Bristol Cup dirt race is another milestone for Chris Windom

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On dirt and asphalt, with and without fenders, Chris Windom has competed on some of racing’s biggest stages.

There’s the Chili Bowl Nationals, where he finished sixth this past January. At fabled Eldora Speedway, he’s a past winner in USAC competition and raced twice in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He’s tackled Daytona International Speedway’s high banks in an ARCA stock car. And he’s crossed the Yard of Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy Lights car.

Now, Windom – the reigning USAC national midget series champion and the seventh driver to win a title in each of USAC’s top three series – is making his debut in NASCAR’s premier division, as it hosts its first race on dirt in over half a century.

Where will this rank among his adventures?

“I think it’ll be right there near the top,” Windom told NBC Sports on Tuesday, before he made his way to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday’s race.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to race on Sunday with the Cup guys. To get that opportunity – and for the first opportunity to be on dirt, where I’m more comfortable on – makes it even cooler.”

Windom is driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. After meeting his RWR crew for the first time earlier this week for a seat fitting and weekend prep, he turned his first laps in a Cup car on Friday.

He was 34th fastest in the first practice session, then 28th fastest in the final session.

While many Cup Series regulars have prior dirt experience or have been building theirs up recently, Sunday’s race is still an opportunity for Windom and other dirt regulars to showcase their skills on a relatively level playing field.

Along with Windom, sprint car driver Shane Golobic (No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford) and past World of Outlaws late model champion Mike Marlar (No. 66 MBM Toyota) will be in the field.

“I’m sure there’s hundreds or thousands of (dirt) guys who’d love to get the opportunity to do it,” Windom said. “I definitely want to have a good showing for all the dirt racers out there that I’m sure will be watching. I’m looking forward to carrying that badge and hopefully make everybody proud.”

Two of Sunday’s favorites also plan to keep tabs on the dirt regulars.

Kyle Larson, himself an accomplished dirt racer, has competed against Windom and Golobic for years. Christopher Bell has also been a teammate of Windom’s in midget racing.

Larson said this week that he’d love to see them competing for a win, but that such a prospect is a tall order.

“I think that will be really hard, just because even though it’s a dirt track and we’ve never done it, a team like Hendrick Motorsports has way more knowledge and experience of setting up a car to go to Bristol than the teams they’re racing for,” Larson said.

“I still think that they’ll be kind of fighting an uphill battle, but I think with their driving talents, hopefully they can crack inside the top 20 or if it is really even, maybe into the top 15 or 10 and have an awesome day.”

As for Bell, he named Windom and Golobic earlier this week as among a list of drivers he expected to run well.

When asked if Windom had asked him for advice going into the week, Bell said he hadn’t, but that “he’s going to be fine” while referring to Windom’s past ARCA experience on the Illinois dirt miles at Springfield and DuQuoin.

“The ARCA cars are probably going to be really similar, at least on the miles, to what we’re going to do this weekend,” Bell said. “I think he’s got as much experience as any of us, so I think he’ll be a competitor for sure.”

Before Sunday, however, come four, 15-lap qualifying heat races Saturday. Points accumulated in those heat races, from both finishes and positions gained from their starting position (passing points), will determine the starting lineup for Sunday.

Windom will be part of the fourth heat race, where he’ll race against the likes of reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. While he expects the heats to be “pretty intense,” he also recognizes the importance of avoiding problems.

“Going off where I ran the Truck race at Eldora, it seemed like a lot of guys … spin out and get themselves in trouble in the heats,” he said. “You don’t want to bury yourself, but you also have to be aggressive. I think there are going to be guys that go for it – and it might work out or it might not.”

As for Sunday, Windom doesn’t have a goal in mind as far as finishes go. But he’s aware that RWR, a team that usually runs toward the back of the field, is looking to give him a good car that can get them closer to the front.

If he can give them a run to be proud of while fulfilling one of his childhood dreams, so much the better.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It took quite a few people to put this deal together. I’m sure it’ll become more surreal once I’m actually there, in the car. I don’t have any expectations (about finishes). But once my helmet goes on, I always turn into a racer.

“I’m there to win the race, but I’m there to also enjoy it.”

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.