Ryan Newman offers his side of Bristol contact with Matt DiBenedetto

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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DARLINGTON, S.C. — It was set to be a magical moment.

Then came the contact.

And Matt DiBenedetto saw his chances to collect his first career Cup win end two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway just days after finding out he would not return to Leavine Family Racing in 2020.

Some fans were upset with Ryan Newman for the contact with DiBenedetto in the final laps that damaged DiBenedetto’s car and made it easier for Denny Hamlin to close and then pass DiBenedetto for the win.

“I thought I held my line on the straightaway,” Newman said Friday at Darlington Raceway when asked about the contact.

Newman was running 11th and seeking to stay on the lead lap when DiBenedetto, who was leading, approached with about 40 laps to go at Bristol.

“I did what I needed to do to be competitive,” Newman said Friday. “I haven’t seen any replays. I don’t know exactly how (DiBenedetto) hit me twice in two separate straightaways in the right rear going down the straightaway. If I pinched him or he didn’t give himself enough room or what. In the end, it was nothing intentional by me.

“I even told somebody after the race, I said ‘I don’t know what his deal was.’ I thought I was in the same spot with every car that was on the outside of me and I didn’t hit any cars or any cars hit me up until he came in on the outside of me. He did surprise me off of Turn 2 the first time, but I thought I left him plenty of room.”

As for fans who blamed Newman for the contact and preventing DiBenedetto from scoring the win, Newman said: “I think Kyle Busch would tell you the best, there’s always going to be haters.”

After the race, DiBenedetto said the contact with Newman “cost us the chance at trying to hold off Denny.”

On the Dale Jr. Download this week, DiBenedetto explained what he was thinking as he approached Newman to put him a lap down.

“I see us catching Newman, and I’m like ‘oh man, this is not what I’m wanting,’ “ DiBenedetto said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I get to him and I process ‘If I win this race, I’m going to be in the playoffs. He’s on the bubble, he’s extra not going to want me to win.’

“I’m like he’s going to be racing me really hard. I catch him and I see Denny coming. … If I can get by Newman and get that clear race track in front of him, that’s it, that’s going to be the move that wins us the race. I’ve got to make quick work of (Newman).”

DiBenedetto saw Newman’s line change and said on the Dale Jr. Download that he focused on trying to pass Newman on the outside.

“If I can get to his outside and get to his right rear, like clearly there, and keep that momentum and keep it wound up on the top and get around him and drive past, oh man we’re going to be good,” DiBenedetto said.

“I get right to his bumper, gas it up in the middle of the corner and get to his right rear tire and I’m like I’m there. You’ve got to be careful. If you just stick barely your bumper there and it’s questionable, I wanted to make sure I was there. I did gas it up and we had a huge run off the corner and I was at his right rear tire and he just came up anyways.”

Ryan Newman and Matt DiBenedetto discuss their contact at Bristol. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

During qualifying Saturday, DiBenedetto said he and Newman talked about the Bristol contact.

“He said it wasn’t intentional,” DiBenedetto said of what Newman told him. “He thought he left me enough room but he didn’t. I just explained it to him. I was against the wall. I was trying to be smart as well.”

DiBenedetto’s focus now is on the Southern 500 and while his team has struggled on some of the bigger tracks, he thinks Darlington Raceway could be a good track for him.

He was fifth in final practice Friday.

“If I’m picking and choosing and being totally honest, if we’ve got Darlington and Indy left, I’m circling off Darlington as probably more of a strong suit,” DiBenedetto said of the final two races in the regular season, “because we’re going to have more off-throttle time and be a little more grip limited here, which are the things we need as a team to make it where I can stand out more and my team can stand out more with the things they do.

“Hopefully, we can do that here and a win would be great because we have the speed at those type of race tracks. We really do.”

As for where he’ll be next year, DiBenedetto was asked if he has been contacted for any rides.

“I got a lot of like really nice, encouraging texts and stuff from a lot of fellow drivers and such so that was really neat and encouraging,” DiBenedetto said Friday at Darlington. “Nothing in particular. Just keeping all options open.”

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.