additional 20,000 vehicles compared to 2011 bringing the total to 50,000. These changes eliminated the horrendous traffic/parking snafus from the inaugural race in 2011.
  • Kentucky Speedway did a complete repave of the track for the 2016 season, and also reconfigured turns 1-2.
  • — Turn 1-2 banking changed from 14 degrees to 17 degrees
  • — Turn 1-2 narrowed from 74 feet to 56 feet
  • — Banking in the tri-oval was changed from 8 degrees to 8-10 degrees
  • — 3,200 feet of SAFER-Barrier was added
  • Kentucky Speedway added an additional surface repave in October 2016

Kentucky State Factoids

  • The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously held horse race in the country. It is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
  • Chevrolet Corvettes are manufactured in Bowling Green.
  • The first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant owned and operated by Colonel Sanders is located in Corbin, KY.

 

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Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.

What NASCAR Cup Series drivers said about The Clash at the Coliseum

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Here is what NASCAR Cup Series drivers had to say after Sunday’s Busch Light Clash exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Martin Truex Jr. was the winner and was awarded the gold medal (for results and stats, click here):

Martin Truex Jr. — winner: “Really good race car. The guys did a great job with this Toyota Camry. Last year was a pretty rough season with no wins. To come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of all these guys. Sometimes, you just persevere. Tonight it went our way, and we made some good adjustments, too.”

Austin Dillon — Finished second: “I hate it for Bubba (Wallace), he had a good car and a good run. I just know he sent me through the corner. I saved it three times through there, Then I was going to give the same. Probably it was a little too hard. My teammate let me try to get Truex at the end, that was nice. Been fun. Hopefully, we can do this more often.”

Kyle Busch — Finished third: “It was a battle all night long, but you can’t count us out. We used the outside on a lot of passes. When you’re deep in the field, you can do that to make up ground. Overall good to get back up to third, could have gone second, but I let Austin go. He was better than us in practice. I thought he could have a shot at trying to get close to (Truex), and I’ll push him through to get a 1-2, but never made it there.”

Alex Bowman — Finished fourth: “Yeah, I think there was a couple good restarts from the outside the beginning of the second half of the race when we had a restart every half a lap. That helped us. I think we went from eighth to second there pretty quickly. Obviously that was a big gain for us, and then just kind of got put back a little bit. I had one bad restart from the outside of the front row, and that hurt our finishing position. But yeah, really good race car, and those couple restarts kind of got us out of the mess.”

Kyle Larson — Finished fifth: “It feels good to get to fifth. I didn’t really work my way forward to fifth. It was kind of a battle of attrition. I was just kind of stuck, which I’m sure a lot of people felt stuck and always wanted to choose the outside on the restarts, but everybody in the middle of the pack figured out that the outside was better at the same time. Then it just never worked out where I could choose the outside lane and just kind of got stuck in 10th for a while, and yeah, kind of just got slammed from behind forward. Never really passed but one or two cars and came from 14th to fifth. There was just a lot more slamming around this time. Last year was the first race for this car, and we didn’t know how tough they were at the time. There was not as much slamming. I think people didn’t quite know how strong the noses and rear bumpers were. This year it was just like everybody just ran through the person in front of them. If you got a hole to get down, somewhere to get down, then the three or four cars behind would just shove them through the two in front of them. A lot of accordion, and just difficult on the restarts, especially where I was, middle of the pack.”

Ryan Preece — Finished seventh: “The fuel pump (broke). The primary pump went bad. I don’t know. I don’t think we were close on fuel. At first, I thought it was ignition because usually when it’s fuel it just keeps cutting, so I shut off my alternator and all of my electrical stuff and it seemed to help a little bit. It did it again and I lost four spots, so I just flipped the switch and a miracle happened. Ultimately, this car was so badass. It was so fast. We drove from 16th outside, inside, everything it took. I’m proud of the speed. I’m happy for the opportunity, but it sucks giving them away. That just comes from, first off, my grassroots experience, just working hard and just having a fast race car. Chad and I, we’re a new team but we’ve already got a year-and-a-half experience together and knowing lingo. If it’s off, I’ll let him know it, but if it’s that close, he’ll go with his gut. I’m hoping that we can use this as a good start, go to the 500 and win that one and get ourselves in the Playoffs and then try to win some more.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 10th: “There are just no repercussions to driving in and using the bumper of the car in front of you. They hit someone in front of them, and the car two cars up spins. The only way to do it is to officiate unnecessary contact and (send them) to the rear. But the whole field would be black-flagged if we raced like that. I don’t really have a good answer.” (Could this be a points race with Auto Club Speedway off the 2024 schedule?) “I think they should put it in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect (smiles).”

Justin Haley — Finished 11th: “I’m so proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing and where we have come in a short amount of time. The race results weren’t exactly what we wanted, but this weekend was a fun confidence booster. It’s pretty cool to get mine and Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series pole, points race or not, and I think we really showed we belong here. I feel pretty confident about where we are, and I think we are in a good spot to start the season.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 14th: “I felt like we had a decent No. 42 Sunseeker Resort Chevy. We just had some damage on the front from the heat race that hurt us with cooling the right front and the brakes. We got really tight in the first half of the race. We started cutting some of it away, but overall, it was just a pinball machine out there. I thought we had some good restarts; good lane choices and we were making our way back up there. We got back up to eighth but just didn’t have enough there. I kind of made some poor decisions there at the end and chose the wrong line. I thought they were all going to stack up there on the bottom, so I went to the outside and they didn’t. It’s just part of the learning curve. Thank you to everyone at Legacy Motor Club: Jimmie Johnson, Maury Gallagher, Richard Petty, Mike Beam. Everybody that’s a part of this team. They worked really hard and I’m definitely excited to start the year off with making it into this race. I’m just very thankful.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 15th: “For us, we were never really good all weekend on a short run and that kind of killed us at the beginning. We kind of lost our track position. There wasn’t really very many long runs. On long runs we would always kind of go forward and then you’d be beating and banging, obviously. I got turned around there the one time and it was really hard to pass. I felt like unless you were maybe three or four of those cars, they were really the only ones that were good enough that they could just kind of move through the field. We were one of those cars, I felt like if you put us in fourth or fifth, we would maintain, but we weren’t good enough to drive from the back to the front. We were just a little bit off. We just needed a little bit more. There was a lot of beating and banging and a lot of cautions. That was a really long race, longer than I expected. I felt like it was a good start to the season, just getting a race mentality. The race was extremely hot with the mufflers. I was getting pretty fumed out, but it’s good to kind of get readjusted to those things when we get the season back going.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 16th: “It was an up-and-down weekend for us at the Coliseum. We made adjustments after practice that helped us qualify on the front row of our heat race. We just lacked grip during the heat race and last chance qualifier. We lacked speed all day, but we made the race, made handling improvements and learned a lot to take back and build on. We’ve definitely got some work to do on this style track.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 18th: “Man, we just made a big mistake there. I didn’t get notified that it was the choose lap and we got stuck on the outside and lost track position, and then I kind of burned the tires up trying to get down. It was a track position race all night. You needed to stay in the top three or four and I felt like took off really good. The car had great speed and it was doing everything I needed it to, but you can’t make mistakes like that. I’m not sure what happened on the communication side there, but it didn’t get relayed to me fast enough that we were coming to the choose. I hate that, but still a great way to start the year. We had a lot of speed in our Ford Mustang and led some laps in the big show, but once you get in the back it turns into bumper cars. It is what it is. We’ll go to Daytona.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 19th: “It was tough. I couldn’t breathe and it was tough because of that. I think at lap 30 or so in the first stage, we had contact in the right side of the car, and that made the exhaust get some fumes inside the cabin. After that, I struggled a lot, especially the second half of the race. I felt like I was okay for a while, but then the second half of the race I struggled big time. We just have to continue to get better. I felt like the car was okay. We definitely made a big swing for the main race and we showed that, but actually went to the other side of it. We just have to continue to work and continue to learn.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 24th: “I don’t know how many laps under caution we ran, but obviously just a calculation running the LCQ and a heat race. We just didn’t anticipate running over 100 laps of caution, so that was unfortunate. It was a battle out there for sure. I feel good about how we were able to start near the back and drive up into the top 12, top 13 twice, so our car was good. It’s just a good weekend. We’ve got a lot of new guys, so it was good to get up to speed and figure each other out.”

Erik Jones — Finished 27th: “I couldn’t move over. I was clear on the straightaway, but obviously (Michael McDowell) really wanted the spot. When we got spun out, I think we must have got hit in the right rear and it bent the toe link pretty bad. It kind of is what it is. Michael has gotten me twice pretty good now, which is frustrating. I think we had a decent car. We were kind of moving up there and I felt good about it. It’s a tough little place and it’s easy to get in trouble like that. We’ll move on with the No. 43 Chevy to the Daytona 500 and hopefully go for a win.”

Chris Buescher — DNQ for main event: “It’s definitely a bummer again.  We fought hard and thought we had made some improvements.  I think we did, but ultimately it didn’t yield a much different result here.  We had some really good short track runs last year, obviously Bristol and Richmond and a couple of others, and then there were a handful that didn’t go real good, I’m thinking like Loudon, so maybe it’s one of those deals where we’ve got to dissect what’s similar and what’s plaguing us at times like these or races like this and get back on track.  It’s definitely not the way you want to start the year, but we’ll be ready for Daytona. We’re racers, though, so it hurts your feelings.  You want to be better than that and we just weren’t.  It’s not much like other places we go and it’s kind of like bumper cars out there in a lot of ways, but it’s still a race and we need to be more competitive.”

Brad Keselowski — DNQ for main event: “We’re better than we were here last year but not enough better to make the difference.  This track has gotten slick, but we’ll go swing at them next week. There’s no other track like this and we were really good at Phoenix.  We’re excited to see what we can do there.  Of course, Daytona was really good for us last year, but we have to figure something out for this track, clearly, and we’ll just keep working on it. We are getting a better understanding of the car, but just not better enough of what it needs on the vehicle dynamics side.  We’re still working through that.  We’ve got some new hires and new things going on that started last week and we’ll see if we can get better. We just never could get the corner.  We were just really loose in with both of our cars and just couldn’t turn the wheel.”

Clash at the Coliseum NASCAR Cup Series race results

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Martin Truex Jr. led the final 25 laps to win The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in the results from the first event of the NASCAR Cup Series season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing team celebrated as the 2017 Cup champion quickly rebounded from a winless 2022 in his No. 19 Toyota by winning the NASCAR exhibition season opener for the first time.

Truex became the 25th driver to win the race. It’s JGR’s series-leading 11th Clash victory.

Austin Dillon finished second, followed by teammate Kyle Busch in his debut with the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet. Alex Bowman finished fourth, and Kyle Laron was fifth.

Tyler Reddick took sixth. Ryan Preece led a race-high 43 laps in his No. 41 Ford debut for Stewart-Haas Racing but faded to seventh because of an apparent electrical problem. The rest of the top 10: Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin (who also led 26 laps in the No. 11 Toyota), and William Byron.

BOX SCORE: Click here for full results from the Clash at the Coliseum

PENALTY REPORT: Click here for infractions during the race

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Click here for postrace reaction

Aric Almirola started on the pole position and led the first 16 of 150 laps in the race, which featured no pit stops and was split into 75-lap halves.

The race was slowed by 16 caution flags (up from five last year), including 12 in the final 75 laps. Laps under yellow weren’t counted in the official distance.

Bubba Wallace led 40 laps but finished 22nd after being rooted by Dillon into a late spin.

During a series of heat and qualifying races, the field was whittled to 27 cars for the Clash at the Coliseum main event. Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher both failed to advance for the second consecutive year, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Corey LaJoie and Harrison Burton were among others who were eliminated.

Click here for the results from the preliminary events in the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum.

Main event results (150 laps): 1. Martin Truex Jr.; 2. Austin Dillon; 3. Kyle Busch; 4. Alex Bowman; 5. Kyle Larson; 6. Tyler Reddick; 7. Ryan Preece; 8. Ross Chastain; 9. Denny Hamlin; 10. William Byron; 11. Justin Haley; 12. Kevin Harvick; 13. Christopher Bell; 14. Noah Gragson; 15. Chase Briscoe; 16. Joey Logano; 17. Ryan Blaney; 18. Aric Almirola; 19. Daniel Suarez; 20. AJ Allmendinger; 21. Chase Elliott; 22. Bubba Wallace; 23. Todd Gilliland; 24. Michael McDowell; 25. Austin Cindric; 26. Ty Gibbs; 27. Erik Jones

Martin Truex Jr. charges late to win Clash at the Coliseum

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Martin Truex Jr., who struggled through a winless season last year, opened 2023 in style Sunday night, winning the Clash at the Coliseum with a late-race charge.

Truex bumped by Ryan Preece to take the lead with 25 laps to go and led the rest of the way.

Truex, Alex Bowman and Preece appeared to have the strongest cars over the race’s closing segment. Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch joined the struggle at the front in the final 10 laps

With seven laps to go, Dillon shoved Bubba Wallace into the wall as they raced for second place. After the race, Wallace tweeted, “W3ll (using Dillon’s car number) that was fun, till it wasn’t.”

Dillon, Busch, Bowman and Kyle Larson followed Truex to the finish. The victory was the first by the 42-year-old Truex in the Clash in 12 tries.

MORE: Clash at the Coliseum results

The race was the second Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“It was just a really good race car,” Truex told Fox Sports. “Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins. To kick it off this way was great for these guys. We found ourselves in the right spot at the end.”

Truex won by .786 of a second.

Truex said he has “a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year. If you look at all the statistics, we had a decent year. We were consistent. We scored a lot of points. We struggled on short tracks and road courses, which ultimately is what kept us out of the playoffs.”

James Small, the No. 19 team’s crew chief, said Truex is a “different person” this year. “He’s super motivated, and we’re all behind him. We knew we could do this, and we just needed to hit it right. I think we learned a lot last year. We had races where we had a lot of speed and things didn’t go right, but we also had races where we made poor decisions, and I think we learned a lot. You saw when we get it right today this is what we’re capable of.”

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As the first three finishers, Truex (gold), Dillon (silver) and Busch (bronze) were presented medals in a podium celebration, an oddity for NASCAR but a nod to the coliseum’s Olympic history.

Dillon and Busch, new teammates at Richard Childress Racing, were battling for second in the final laps before Busch allowed Dillon to push forward in pursuit of Truex. “Overall, it was good to get back up to third, could have gone second, but I let Austin go,” Busch said. “He was better than us in practice. I thought he could have a shot at trying to get close, and I”ll push him through to get a 1-2, but never made it there.”

The second half of the race was pockmarked by contact and subsequent spins as the field was slowed time after time for cautions. The yellow flag flew 16 times across the race’s 150 laps (12 times in the second half), and only five of the 27 starters were not involved in accidents.

Wallace, who wrestled the lead from Denny Hamlin on the first lap of a restart, was in first place at the race’s halfway point as the field parked for service. Wallace led 40 laps.

Following Wallace at the break were Truex Jr., Dillon, William Byron and Tyler Reddick. In the second five were Preece, Busch, Bowman, Joey Logano (last year’s winner) and Larson.

MORE: Kevin Harvick to join Fox booth in 2024

The race’s first caution flew after 17 laps as Erik Jones spun out after contact from Michael McDowell. Jones parked for the night.

Seven laps later, 11th-place Ryan Blaney spun out in heavy traffic to prompt the second caution.

Among drivers who failed to qualify for the 150-lap feature were RFK Racing entries Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher. Both also missed the race last year.

Who had a good race: Martin Truex Jr. came close to writing an end to his Cup career last season but decided to sign on for another year with Joe Gibbs Racing. On Sunday night, that decision looked fine, indeed. … Ryan Preece sparkled in his first race with Stewart-Haas, leading in the second half before dropping to seventh. … Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch made Richard Childress Racing look good with second- and third-place finishes.

Who had a bad race: Former series champion Chase Elliott struggled most of the weekend and limped home 21st Sunday. … Michael McDowell was involved in several accidents and finished 24th. … An accident bumped Erik Jones from the race in the early going. He finished last.