What drivers said after Martinsville

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A look at what drivers said following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway…

Alex Bowman – WINNER: “These last couple months have been painful. It’s been so frustrating. Honestly, our teammates have kicked our butts for quite a while now. I think (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and myself have both been pretty down and frustrated, not understood what was going on. We weren’t doing things any differently. We weren’t approaching weekends differently. We just have been off. To come to a place that was probably our worst place when we started together, have such a good day, get another win, it feels great. Obviously four wins this year feels great. Wish we were in the (Championship) 4. We just need to figure out consistency and this team will be something really, really special.”

Kyle Busch (eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 2nd:

Brad Keselowski (eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 3rd: “We gave it all we had. We just needed to be a little bit faster in stage two to get us a handful of points and be closer, and then at the end, I was just too loose. I just couldn’t quite get it perfectly tweaked in, but, all in all, a pretty good run.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Championship 4) – Finished 4th: “The Auto Owners Toyota Camry was really good, first of all. Solid day. We didn’t have a winning car, but we had a third or fourth place car and that is where we ran. Everything was going smooth and then the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and 18 (Kyle Busch) came up to the front kind of out of nowhere. I got some damage running side-by-side with the 2 car, and fell back and then the 10 (Aric Almirola) stuffed me three-wide out of the groove in turn one and two and then the 1 car came by and clipped my left front and drove me into the fence off of turn two. I was like oh, damn, we are in big trouble here, but then we just fought back and did everything we could. We got a little break on the last restart. Everybody took the bottom and I saw the hole up there and I was like I have to go for it, and that worked out for us. Just thanks to everybody who helped us all year long to get us to this point. Everybody at the shop, TRD, Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops, Auto Owners, all of the friends who were here today, just so much support that allows us to do this. Hopefully we can go to Phoenix and make them proud.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 6th: “Today, we ran where we know we could run all year. We had a great car, and the pit crew was on it. We had the balance pretty close right off the start and we tried not to adjust too much today, and it paid off. We were best on the long run, and with all of the cautions at the end, we didn’t get to find that long-run speed where it mattered. But I’m so proud of this team for capping off the season with solid speed. Looking forward to Phoenix, where I think we have a good shot at it again.”

Erik Jones – Finished 8th: “Really solid day at Martinsville Speedway for the No. 43 Goody’s Cool Orange Camaro ZL1 1LE. It was kind of an up-and-down day. There were times where I really didn’t think we were going to have the finish we did. It kind of worked out there at the end. We had a set of tires we put on and the car kind of came back around to us, balance-wise, and we were able to come home with a top-10. Just good to keep the string going. We’ve had a good couple of runs here the last month. Hopefully, we can go to Phoenix (Raceway) next week and finish it out on another good note.”

Joey Logano (eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 10th: “We just weren’t fast enough. We couldn’t get the car to turn. It was just a struggle all day. We tried different things, but the car just wouldn’t fire off good and ultimately at the end you had to fire off good and we didn’t have that either. We tried compromising to try and make everything better, but all that is is a compromise. The guys that win aren’t compromising and it just wasn’t there.”

Ryan Blaney (eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 11th: “It was definitely a disappointing day. We started off kind of good and never really got better. We had one run I thought we kind of went forward and then we made a change to try and make it better and it got worse, so I don’t know. I’d love to tell you what kind of went wrong, but we weren’t really any different than where we’ve been here the last three times, just small little tiny changes, but we were just way off today. It’s disappointing for sure. I was really looking forward to today’s race just knowing how strong we run here and it just wasn’t quite enough today and kind of missed it by a long shot. I appreciate everyone sticking with it all day and trying to get better, but it just wasn’t quite enough.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 13th: “We had a fast Cowboy Channel Chevrolet today at Martinsville Speedway. It was good to lead laps and run up front. We fought hard today, coming back from damage in Stage 2 and cutting multiple right-front tires. Our forward drive was ridiculously good. We started the race 14th and quickly drove into the top-10, ultimately finishing Stage 1 seventh. It was really challenging once we fell back in the running order because we were in the middle of the pack and around a lot of other cars and a lot of action. We worked as a team to get back on the lead lap, though, and survived some wild action out there to finish 12th. Good job by everyone on this RCR team.”

Kyle Larson (Championship 4) – Finished 14th: “Not good. Just bad execution on my part on pit road. I felt like our car was probably top-three, top-five, at times; and there were times it was tenth or worse. But my team did a good job working on it. I just sped (on pit road) too late in the race there again. From then on, just tried to not make anybody upset, knowing that I’m not going to get back up there for a win. Just try to keep everybody on my good side.”

Chase Elliott (Championship 4) – Finished 16th:

Tyler Reddick – Finished 18th: “Racing at Martinsville Speedway is always a fun challenge. When you hit it just right, your car can make up ground quickly and roll through the corners. Today though, our Childress Vineyards Chevrolet battled a tight-handling condition for most of the race. It felt like the front tires were asleep. My Richard Childress Racing team kept working on the overall balance and we would make gains on the short run, but once the track rubbered up, it went back to the front tires not being awake enough. This No. 8 team showed perseverance all day and fought as hard as we could. We will now set our eyes on Phoenix next week and look to finish the season on a high note.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 22nd: “Finishing on the lead lap at Martinsville is never a small accomplishment, but it was a frustrating day in a couple of areas. Braking is so important here, and I had little to no brakes for about the whole race. And that made it difficult to find just the right changes to make to help our struggle with a tight-handling racecar and keeping the rear end on the racetrack. We’ve got one more shot to get a good finish for everyone out at Phoenix, so we’ll try to take advantage of the extra track time and get something out of it.”

Cole Custer – Finished 23rd: “Honestly, we just struggled all day. Martinsville is a tough track, and that proved to be true in this race. We struggled with the balance on the No. 41 Dixie Vodka Peach Cocktail Ford Mustang and just couldn’t get it right. Wish we could’ve gotten a better finish for Dixie Vodka, but we’ll head to Phoenix.”

Denny Hamlin (Championship 4) – Finished 24th: 

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.