An angry Kyle Busch blasts Atlanta track makeover: ‘There ain’t nobody thinking’

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HAMPTON, Georgia – Labeling the reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway as brainless, an angry Kyle Busch vociferously joined a chorus of NASCAR stars miffed they weren’t consulted about the 1.54-mile oval’s makeover.

In closing a blistering news conference Saturday night after winning at Atlanta (in likely the final start of his Xfinity career), Busch asked Speedway Motorsports executive Don Hawk for a chunk “of the real asphalt, so I can cherish what the real Atlanta is like” in one of several digs he took at management.

“I sure am glad to win the final Xfinity Series race on a real Atlanta racetrack,” Busch said. “Because the next one is just going to be a showpiece, and it’s going to be shit.”

Atlanta announced Tuesday that the track will be reprofiled as part of its first repave in 25 years, adding four degrees of banking (to 28 degrees) while also narrowing the width in the turns by 14 feet.

Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and crew chief Rodney Childers are among those who have expressed reservations about the changes (which could create pack style-racing similar to Daytona and Talladega), but Busch was by far the most blunt and forceful in a diatribe that consumed nearly half of a 16-minute news conference.

“If they’re going to narrow it up 15 feet, whatever it is, that’s the whole bottom groove,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to run around here 3 wide. You’re going to be stuck at two wide. It’s going to be as wide as Darlington. So trying to run around here at 210 mph because if they don’t put plates on it, you’re going to be going way too fast.

“Just think about it. Everybody needs to just think. There ain’t nobody thinking. Brains for sale. Never used. Operating racetracks.”

During an appearance on NASCAR America this week (video above), Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith said drivers were consulted about the changes at Atlanta

But echoing what Larson and Hamlin indicated this week, Busch said he learned about the Atlanta changes “at the same time (the news media) all did.

“I feel that our (driver) side doesn’t get looked at whatsoever from our vantage point,” he said. “You’re going to come here with fresh pavement with 4 degrees more banking when they were here in 1997, they went around here wide open and set a track record of 197 mph.

“You’re going to tell me that the (NextGen) cars that we’re going to have with more tire, wider tire, we’re not going to go faster? So we’re the ones that need to be consulted as well, too, a little bit. Narrowing a racetrack … all we’ve done at every single racetrack that we’ve gone to over the years is try to widen the racing groove. Right? What do you think the PJ1 bullshit is for? To widen the racing groove.

“We go to Charlotte. We spray this PJ1 stuff in Lane 2 and 3 to make it wider. We go to Texas, we spray it in Lanes 2, 3, 4 at Texas to widen it. What are we doing? Now we’re going to come here and run here like Darlington. I just don’t see it. And they want pack racing? You want pack racing two wide. Who’s going to pass? Where are the lanes going to go? You’re going to get to the straightaway and make it three wide and try to blend back into 2 when you get to the corner. But yeah, simulation, they’ve got it worked out.”

That’s a reference to the track using iRacing to help design transitions between the turns and straightaways that Smith said were “perfect” during his NASCAR America appearance.

Busch said it would be difficult to predict how the racing would unfold on the new surface with the many variables of the NextGen car.

“The Xfinity cars will still be fast; it’s going to be close to wide open,” he said. “But the Cup cars, they still don’t know what aero package they got for the new Cup car. Are we coming here with the 550-type package? You might as well put the bigger blade on it that we have at the speedways and slow it down because you know you’re going to need to.”

Because of its abrasive pavement and heavy tire wear, Atlanta is a favorite of many drivers who believe that its multiple grooves and low-grip surface put an emphasis on skill.

Where does Atlanta rank on Busch’s list of favorites?

“Pretty high right now,” he said. “Come Monday, pretty low. It’s a fun place. We all say it. The drivers all say it.

“It’s challenging, it’s difficult. You have to figure out how fast you can run, how hard you can push and yet still try to save your tire and not burn your tires off it. … Overall, this is one of the more fun tracks. The asphalt is coming up, so I don’t discredit repave, but the layout … I can’t get it in my mind that we want to go faster.”

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.