What drivers said at Atlanta

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Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

Kurt Busch — WINNER: “What a battle. What a genuine, awesome, old-school racetrack, and I just asked the track today, last time here on your old asphalt, can I have an old guy win, and she answered. Thank you, Atlanta Motor Speedway! This has been one of those years where I knew we were going to have our back up against the wall with trying to get above the cutoff line and race hard and race smart, and to have GEARWRENCH in Victory Lane, this is their last race of the year, they’re with us all year, and with Monster Energy, I couldn’t have two great primary sponsors. What a Chevrolet today, hell yeah!

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “It’s just the same as always. We just don’t have enough front end with laps on tires. I had everything I had early in the run and then just smoked it behind the 42 (Ross Chastain), obviously. It shows you what kind of driver he is. Just tried to fight hard after that when I got passed and had one valiant effort off of (Turn) 2, but didn’t have enough momentum to drag him down and make him go high in (Turns) 3 and 4, and after that the tires were smoked. Great effort. Guys gave me a great piece. We were fast. The No. 1 (Kurt Busch) was definitely better than us today. I just thought I had him. And we did. But racing just didn’t play out that way for us.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “It’s funny you look at results and oh, you started fifth and finished third, that’s a pretty good day. We went through a lot today on our Auto Owners Toyota Camry. … We definitely had the speed to battle for the win at the end, just had to come from too far back. I’m proud of everyone at (Joe Gibbs Racing), Toyota, TRD. Everyone at the shop is working really hard getting our stuff better. It just had the feel I was looking for today. We were good on the short runs and good on the long runs. I’m glad to be back running up front.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 4th: “We were OK. We had a really good racecar, just not good enough to contend for the win. I feel like we were really fast on the short runs, and I could run with those guys. I felt like I was just hanging out and trying not to burn my tires off. It never really paid off for me in the long run. I struggled at the end of runs and was really lane-limited at the end of the race. I needed the bottom to make the car turn. It was a good solid day for our Ally Camaro but not quite good enough.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “We got our best at the end. We didn’t start off very good. It was a long day of working on our race car and finally at the end we got going a little bit better. I was super tight all day and couldn’t really do anything. I was worried about cording right-front tires and we just kept taking pretty big swings at it. We still didn’t really get it to where we needed at the end, but, overall, not a bad day for our group. We’ve still got to find a little bit of speed, though. … I definitely think we’ve got to find some speed. None of us have won a race in a while and, honestly, we haven’t really been leading laps and running up front. We’ve been lacking, so we’re getting better, that’s for sure. It’s just little, tiny baby steps. I want to be winning races next week. I want us to make huge gains, but that’s not what this game is anymore. It’s tiny, little things that you find over weeks and weeks and apply them. I think we’re heading in the right direction, but we still got a little bit to go.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 6th: “I was able to get up into the top five early and stayed there for most of the race. Our car was a bit tight almost all day long, but the team was able to help counter that with air pressure adjustments throughout our pit stops. It felt like handling faded a little bit towards the end of the day, but I was able to switch up my lines and keep our speed for the most part, which was good. Racing in the Cup Series is just so tough. Everyone in this series is so smart and immediately picks up on anything someone does differently, so you’re constantly having to find new grooves and lanes during the race to stay up front. While I wish we could have finished top five, races like today are a testament to all the hard work the men and women of RCR and ECR put in at the shop every day, and this result is just another step in the right direction for our team. I know we can make the playoffs, we just have to continue to push.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “We changed a bunch of stuff throughout the day and just kind of kept grinding. I feel like we got to a decent spot there at the end. We weren’t anything special. But it was a heck of a lot better than where we started today. So, I’m happy with that. We just need to find a little pace and need to find a little bit myself and I think we can get back to where we need to be. We just need a tick more.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 9th: “This is another good example of where we’re really clicking as a team and executing, and I think we made about the most of our car. We just kept chipping away at it. (Crew chief Jonathan) Hassler made good adjustments and just kept getting better and better. That’s all you can ask for. I think everybody just did a good job. You like those days when you don’t have anything too crazy to talk about other than our team just doing a good job. Our pit stops were good. We were solid all day there. Hassler made great adjustments and we did fall back there. At a point we got pretty tight. The track changed a little and we got tight, but we took a little stab at it and got right back to where we were running in the top 10 and made the most of it. I’m pretty happy with it.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 10th: “That was a blue collar day for our MoneyLion team. Our guys had a great day on pit road and we had a great day on restarts.  We just needed a little more speed.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 12th: “We started the race way too tight and struggled with the handling for most of the race. Despite the challenges, we earned stage points in stage 2 before losing most of our track position pitting for lengthy adjustments to help the tight handling condition on our No. 3 Chevy. That adjustment really helped, but we had to climb our way forward from 20th. We kept digging and ultimately finished 12th. I know we learned a lot today, and I am proud of this team for never giving up.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 15th: “I felt like our One Cure Ford Mustang was a little better than where we finished, but we worked on it all day, and it definitely was better toward the end. It wasn’t one of our best tracks, but we improved and came out better than we were, and I’m proud of the team for sticking with it. We may have some work to do at New Hampshire, but I’ll be ready for the road courses when we come back from the break in a few weeks.”

Joey Logano — Finished 19th: “We weren’t bad today overall from a handing perspective, I’d say we just lacked some overall speed and put ourselves a touch behind when we had to pit early in the second stage. We had a better run going than where we finished but the last five laps I started to have a right side tire come apart.”

ROSS CHASTAIN — Finished 21st: “Kurt asked for the bottom so I gave him that lane. I was racing to stay on the lead lap. I’m very aware of what’s going on on the track around me. Kurt asked me for the bottom and I gave it to him. To see a Chip Ganassi car in Victory Lane with all that’s happened the last couple of weeks and all this year, there is nothing I want more. One team, one goal and that’s to win. I hate that Chip wasn’t here to enjoy this. But for our Clover Chevrolet to be so far off as we were and have a teammate go win, that’s a best-case scenario for us. We’ll learn from what they did and look through their notebook.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 23rd: “It was just a rough day at Atlanta. The balance was off on our Smithfield Ford Mustang for most of the race. We were hoping the rain would work out in our favor there in the second stage, but ultimately, we had to come to pit road in the end. We’ll move on to New Hampshire.”

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.