What drivers said at Pocono

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Kyle Busch — winner: “I passed one guy on the outside of Turn 3 and that was the only guy I needed to pass, I guess. It was hard otherwise. We kind of got stuck in traffic back there a little bit earlier in the race. We were about fifth or sixth and couldn’t really do anything. But overall my guys on pit road were awesome. We got some spots there, track position.”

Brad Keselowski: — finished 2nd: “We had decent speed. We didn’t have speed enough to go up and pass guys, but we could run with them. I feel like if we would have got to the front, nobody ever would have passed us. One of those races, with the way the cars are, if you’re the leader you could be a 20th-place car, nobody is going to pass you. You just try to make the most you can and take advantage of the restarts and the pit strategy and do the best you can as a driver to make up for it.

Erik Jones — finished 3rd: “If we were both on four tires would have been pretty even, but (Kyle Busch) had an advantage on tires there at the end. We needed some track position so we had to take two, and had it stayed green, we were going to run second, and we ended up third. You know, a good day overall.”

Chase Elliott — finished 4th: “Playing the strategy game was really important. Pitting before the stages was giving up stage points doing that, but ultimately having track position in the back half was where it was worth it. Luckily, (crew chief Alan Gustafson) and our group saw that earlier in the race and we kind of jumped on board with that strategy. It worked out for a top five. I’m proud of the effort. We’ve had some good NAPA Chevrolet’s the last couple of weeks. We’ve been good, just not great and you have to be great to win these things. I’ll go to work and try to do a better job, and we’ll see what we can do next week.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 5th: “We had a pretty good car. We had a third- to fifth-place car. That is about what we had and we did a good job finishing with what we had. We are just giving up way too many stage points. We have to figure out how to get some stage points. That is all we had today.”

Denny Hamlin — finished 6th: “It was a good run. We didn’t hit the wall. That’s a first in about a month. Didn’t blow a tire. That’s about the first in a month. The positives are we got a decent finish out of it there. We had a pretty good car in clean air. I thought the 18 (Kyle Busch) definitely was substantially better. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) was pretty good as well, but I thought we could hold our own there. We were running third and got four tires there at the end. We really – track position was just such a huge deal. I didn’t see many cars out there passing today and we were one of them that couldn’t. You got stuck behind guys and it didn’t matter how old their tires were in front of you, you just got stuck behind them and we were one of those guys. Then we had an inside lane restart on the end that cost us a spot or two. Overall, a decent day. We’re at least back on the train of a good run and not tearing our car up so we’ll build from there and go to Michigan next week.”

Joey Logano — finished 7th: “It was brutal to pass. Really hard in dirty air. Tough. Tough racing here. It was all about strategy and restarts and you saw some chaotic restarts. The last restart was insane. I was in the middle of it and we were four or five-wide down into (Turn 1) and I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to be. You hope it all sorts out and somehow it did. That is where the race is at, trying to get a good restart and then figure out a way to get ahead of everyone on strategy.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 8th: “We had a little bit more speed than an eighth-place car but we struggled through the race at one point in traffic. We got the balance back by the end but it wasn’t easy. I feel like a top 10 is what we deserve today and we have to work on it.”

William Byron — finished 9th: “We had some really good parts of the race. We kind of went for the points, which with the way the strategy was, it was hard to get back there. But we got a lot of points today, which was great. I know it doesn’t sound super good, but we had really good stages and really good runs there. So, we were able to go from 12th to ninth on that last restart and that was nice and we finished with a top 10, so hopefully we can go to Michigan and be able to improve on that even more.”

Aric Almirola — finished 10th: “I honestly don’t know how well this will translate to the July race, but I feel like we learned quite a bit today. Our car was decent but we didn’t have anything for the 18. Our car was decent and we were pretty competitive, we just fought track position. I got up to fifth or sixth there and just barely brushed the wall off Turn 3 and had bad tire smoke and had to come pit so that I didn’t blow a right rear tire and end our day. I erred on the side of caution there and then we just fought to recover from that the rest of the day. We were buried in traffic and had to be aggressive on restarts to try to get back up through the field.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 13th: “I thought we did a really good job of maximizing our day with this No. 8 Kalahari Resorts & Conventions Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We struggled a little bit too much on restarts, and I have to figure out how to position myself better to not give up so much track position. In the race, the car took off too loose on corner entry to attack. I thought we would never get that connected to make some decent lap times. As soon as (crew chief) Luke Lambert and this team were able to make some adjustments … we were able to do that and made forward progress. Staying out long on the next-to-last run and pitting late for right side tires and fuel gave us a huge amount of track position and made our lap times much better than the cars around us.”

Alex Bowman — finished 15th: “That was not what we needed today. We had a good car, and we just fought some handling issues off and on. There at the end, it just came out of fourth gear and wouldn’t stay in. I had to hold it in place for the end of the race.

Kyle Larson — finished 26th: “It felt like our team did a really good job of calling pit strategy the first half of the race for those two stage wins. I felt like our car was really good, especially in that final stage. I just didn’t have the track position, but I could pass people when I felt like other people couldn’t pass. So, I was happy about that. And then, just that restart, I tried to be really aggressive and fit in that hole. I haven’t seen a replay, but am assuming I just wasn’t clear and I turned myself in the wall. I hate that I did that, but I felt like that was a good opportunity to fit in that hole and just get the run and maybe get by whoever was in front of me because I feel like I had a really good car at the time. So, I’ve just got to be smarter.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 32nd: “That was a hard lick. We actually got the car a little bit better but we still weren’t very good all day. We made it better and better and had a little contact early and cut a right rear tire. We were trying to battle back. We were gaining on it. I feel like we could have maybe got three more spots before the end of the race but the tire let go going into (Turn 2). That is about the worst place that can happen. That was a bummer. All in all, we will just try to figure out how to get our cars better here. Us and the 6 were struggling all day.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 35th: “I don’t know. We just lost an engine there – dropped a cylinder down the backstretch and figured I might as well pit. I thought maybe it was a possibility we were out of gas, but it started smoking out of the pipes and shut off. Tough day. TRD (Toyota Racing Development, U.S.A.) does a great job of building engines and obviously they’re fast. Probably a fluke deal. I’m not sure, but we’ll go back to look at it. Frustrating day.”

Austin Dillon — finished 37th:Paul Menard has been doing this for a long time. I was a teammate with him at some point. I don’t know. He still hasn’t figured it out, I guess. I don’t know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do. He just ran into the back of me and missed the corner. He overshot it.”

Dr. Diandra: Strategies in making Clash picks

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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.

A graph showing practice times for the Busch Light Clash field

  • 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!

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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.