Charlotte Roval marks end of playoff road for four drivers

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CONCORD, N.C. — At the end, William Byron admits he felt “rage.”

Byron was frustrated with the contact from Tyler Reddick with 19 laps left as they raced for second place. The contact caused Byron to miss the backstretch chicane, costing him a chance to win Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and advance in the playoffs.

Instead, Byron finished 11th (after getting off track with two laps to go). Byron, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick all were eliminated from title contention.

After the race, Byron walked to Reddick on pit road to discuss their incident.

“Flat out made a mistake and ran in the back of him,” Reddick said after his runner-up finish. “Trying to stay as close as I can. We’re all trying to brake at the limit of the car. Just trying to stay as close as I could to his bumper and maybe try to put myself back in a position to make a pass – whether outside of him or inside of him – off the rear chicane.

“Just got into the back of him ever so slightly and that’s all it took to unhook the rear tires and that wheel hop to happen. Not on purpose. It stinks to see that small amount of contact just change his trajectory that much. That was shocking to me.”

Byron said Reddick told him that when they talked on pit road.

“First off, I wanted to hear that from him and not take for granted that it was a mistake,” Byron said of why he approached Reddick. “At that point, what did you do?”

Byron explained his frustration with Reddick’s action.

“I know it was a mistake but it doesn’t make any difference,” Byron said. “The awareness there of that situation: A guy running for the playoffs – first guy on new tires and probably going to win the race – and just lack of awareness there. I feel like if the roles were reversed, I would be aware.”

Reddick said he understood Byron’s frustration.

“He’s racing for everything,” Reddick said. “Second means nothing. He just broke through on the best tires and in position to go up and pass Denny (Hamlin) and take the win away.

“I took that from him. He handled it very well. I’d probably would have been more upset. Appreciate him listening to what I said. Completely understand his frustration.”

Frustration was a common theme for those eliminated. Harvick, who finished 33rd, crashed into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier ending a race that saw him turn rival Chase Elliott earlier in the event.

“Sometimes, real life teaches you good lessons,” Harvick said when asked if his contact was retaliation for Elliott’s actions at Bristol earlier in the playoffs.

Bowman battled battery issues early in the race.

“We knew we had a volt issue,” he said. “It acted like it threw the belt. So, we came down and put a belt on it and it didn’t. Don’t know what we had going on, but it’s unfortunate.

“It’s tough to make a car live long here without any brake fans and tire cooling, but Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys on the No. 48 Ally team did such a good job letting me know what I needed to do to get it to the finish line and what I could and couldn’t do with fans; and we put a battery in it at one point and kind of went from there.

“I hate it. I’m glad we got a top 10. I’m exhausted. I’m just mentally drained after the roller coaster that was.”

Bell was penalized for speeding early in the race. But that wasn’t his only issue.

“Two words: Rear grip,” he said. “I don’t know we just couldn’t quite hit it. We were struggled and I made a lot of mistakes driving too, but ultimately we weren’t fast enough to go up there and compete for the win. Came away with an eighth-place finish, which is a lot better than it was looking like we were going to have today.”

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.