Even in a season without major changes, there’s much new in NASCAR

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Stage racing returns after its debut last year, but there are many changes for the 2018 NASCAR season. With cars on track Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, here’s a look at some of the notable changes this year:

DRIVERS

The rookie class features new names in iconic numbers. William Byron takes over the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, while Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Among those in new rides this year include Aric Almirola taking over the ride Danica Patrick had in the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Blaney moves to the No. 12 at Team Penske.

Paul Menard replaces Blaney in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers.

Kasey Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95, taking over for Michael McDowell, who moved to Front Row Motorsports to take over the No. 34 car.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Erik Jones joins Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 car.

Chase Elliott is back at Hendrick Motorsports but this year he’ll drive the No. 9 car.

SCHEDULE

MORE: 2018 NASCAR schedules for Cup, Xfinity & Camping World Truck Series

The regular season ends at Indianapolis, taking the spot previously held by Richmond.

The playoffs will have a different look. They open Sept. 16 in Las Vegas before heading to Richmond the following weekend. It marks the first time either track has been in NASCAR’s postseason. The first round ends at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the debut of its roval, which combines the track’s infield road course and high-speed oval.

Dover remains in the playoffs but moves out of the first round and will host the opening race of the second round.

Other changes include Richmond’s spring race returning to Saturday night and Dover’s spring event moves to the first weekend in May.

TEAMS

Richard Petty Motorsports has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and moved into a shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus. RPM also has an alliance with RCR.

Richard Childress Racing has cut from three to two teams and leased a charter to StarCom Racing, which is set for its first full-time season.

Team Penske adds a third Cup car to accommodate the addition of Ryan Blaney.

Rick Ware Racing will race the full schedule after leasing a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Furniture Row Racing goes back to a one-car team this year after shutting its No. 77 operation and selling its charter to JTG Daugherty for that team’s No. 37 car.

RULES

MORE: An inside look at how the Hawkeye Inspection process works

NASCAR will debut a new inspection system this season. It’s unofficial name is the Hawkeye System, but NASCAR plans on announcing a name for it at a later date. The system will allow NASCAR greater scrutinize the entire car and also streamline the process. Some Ford drivers are hoping the new system keeps the manufacturers close since Ford has the oldest body compared to Toyota and Chevrolet.

Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams will be restricted to no more than five people over the wall to service the vehicle on a pit stop, eliminating one position.

Should a team change an engine in its primary car during Daytona Speedweeks for something other than crash damage, the team will be forced to start at the rear of their qualifying race (if the change takes place before then), start at the rear for the Daytona 500 and start at the rear of the field for the next race the car is entered.

No longer will a driver have to sit in their car on pit road while serving a timed penalty during a practice session. Those penalties will be served in the garage.

The phrase “encumbered” is a thing of the past, but the penalty remains.

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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.