Bubba Wallace: Season-best fifth-place finish ‘shows what we can do’

0 Comments

LONG POND, Pa. — After his best run of the season, Bubba Wallace hugged, fist-pounded and slapped hands with crew members by his car Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Then Wallace walked over to his pit stall and did the same with his pit crew.

Although it wasn’t a win, Wallace’s fifth-place finish was a moment worth celebrating.

The finish marked the first top-10 result for 23XI Racing and came with team co-owner Michael Jordan in attendance.

“He understands,” Wallace said of Jordan’s grounded mindset for the first-year team. “Everybody talks about he’s a winner, he’s a champion, yeah, but he’s also a realistic person.

“He wants to win, for sure, but he knows what it’s going to take for us to get there. It’s more from me. It’s more from the team. It’s more of a group effort.

“He’s in the background watching and enjoying. He’s hooked. Having Michael Jordan hooked to NASCAR is huge and that’s getting a lot of other big names hooked as well and that’s what the sport needs. We’ll keep on doing on our own thing, keep plugging along.”

That aspect of more from the team and Wallace will be key with the second half of the 36-race season beginning Sunday.

Wallace and crew chief Mike Wheeler have said the team has had good cars but execution has been off in races, a reason why Wallace’s average finish was 21.0 entering the Pocono doubleheader weekend.

“Bubba has put a lot on his shoulders of having mistakes or running too hard, running into somebody,” Wheeler said. “A lot of our good cars early in the race would be damaged and he’s like, ‘I got to stop doing that,’ and (co-owner) Denny (Hamlin) would beat him up, too.

“But it’s hard. The moment you don’t have good notes from a certain event, it’s hard to go back with a better race. He’s had to learn. He’s got to learn how to run against these top-end guys all race long, to get that last little bit.

“But we’re working through that. Most drivers don’t come into the sport and make it click right away. They have troublesome years and some races. Again, we’ve had that a lot. This is one of those moments that cold turkey he out-punted his coverage on a fuel-mile race.”

Wallace was set for a good run through the invert after Saturday’s race. He finished 14th Saturday. NASCAR inverted the top 20 for Sunday’s race, meaning Wallace started seventh.

He went on to finish fifth in the first stage. Those were his first stage points since the third stage in last month’s Coca-Cola 600.

Then problems arose.

“It’s so easy to get put in the hornet’s nest here and that’s from 12th to 20th and you’re just rooting and gouging,” Wallace said. “I got into the wall just from getting aero tight – not really anybody’s fault, it’s just a product of racing.

“That kind of put us behind, so we knew we had to pull some strategy. I knew our car was good enough to be top 10 and execute. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a nail-biter with fuel.”

The damage, in a way, proved helpful.

In the second stage, Wheeler went with a fuel only stop on Lap 77 while the crew repaired the damage to the right side of Wallace’s car.

“We knew we wanted to stop (after the end of stage 2) to get four tires and full fuel because we only needed 10 laps of fuel after that,” Wheeler said of the team’s stop on Lap 87. “That would make for a shorter green flag stop in the last stage. With that, we knew we were 10 laps short. (Three) laps (after the green), the caution is out.

“It’s one of those things like ‘take the risk’ because one more caution puts you right in the (fuel) window.”

Wallace made his last pit stop on Lap 94 of the 140-lap race. Wheeler said Wallace was helped being in the middle of the pack at that point because a driver often has to get out of the gas in traffic.

“We knew we were (then) only a couple of laps short,” Wheeler said. “We just had to do extra hard work to save it.”

That goes against a driver’s natural instinct to go fast, but Wallace had no issues going slower.

“A racer wants to win,” Wallace said. “If it’s got to save fuel to win, then hell yeah, I’ll do it. I’m not going against what the engineers say. They’ve got it all calculated out and numbered out to tell me what to do. That’s my job. Tell me what to do and I’ll execute that.”

Now the focus turns to doing it again.

“We wanted the playoffs when we started the season,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We know that we are in a hole, but it’s finishes like that, that we have to capitalize on the speed in our cars. Today shows what we can do. We’ve got to keep up the momentum.”

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.