What it was like racing Dale Earnhardt: Recalling ‘The Intimidator’ on the track

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NBC Sports will take a look at the life, legacy and long-lasting impact of Dale Earnhardt who died 20 years ago this week on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. This is the second chapter in an oral history series that remembers “The Intimidator” though the voices of those who knew the seven-time Cup Series champion who remains one of the biggest icons in NASCAR history.

Two of the biggest victories in Dale Jarrett’s NASCAR career were special because of Dale Earnhardt.

“That’s what makes me so proud of the first two Daytona 500s that I won: He finished second,” Jarrett said of outdueling the seven-time champion to win The Great American Race in 1993 (when he made the winning pass on the final lap) and ’96 (when he took first with 23 laps to go). “And fortunately in the very first one, I only had to hold him off for a full lap there. The second one was holding him off for 23 laps because I knew if he got to my bumper, he wasn’t going to care that we were friends. That’s just who he was, and you knew that.

Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt before the 1998 Daytona 500 (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports).

“When you’re passing the very best in the business at a track that he literally dominated in every fashion except for the Daytona 500, that was extremely special. Knowing how badly he wanted to win and still had not won there, that was I considered some of the best driving that I did.”

With 76 victories and seven titles in NASCAR’s premier series, Earnhardt’s talent was unquestioned in the No. 3 Chevrolet, and it also was revealed on many of the Cup Series’ biggest stages. His 1998 Daytona 500 victory came after a 20-year winless wait that included several near-misses (and a major heartbreaker on a cut tire while leading the final lap in 1990). In taking his last checkered flag, Earnhardt drove from 18th to first in the final five laps at Talladega Superspeedway.

But his greatness was realized against the backdrop of “The Intimidator” persona that could be complicated and polarizing. In perhaps his most infamous victory, Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte on the final lap of the Aug. 28, 1999 race at Bristol Motor Speedway. As skillful as he was in deftly picking through the draft at Daytona and Talladega with precision, Earnhardt is remembered as much for employing a rough-and-tumble style on short tracks.

For every “Pass in the Grass” (while battling Bill Elliott in the 1987 Winston), there also were cantankerous dustups with seemingly countless rivals — notably Geoff Bodine, whose rows with Earnhardt inspired a “Days of Thunder” plotline about a meeting called by NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. to end their feud.

As part of a weeklong series recalling the legacy of Earnhardt 20 years after his death, NBC Sports talked to NASCAR analysts Jeff Burton, Jarrett and Kyle Petty, all of whom raced against the first-class NASCAR Hall of Famer, and also culled observations from several interviews over the years to describe the competitive fire that made Earnhardt the superstar who could play the bad guy but still stay on everyone’s good side:


Kyle Petty: Earnhardt was an incredibly talented driver, but he did not have the natural talent that Tim Richmond had. What Earnhardt had was a nod to Red Byron bolting himself into a race car when he would connect his leg to the clutch. What Earnhardt had connected the generations and the eras before him and was something you couldn’t see, couldn’t touch, you couldn’t feel, and you couldn’t describe. It’s just there. You can call it desire. You can call it hard-headedness, but there’s something you can’t see in some people and he had that by the bucketfuls.

Dale Jarrett: This isn’t a knock against Richard Childress’ teams or anyone else’s, but Dale Earnhardt won races and championships with seldom having the best car. And that proved to me in so many ways of just how good he was. When you look at superstars that have won multiple titles, especially when you get into talking about seven in NASCAR or any other sport, the supporting group that they had, they had an edge in that they had everything around them that made them better. Dale had good people. He had good cars. But seldom did he have the best car. But he made it the best car, because he was the best driver.

Petty: I think people respected his driving ability and what he could do with a car. You stood back and watched what he could do with a car, you thought, gosh, man. You knew he had a 10th-place car, and he’d just run fourth with. If you’re out there racing with the guy, you know a lot of times what they’ve got. You know it’s not the best car. It’s not the best car. He was doing  a lot with it. Whether it was (Rod) Oesterlund. Whether it was (J.D.) Stacy. Whether it was (Richard) Childress or Bud (Moore). He did stuff with Bud’s Ford that was pretty special at the time. So you respected that ability. I don’t think there was a lot of respect sometimes for the way he used that ability because you knew he was better than that.

The No. 3 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt and No. 88 Ford of Dale Jarrett battle for position at Daytona International Speedway (RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports).

Jim Hunter, late NASCAR vice president of communications, in 2006: My favorite Earnhardt story is when we changed the size of the restrictor plate at Talladega the day before an event. Earnhardt was like Brer Rabbit saying, “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!’ He says, “I hate these restrictor plates, they ought to do away with them,” and then he’d go out and win the race. We’d shrink the size of the restrictor plate hole, and Earnhardt would say, “I told them they shouldn’t do this,” and then he usually would win the race.

Ray Evernham (during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast), recalling the 1997 Daytona 500 that Jeff Gordon won after tangling with Earnhardt, who returned to the track after a late crash: The race is getting ready to go green, here comes this (No. 3) driving down pit road — roll cage laid back, roof busted, deck lid taped on. And (Earnhardt) pulls alongside, revs his motor and flips me off. He had that big goofy smile with that open-faced helmet. He could smile as wide as the opening. He wasn’t mad. He was just letting me know, “Hey, I ain’t done yet.” I always treated him with respect. I always was in awe of what he accomplished. We talked about a lot of things. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him. I wasn’t intimidated by him. I used to give it back to him, and I think he liked that. He’d grab me by the neck, but I’d get behind him and do the same thing. As we raced together, he respected my knowledge and ability as much as I respected his ability as a driver.

Certain people in your life drive you to be better. You care enough about these people or you respect them so much that you want to impress them and be on their level. Dale Earnhardt was the best in the business, and I wanted to show him that I could be the best in the business. I wanted to be worthy of being able to compete with him. It was probably one of the greatest things in my career to have that friendship with him. We yelled at one another a couple of times, but (he respected) the fact I yelled back at him. “Don’t you respect my seven championships?” “I do respect your seven championships, but don’t run into my damn car!”

The day he died I knew racing had changed for me. I just said to people it’s never going to be the same. That was my first day really as a team owner. We lost Dale Earnhardt in that race, and it never was the same. I think that day some of my fire went out … Even though I loved my time with (drivers) Bill Elliott and Kasey (Kahne), the fire was just never the same after that. It got turned down a notch.


Petty: There were moments in a lot of races where you would be racing Earnhardt or he’s coming up in the mirror. You would just see him this subtle ‘I got this’ while making a move, and he would make it look so fluid and so smooth that you just witnessed something that somebody else would have been in the wall (or) in a wreck, but the guy sitting in the third row never realized there was danger in the moment. That’s Superman. It’s a different perspective from being in the car and watching somebody do magic and sitting in the audience and watching somebody do magic.

Kirk Shelmerdine (on the Dale Junior Download in March 2019), Earnhardt’s crew chief from 1984-92: It was always us against the big teams. (The) controversy was all great. It was part of the persona. The more stuff he got into, that was better. We supported him. If he backed into somebody in the parking lot with the van, it was their damn fault for parking there. We had each other on anything. It was the game plan. We just had the attitude the more aggressive he was and more afraid they were of him, the better. We tried to back that all we could.

Rick Hendrick in 2011: He and Bodine were going at it hammer and nail (in the 1988 Coca-Cola 600), and Geoff went in the corner and rubbed him. The next corner, Dale planted Geoff firewall deep. We walked over, and Geoff was standing by my car. It was destroyed. I said, “You know, Geoff, if you walk down the street and see a snake, you step on his head. Don’t pick him up and shake him and lay him back down. He’ll bite you.” If you’re going to mess with Earnhardt, you better wreck him good because if you don’t, we’re going to be cutting you out of the car. That cost Richard and I a lot of money. That meeting that France had in Daytona saved me a lot of money. I was losing a lot of cars.

UAW-GM Quality 500
Geoff Bodine (left) and Dale Earnhardt race door to door at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1997, years after their famous crash at the track in the Coca-Cola 600 (David Taylor /Allsport).

Petty: Sometimes, you were just disappointed in Earnhardt. It’s kind of like your third-grade teacher writing on your report card, “Kyle has so much talent and so much ability, but he talks all the time and he never pays attention.” She respects what you could do but she’s disappointed in what you did. When he spun Terry at Bristol, that’s a disappointment, man. There were times when things happened, and I looked at him and thought, ‘Man you’re so much better than that.’ When he wrecked Terry at Bristol, that was bad for me. That was just, you can get out and say you were rattling a cage, but you planted the guy, man. I think of the moments like that because they didn’t need to happen.

Don Hawk, Dale Earnhardt Inc. president 1993-2001: Over the last 10 years, how many guys shoot their mouth off, point their fingers, try to reach at another guy over a crew member? Dale didn’t do that. Dale would grab you by the epaulet of your uniform, pull you right up to his ear. And this happened to him and Rusty Wallace at Bristol (in the Aug. 26, 1995 race), the night where Rusty threw the water bottle. And Dale walked over, grabs Rusty by the epaulet of his uniform, pulls Rusty next to his head and said, “You know what, we can fight here and make a scene. Or you can come to the farm on Monday, and we’ll either fight it out or talk it out like two men. But see me at my property or shut up.”

And guess what happened? I opened the electric gate on Monday morning for Rusty Wallace to come in our property. They got in Dale’s truck. I didn’t see them for at least three and a half hours. They came back in, they ate lunch, they disappeared again. They came in, and Dale said, “You’re not going to believe this, I actually have Miller beer for you.” And they drank a beer in the shop over a picnic table, Tony Eury Sr. was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Earnhardt is having a beer with Rusty Wallace.” None of us know what happened in the pickup truck or beyond the gate, but I’m sure they yelled at each other a little bit, talked at each other a little bit, but they came out of there with a respect.

Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip share a moment during a Nov. 19, 2000 retirement tribute to Waltrip at Atlanta Motor Speedway (USA TODAY Sports Images).

Darrell Waltrip (on the Dale Junior Download in November 2020): Probably the only time I confronted (Earnhardt) about something he did on track was the 1995 All-Star Race. People don’t realize, that (crash) was the beginning of the end for me. I broke ribs underneath my shoulder blade. I had to have relief drivers. I had a lot of good people working for me at the time, but because I couldn’t drive, the car couldn’t run up front like it had been, so they all left. In that All-Star Race, we had a great car, and I know if I get in front of Jeff Gordon, I can win the 10-lap shootout (to end the race) … Out of the corner of eye, I see sparks flying, and it’s Dale. I’m going to sail into Turn 3 and take the lead, and I’m out of here. I hit that wall so hard, I thought I was dead. I was a mess.

(Next) Wednesday, I find Dale and said, “What the hell, man. What were you thinking?” He said, “What were you thinking? I was thinking I was going to win that race. I was thinking don’t you ever go on the outside of me. Hopefully you learned a lesson.” And walked away. But that’s the way he was. He’d call every year at Christmas Eve. One year, he didn’t call me. We get to Daytona, I go up to him. “Did you call me Christmas Eve?” He said, “I don’t have to call you every year.” And just walked away. There were two Dales.


Jeff Gordon in 2010: Dale didn’t say, “Mess with me, I’ll mess with you.” He just messed with you to do it and then laughed about it later and say, “Hate that happened!” and put his arm around you. He was so good about it. He wrecked me once at Phoenix when I was a rookie and racing the hell out of him on the outside for 10th place. I was so mad and then I looked at it on TV and I thought, “Man, I don’t know. Did he wreck me? I think I came down on him a little bit.” He was so good at knowing how to make it so close, you weren’t sure if he wrecked you or not. But he was just one of those guys who could get away with it for some reason, and it didn’t seem to cost him the championship.

Mark Martin on his podcast in 2018: He treated me with great respect until one day in the mid-90s he wakes up and he just thinks, “Boy, I’ll just mess with Mark, see how much he will take.” He started pushing my buttons just for the fun of it. I would go out to practice and try to run by myself and he would come out. He would wait for me. He would come out right beside me and he would get on the outside of me. That’s when the cars were just starting to get aero loose with a car on the outside.

He would mess with me and mess with me and mess with me. Well, I finally got tired of it at Michigan. He got on my outside and I switched it on him. I got ahead of him and then let him get on the inside of me and when we did, it sucked him around. He spun me around, and he wrecked me. I had not wrecked myself or him all this time he had been messing with me and it pissed me off because it wrecked my car. So I was mad. That was in practice.

So, the next weekend on Friday, first thing we rolled out at New Hampshire, I go out and here he is. He does the same thing, and I put the wheel on him in practice. He comes in after practice and he looks at his PR guy, and he said, “I think Mark has had enough.” That’s all. It was just playing. I wasn’t going to cry to the media, I wasn’t going to complain, I was going to be a man. I wasn’t going to be a baby. Some of the other people, Dale didn’t like the way they reacted, he didn’t respect it and he made their life miserable.

Dave Marcis (to NBC Sports in 2020): We were at Martinsville, and Dale was hammering at me and hammering at me, and I got ticked off about it and spun him out. He wouldn’t talk to me for two months. He was mad. But you know what, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I had to stand up for myself, and I can’t let people run over me, because if I did, then I was going to have trouble all the time.

Finally one day, he walked up to me and grabbed me around the neck, had a big old grin on his face, and said, “You know that deal at Martinsville?” And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, “I had that coming. My daddy always told me if you have any problem with anybody, don’t carry it down the road. I guess you had a problem, and you didn’t carry it down the road.”

Jeff Burton: I never really had an issue with him. He and I wrecked at Bristol, maybe my rookie year. Early in my career. And we drove down in the corner, and he was lapping me, and he just acted like I wasn’t there and turned into the corner like I wasn’t there. And he spun and wrecked. And I’m like, “Oh shit!” I thought I knew what happened, but I’m like, “Hell, I’m Jeff Burton, he’s Dale Earnhardt. It’s my fault.” And the next week, he walked up to me, and he said, ‘Hey. I want to let you know my mom told me that wreck was my fault.” I’m like, “OK!”

At Talladega one time, I pushed him and pushed him and helped him and got myself in a situation where I needed some help, and he didn’t help me. I saw him at the airport after the race and said, “What the hell, man? I helped you the whole frickin’ day and a chance for you to help me, you didn’t help me.” He looked at me and said, “Am I there racing for you? Or am I there racing for me?” Well, I guess you got a point. But that was him. He wasn’t keeping track of, “Wow, that Burton. He’s a good guy. He’s helping me.” He didn’t give a damn. He just knew what he had to do when it was time for him to do it. He didn’t care about you.

Dale Jarrett: Myself and most others were on the wrong end of his bumper a number of times. But he had this way about it that was incredible. Usually when you went to talk to him, you’d be so mad, and it almost seemed like before the end of your conversation, that at least 50 percent of what happened was your fault.

He just had this way of making you seem like he really hadn’t done anything wrong. He never really apologized for anything, not with any incident I had with him. There were times that you could get him back, but the scoreboard never evened up. He’s just a hard-nosed racer. A lot of people you didn’t know what you were going to get week to week and track to track, but with Dale Earnhardt, you knew what was coming.

Dustin Long contributed to this story

1996 Daytona 500 - Checkered Flag
Dale Jarrett takes the checkered flag to win the 1996 Daytona 500 ahead of Dale Earnhardt (ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images).

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.

What NASCAR Cup Series drivers said about The Clash at the Coliseum

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Here is what NASCAR Cup Series drivers had to say after Sunday’s Busch Light Clash exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Martin Truex Jr. was the winner and was awarded the gold medal (for results and stats, click here):

Martin Truex Jr. — winner: “Really good race car. The guys did a great job with this Toyota Camry. Last year was a pretty rough season with no wins. To come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of all these guys. Sometimes, you just persevere. Tonight it went our way, and we made some good adjustments, too.”

Austin Dillon — Finished second: “I hate it for Bubba (Wallace), he had a good car and a good run. I just know he sent me through the corner. I saved it three times through there, Then I was going to give the same. Probably it was a little too hard. My teammate let me try to get Truex at the end, that was nice. Been fun. Hopefully, we can do this more often.”

Kyle Busch — Finished third: “It was a battle all night long, but you can’t count us out. We used the outside on a lot of passes. When you’re deep in the field, you can do that to make up ground. Overall good to get back up to third, could have gone second, but I let Austin go. He was better than us in practice. I thought he could have a shot at trying to get close to (Truex), and I’ll push him through to get a 1-2, but never made it there.”

Alex Bowman — Finished fourth: “Yeah, I think there was a couple good restarts from the outside the beginning of the second half of the race when we had a restart every half a lap. That helped us. I think we went from eighth to second there pretty quickly. Obviously that was a big gain for us, and then just kind of got put back a little bit. I had one bad restart from the outside of the front row, and that hurt our finishing position. But yeah, really good race car, and those couple restarts kind of got us out of the mess.”

Kyle Larson — Finished fifth: “It feels good to get to fifth. I didn’t really work my way forward to fifth. It was kind of a battle of attrition. I was just kind of stuck, which I’m sure a lot of people felt stuck and always wanted to choose the outside on the restarts, but everybody in the middle of the pack figured out that the outside was better at the same time. Then it just never worked out where I could choose the outside lane and just kind of got stuck in 10th for a while, and yeah, kind of just got slammed from behind forward. Never really passed but one or two cars and came from 14th to fifth. There was just a lot more slamming around this time. Last year was the first race for this car, and we didn’t know how tough they were at the time. There was not as much slamming. I think people didn’t quite know how strong the noses and rear bumpers were. This year it was just like everybody just ran through the person in front of them. If you got a hole to get down, somewhere to get down, then the three or four cars behind would just shove them through the two in front of them. A lot of accordion, and just difficult on the restarts, especially where I was, middle of the pack.”

Ryan Preece — Finished seventh: “The fuel pump (broke). The primary pump went bad. I don’t know. I don’t think we were close on fuel. At first, I thought it was ignition because usually when it’s fuel it just keeps cutting, so I shut off my alternator and all of my electrical stuff and it seemed to help a little bit. It did it again and I lost four spots, so I just flipped the switch and a miracle happened. Ultimately, this car was so badass. It was so fast. We drove from 16th outside, inside, everything it took. I’m proud of the speed. I’m happy for the opportunity, but it sucks giving them away. That just comes from, first off, my grassroots experience, just working hard and just having a fast race car. Chad and I, we’re a new team but we’ve already got a year-and-a-half experience together and knowing lingo. If it’s off, I’ll let him know it, but if it’s that close, he’ll go with his gut. I’m hoping that we can use this as a good start, go to the 500 and win that one and get ourselves in the Playoffs and then try to win some more.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 10th: “There are just no repercussions to driving in and using the bumper of the car in front of you. They hit someone in front of them, and the car two cars up spins. The only way to do it is to officiate unnecessary contact and (send them) to the rear. But the whole field would be black-flagged if we raced like that. I don’t really have a good answer.” (Could this be a points race with Auto Club Speedway off the 2024 schedule?) “I think they should put it in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect (smiles).”

Justin Haley — Finished 11th: “I’m so proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing and where we have come in a short amount of time. The race results weren’t exactly what we wanted, but this weekend was a fun confidence booster. It’s pretty cool to get mine and Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series pole, points race or not, and I think we really showed we belong here. I feel pretty confident about where we are, and I think we are in a good spot to start the season.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 14th: “I felt like we had a decent No. 42 Sunseeker Resort Chevy. We just had some damage on the front from the heat race that hurt us with cooling the right front and the brakes. We got really tight in the first half of the race. We started cutting some of it away, but overall, it was just a pinball machine out there. I thought we had some good restarts; good lane choices and we were making our way back up there. We got back up to eighth but just didn’t have enough there. I kind of made some poor decisions there at the end and chose the wrong line. I thought they were all going to stack up there on the bottom, so I went to the outside and they didn’t. It’s just part of the learning curve. Thank you to everyone at Legacy Motor Club: Jimmie Johnson, Maury Gallagher, Richard Petty, Mike Beam. Everybody that’s a part of this team. They worked really hard and I’m definitely excited to start the year off with making it into this race. I’m just very thankful.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 15th: “For us, we were never really good all weekend on a short run and that kind of killed us at the beginning. We kind of lost our track position. There wasn’t really very many long runs. On long runs we would always kind of go forward and then you’d be beating and banging, obviously. I got turned around there the one time and it was really hard to pass. I felt like unless you were maybe three or four of those cars, they were really the only ones that were good enough that they could just kind of move through the field. We were one of those cars, I felt like if you put us in fourth or fifth, we would maintain, but we weren’t good enough to drive from the back to the front. We were just a little bit off. We just needed a little bit more. There was a lot of beating and banging and a lot of cautions. That was a really long race, longer than I expected. I felt like it was a good start to the season, just getting a race mentality. The race was extremely hot with the mufflers. I was getting pretty fumed out, but it’s good to kind of get readjusted to those things when we get the season back going.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 16th: “It was an up-and-down weekend for us at the Coliseum. We made adjustments after practice that helped us qualify on the front row of our heat race. We just lacked grip during the heat race and last chance qualifier. We lacked speed all day, but we made the race, made handling improvements and learned a lot to take back and build on. We’ve definitely got some work to do on this style track.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 18th: “Man, we just made a big mistake there. I didn’t get notified that it was the choose lap and we got stuck on the outside and lost track position, and then I kind of burned the tires up trying to get down. It was a track position race all night. You needed to stay in the top three or four and I felt like took off really good. The car had great speed and it was doing everything I needed it to, but you can’t make mistakes like that. I’m not sure what happened on the communication side there, but it didn’t get relayed to me fast enough that we were coming to the choose. I hate that, but still a great way to start the year. We had a lot of speed in our Ford Mustang and led some laps in the big show, but once you get in the back it turns into bumper cars. It is what it is. We’ll go to Daytona.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 19th: “It was tough. I couldn’t breathe and it was tough because of that. I think at lap 30 or so in the first stage, we had contact in the right side of the car, and that made the exhaust get some fumes inside the cabin. After that, I struggled a lot, especially the second half of the race. I felt like I was okay for a while, but then the second half of the race I struggled big time. We just have to continue to get better. I felt like the car was okay. We definitely made a big swing for the main race and we showed that, but actually went to the other side of it. We just have to continue to work and continue to learn.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 24th: “I don’t know how many laps under caution we ran, but obviously just a calculation running the LCQ and a heat race. We just didn’t anticipate running over 100 laps of caution, so that was unfortunate. It was a battle out there for sure. I feel good about how we were able to start near the back and drive up into the top 12, top 13 twice, so our car was good. It’s just a good weekend. We’ve got a lot of new guys, so it was good to get up to speed and figure each other out.”

Erik Jones — Finished 27th: “I couldn’t move over. I was clear on the straightaway, but obviously (Michael McDowell) really wanted the spot. When we got spun out, I think we must have got hit in the right rear and it bent the toe link pretty bad. It kind of is what it is. Michael has gotten me twice pretty good now, which is frustrating. I think we had a decent car. We were kind of moving up there and I felt good about it. It’s a tough little place and it’s easy to get in trouble like that. We’ll move on with the No. 43 Chevy to the Daytona 500 and hopefully go for a win.”

Chris Buescher — DNQ for main event: “It’s definitely a bummer again.  We fought hard and thought we had made some improvements.  I think we did, but ultimately it didn’t yield a much different result here.  We had some really good short track runs last year, obviously Bristol and Richmond and a couple of others, and then there were a handful that didn’t go real good, I’m thinking like Loudon, so maybe it’s one of those deals where we’ve got to dissect what’s similar and what’s plaguing us at times like these or races like this and get back on track.  It’s definitely not the way you want to start the year, but we’ll be ready for Daytona. We’re racers, though, so it hurts your feelings.  You want to be better than that and we just weren’t.  It’s not much like other places we go and it’s kind of like bumper cars out there in a lot of ways, but it’s still a race and we need to be more competitive.”

Brad Keselowski — DNQ for main event: “We’re better than we were here last year but not enough better to make the difference.  This track has gotten slick, but we’ll go swing at them next week. There’s no other track like this and we were really good at Phoenix.  We’re excited to see what we can do there.  Of course, Daytona was really good for us last year, but we have to figure something out for this track, clearly, and we’ll just keep working on it. We are getting a better understanding of the car, but just not better enough of what it needs on the vehicle dynamics side.  We’re still working through that.  We’ve got some new hires and new things going on that started last week and we’ll see if we can get better. We just never could get the corner.  We were just really loose in with both of our cars and just couldn’t turn the wheel.”

Clash at the Coliseum NASCAR Cup Series race results

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Martin Truex Jr. led the final 25 laps to win The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in the results from the first event of the NASCAR Cup Series season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing team celebrated as the 2017 Cup champion quickly rebounded from a winless 2022 in his No. 19 Toyota by winning the NASCAR exhibition season opener for the first time.

Truex became the 25th driver to win the race. It’s JGR’s series-leading 11th Clash victory.

Austin Dillon finished second, followed by teammate Kyle Busch in his debut with the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet. Alex Bowman finished fourth, and Kyle Laron was fifth.

Tyler Reddick took sixth. Ryan Preece led a race-high 43 laps in his No. 41 Ford debut for Stewart-Haas Racing but faded to seventh because of an apparent electrical problem. The rest of the top 10: Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin (who also led 26 laps in the No. 11 Toyota), and William Byron.

BOX SCORE: Click here for full results from the Clash at the Coliseum

PENALTY REPORT: Click here for infractions during the race

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Click here for postrace reaction

Aric Almirola started on the pole position and led the first 16 of 150 laps in the race, which featured no pit stops and was split into 75-lap halves.

The race was slowed by 16 caution flags (up from five last year), including 12 in the final 75 laps. Laps under yellow weren’t counted in the official distance.

Bubba Wallace led 40 laps but finished 22nd after being rooted by Dillon into a late spin.

During a series of heat and qualifying races, the field was whittled to 27 cars for the Clash at the Coliseum main event. Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher both failed to advance for the second consecutive year, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Corey LaJoie and Harrison Burton were among others who were eliminated.

Click here for the results from the preliminary events in the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum.

Main event results (150 laps): 1. Martin Truex Jr.; 2. Austin Dillon; 3. Kyle Busch; 4. Alex Bowman; 5. Kyle Larson; 6. Tyler Reddick; 7. Ryan Preece; 8. Ross Chastain; 9. Denny Hamlin; 10. William Byron; 11. Justin Haley; 12. Kevin Harvick; 13. Christopher Bell; 14. Noah Gragson; 15. Chase Briscoe; 16. Joey Logano; 17. Ryan Blaney; 18. Aric Almirola; 19. Daniel Suarez; 20. AJ Allmendinger; 21. Chase Elliott; 22. Bubba Wallace; 23. Todd Gilliland; 24. Michael McDowell; 25. Austin Cindric; 26. Ty Gibbs; 27. Erik Jones