Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out at Roush next year; Chris Buescher in No. 17

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Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday afternoon that this season will be the last in the No. 17 Ford for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will be replaced by Chris Buescher.

Stenhouse, in his seventh season driving the No. 17, has failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons with the team. Stenhouse enters Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23rd in the points. He finished 18th in the points last year. He won two races in 2016 to qualify for the playoffs and finished a career-high 13th in the points. He is winless in 83 races.

Buescher returns to Roush, where he won the 2015 Xfinity championship but left to drive for Front Row Motorsports and JTG Daugherty Racing the past three seasons. Buescher enters this weekend 20th in points. He finished a career-high 16th in points in 2016 for Front Row Motorsports, earning a playoff spot with his Pocono win. That remains his lone Cup victory. He’s winless in 115 races. Buescher is one of three drivers to make the playoffs in their rookie season, joining Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Stenhouse had a contract with the team through 2021, but contracts often have performance-related clauses and other outs that can permit drivers and teams to vacate the remaining terms of a deal.

JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Tad Geschickter issued the following statement.

“We were in the final strokes of the contract when learning that Chris has gone in a different direction. We appreciate all of the efforts from Chris through the past three seasons at JTG Daugherty Racing. When the dust settles, we will begin the process of searching for our next driver to fill the No. 37 seat for the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.”

With today’s news, Stenhouse will not appear on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET today as previously scheduled.

Here’s the release from the team:

Roush Fenway Racing has announced that Chris Buescher will make his return to the team, taking the wheel of its No. 17 NASCAR Cup Series Ford in 2020. The team will part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

“We can’t say enough about Ricky and his contributions to Roush Fenway Racing,” said team co-owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Roush. “We’re proud to have been a part of Ricky’s development from ARCA to Xfinity and ultimately the Cup Series. He has served as a great representative to our partners, while helping to accumulate numerous accolades, wins and multiple championships on the racetrack. We wish him well as he enters the next chapter of his career.”

Buescher, a product of Roush Fenway’s development driver program, returns to the team that he led to a NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) title in 2015.

“We are certainly excited to have Chris back in the fold at Roush Fenway Racing,” said Roush. “He has a long history with our organization and we’ve always been a big fan of Chris and his racing style. We have watched his progress with great interest over the last couple of seasons and we are looking forward to having him in the No. 17 as we continue to grow our program next season.”

Buescher first joined Roush Fenway as a development driver in 2009, winning the 2012 ARCA Series championship in a partnership with Roulo Brothers Racing, before making his NXS debut for Roush Fenway in relief of Trevor Bayne in 2011. He moved to full time in the NXS in 2014, and in 2015 brought home Jack Roush’s eighth NASCAR Championship; dominating the series while leading the NXS standings for 24 consecutive weeks.

Stenhouse has piloted the No. 17 car for the past seven seasons after taking over for Matt Kenseth in 2013.

Buescher drove the No. 34 Ford during his Cup rookie season in 2016, racing his way into the playoffs via a victory at Pocono. He has served as the driver of the No. 37 Cup entry for the past three seasons and is currently 20th in the NASCAR Cup point standings.

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.

“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.