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 24 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.