Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch among big names out of Clash at Coliseum

Clash Coliseum heat qualifier
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Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman failed to advance to the main event in the Clash at the Coliseum as chaos erupted in the heat and qualifier races Sunday, producing some surprising results.

The final 50-lap qualifier on the temporary 0.25-mile oval took more than 30 minutes to complete and was interrupted by seven caution periods and a red flag.

Ty Dillon took the checkered flag but was later penalized by NASCAR for jumping the final restart (after already serving a black flag penalty during the race for jumping another restart).

That awarded the last three transfer spots to Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace and rookie Harrison Burton despite the fact that each were involved in yellow flags during the final race to set the 23-car main event of the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. The short track lived up to its billing for action in marking the first time the preseason NASCAR Cup Series exhibition was held outside the 2.5-mile oval at Daytona International Speedway in its 43-year history.

Busch and Bowman both were eliminated in earlier wrecks, and Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford ran outside the top three throughout after starting ninth and finishing fifth. Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric also was knocked out of the main event with a fifth.

Busch, who was making his debut in the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing, was eliminated while leading on a Lap 47 restart. After taking the green, he was hit by his teammate Wallace, who had been hit in the rear by Burton. While trying to climb back up to third, Busch was squeezed into the outside wall by Wallace, who was battling for a spot with Preece.

“I just got put in a bad spot on one of the restarts,” Busch told Fox Sports. “When you are not managing the race and holding the white line, it puts you in a vulnerable spot. We needed to transfer. We needed to start off the year strong, and we did not. I’m just disappointed we’re not in the A main. We’re racing hard in the Coliseum. This is what it is all about. NASCAR did a great job putting this all together.”

It also was a disappointing debut with a new team for Keselowski, whose new RFK Racing teammate, Chris Buescher, also failed to make the main event.

“We learned a ton today and feel like we’ll apply that and come back stronger,” Keselowski said. “I was really proud of Chris and how smooth of a race he ran.  Our race was not super clean, but we made the most out of what we brought today.  We didn’t bring enough, so we’ll work on that and be better.”

Said Buescher: “The team worked hard. We wanted to be in this thing. We wanted to have a shot at it. It’s going to be really exciting and just hate it. We’re going to work really hard on this. We’re going to study it. We’re going to be better when we come back short track racing. We’re going to be better for Daytona because of it. We’re going to get everything we can out of this to make sure we keep on improving.”

Advancing to the main event was no sure thing for some other big names, too. Denny Hamlin locked in by winning the first Last Chance Qualifier, advancing along with Kevin Harvick and AJ Allmendinger.

“There’s going to be a lot of laps and a lot of attrition, so we’ll see what happens” in the main event, Hamlin told Fox Sports.

It was smooth sailing at the front of the 25-lap preliminary races as pole-sitters Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Justin Haley and Joey Logano won their respective heats.

Others who advanced to the main event with top-four finishes in the heats — Heat 1: Daniel Suarez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; Ryan Blaney. Heat 2: Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, Cole Custer. Heat 3: William Byron, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott. Heat 4: Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Erik Jones.

While he didn’t finish well enough to advance in his heat, Martin Truex Jr. made the main event via a provisional. The 2017 Cup Series champion elected to skip the Last Chance Qualifier rather than try to improve his last-place starting spot.

“The crew chief voted for saving the car and starting 23rd (because) we’d start fifth in the LCQ and don’t know we’re good enough to drive up to the top two,” Truex told Fox Sports. “As we go, the desperation gets higher, and guys will do what they have to do. Been a rough day and a half so far. We’re not where we need to be. We’ll keep working on it.”

After starting fifth in Heat 1, Hamlin was in a transfer spot for much of the first heat before getting moved by Stenhouse for third and then Blaney for fourth. That moved Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota into the 25-lap last chance qualifier.

“You kind of got to put the bumper to him,” Blaney told Fox Sports. “Me and Ricky and Denny had a great race going. Luckily we’re locked in and hopefully, the fans enjoyed it, and that’s just a little preview of what’s to come as we see more and more racing today.”

For the first time since cars hit the track Saturday, the caution flag flew twice during the fourth heat and again during the first Last Chance Qualifier as Aric Almirola was eliminated in a crash after getting bumped in the right rear by Front Row Motorsports rookie Todd Gilliland.

“That was a bigger hit than I expected as slow as we’re going here,” Almirola told Fox Sports. “We had a decent start and we were moving forward, and (Gilliland) just destroyed us. (He) just drove in there a mile and tore us up.”

Gilliland took the blame later.

“I definitely made a mistake,” he said. “It’s a super bottom dominant short track, and he had gotten really good momentum off of (Turn 2), and I thought he was going to be clear of me. I was trying to pinch him a little bit and just as I was looking down left I barely turned left, and it barely got him. It didn’t take much. I definitely apologize to those guys. I know that no one really has much equipment to put together, let alone tear up before the season, so I definitely feel really bad about that. I didn’t mean to do it and hopefully I can prove it to him throughout the year.

“As a rookie, coming out of here I really just wanted to gain respect, and I obviously did the opposite of that. It’s hard to gain respect on a quarter-mile. It’s super easy to lose it, so I didn’t achieve that goal.”

Among others who failed to advance: Ross Chastain, Cody Ware, Todd Gilliland, Chris Buescher, Corey LaJoie, Landon Cassill and B.J. McLeod.

HEAT 1: Click here for results

HEAT 2: Click here for results

HEAT 3: Click here for results

HEAT 4: Click here for results

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIER 1: Click here for results

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIER 2: Click here for results