Long: When things don’t go bump in the night at Bristol

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Overtime restart. Rivals first and second. And instructions to “find … a … way.’’

Bristol Motor Speedway’s inaugural Cup dirt race seemed poised for a finish that could take this event — “a crazy, amazing event,” Joey Logano would call it — to another level of must-see TV. Something that would go beyond what the inaugural Charlotte Roval race became in 2018 after a final lap that saw the leaders crash, the driver running third win and a battered car chugging to the finish to advance in the playoffs.

If you look at the history of events in the Cup Series, it seems like that (a memorable) finish is a really, really big key ingredient to a great race,” Christopher Bell said last week.

Monday’s finish fell short.

As Joey Logano celebrated the victory, Denny Hamlin tweeted “I wanna re-do.”

Hamlin will have to wait until next spring to get the chance in this event again.

But the finish mirrored this race, which featured rule changes throughout the weekend and race and bit of head scratching that can accompany any first-time event — especially a type of race not attempted by the Cup Series in more than half a century.

Next spring’s race still will be special — and likely a bigger deal with the expectation that there will be thousands more spectators instead of a socially-distanced crowd — but one could only imagine the promotion for it had Monday’s finish been more physical.

It’s short track racing as Hamlin said in 2019, mocking Logano after their confrontation at Martinsville in the playoffs that year. Contact is expected at the end.

That’s what Logano figured.

“I was fully prepared to get the bumper,” said Logano, who has used the bumper to win races and infuriate foes. “I figured that was going to come at some point. You have a green-white-checkered at Bristol, I don’t care if it’s dirt, concrete, you name it, there’s probably going to be contact.”

That seemed more likely with NASCAR mandating single-file restarts with about 85 laps left because double-file restarts created too much dust and too little visibility for drivers.

Hamlin, though, took a different tactic.

“I had an opportunity to choose whether I was going to make a move on the high side or the low side,” he said. “I chose high, and the track was just too slick up there at the time. Certainly he didn’t get a very good restart. I was on him entering Turn 1.”

Contact is not uncommon at Bristol. Logano and Hamlin have had run-ins before. And Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, depending on one’s interpretation, seemed to play the role of a jockey cracking a whip to his racehorse when he told Hamlin before the final restart: “You have the most aggressive guy in the business in this situation leading the race. The most aggressive one. Find … a … way.”

Hamlin took the best path he thought. It cost him a spot, and he finished third.

I asked Hamlin why he just didn’t go through Logano on the restart.

“Because I think me and (Logano) race differently,” Hamlin said. “I don’t have that mentality.”

Later, Hamlin was asked if it was any more frustrating to lose to Logano, especially since Hamlin had complained earlier of Logano cutting him off. The loss seemed to linger more as he answered this question.

“Yeah, definitely. I mean, he’s doing what he has to do to protect the lead,” Hamlin said. “I’m trying to get it from him.

“I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust, and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn’t, so I didn’t win.”

On a dirt track, sometimes clean works and other times one has to get dirty.

There’s a skill in bumping a driver out of the way as opposed to wrecking them. Maybe if Hamlin makes the move, it backfires and cost him more than a third-place finish. Or maybe it works, but then he knows Logano will be coming for him.

Then again, who is not to say Logano won’t be aggressive if the roles were reversed?

“Aggressive sometimes works for me,” said Logano, who has won at at least one Cup race each of the last 10 years.

He later noted that he doesn’t think he’s any more aggressive than other drivers.

“I feel like everybody is aggressive right now,” Logano said after his 27th career Cup victory. “Honestly, when I look at what everybody is doing on the racetrack, maybe I was the first to it, so that reputation stuck with me.

“But I can promise you, I watch every one of these races back, and I’m not the only one being aggressive. You look at the 550 rules package, everyone is aggressive. Look at the restarts, it’s insane. I promise you I am not the most aggressive guy on the racetrack any more. There’s times I look at it and say Maybe I need to be more aggressive.’ The game has changed a lot.”

Monday, there was no bump in the night at Bristol, leaving one driver to rejoice and another to reflect.

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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.