Drivers prepared for plenty of contact in Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — All that is left for drivers is to race. Just exactly what that will be like Sunday in the Clash at the Coliseum remains uncertain.

Saturday’s practice sessions gave drivers a chance to drive in traffic and gauge the challenge of passing a car. 

“The bottom is the preferred lane,” said Tyler Reddick, who was second in Saturday’s qualifying. “Guys that run down the guys ahead of them that are running the preferred lane are going to have a choice: Try to get creative to get around them, or push them out of the race. 

“I know a lot of us are really excited to test the limits of these cars. Wouldn’t be surprised if some bumpers get laid to people.”

MORE: Starting lineups for the heat races

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The Next Gen cars, which debut this weekend, feature composite bodies that can take more of a beating than last year’s cars. 

“I think if you use the bumper up, it’s not a big deal,” Reddick said. “You don’t want to crash into somebody. These cars have proven to be pretty resilient. You want to be smart.”

There’s much at stake in the heat races in terms of starting spots for the Clash. The winner of the first heat starts first in the Clash. The runner-up in the first heat starts fifth in the Clash, behind all the other heat winners. 

“Each spot you can get in a heat race is going to mean two rows in the feature,” Reddick said. “I love just saying that actually because that’s such a dirt race thing to say. People are going to be more aggressive, I think, than you would normally see. I hope that it’s exciting for the fans.”

Reddick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, Austin Dillon, also expects to see plenty of contact.

“When it gets down to those heat races, I think the track is going to shorten up a lot, and we are going to be routing and gauging a little bit more,” Dillon said.

The top four from the four heat races advance to the Clash. Those who did not advance go to one of two last chance races. The top three in those races advance. The 23rd and final spot is a provisional. That puts a lot of cars on the quarter-mile track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said that Saturday’s practice showed that there could be room to make passes.

“If you’re fast enough, you don’t really have to (use the bumper) because you have room to pass people now,” Larson said.

He noted being able to move down into the apron in the corners and run over the rumble strips to get by another competitor. 

Kyle Busch, who starts on the pole in the first heat race after being the fastest in qualifying, was the first driver to win in the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol in 2007. How much incentive is there to be the first winner in the Next Gen car?

“In the back of my mind, you would say yeah, you want to be the first guy,” he said. “But I think many of us would argue that the first race for this vehicle will be the Daytona 500.”