AJ Allmendinger, Josh Berry aim for repeat performances in Las Vegas

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The last time the NASCAR Xfinity Series took to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, JR Motorsports found its cars running 1-2-3 at the checkered flag.

That podium effort was led by Josh Berry, who claimed his second career win over teammates Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson.

But that race ended under the lights on a hot September night in the desert. This weekend in Las Vegas, competitors will face temperatures in the low 60s in the dusk of winter. And the man who won the last spring’s Xfinity race was Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, claiming his first of five wins in 2021.

“(In) the first race last year, the spring race, the track had a ton of grip in it and a lot of speed,” Allmendinger said in a Wednesday Zoom conference. “And then when we went back in the summer, it was slick like you’d expect because it’s so hot in Vegas. The weather looks really cool on Saturday, so I think you’re gonna have a lot a lot of speed in these race cars. The track’s gonna be super gripped up.”

Berry and his No. 8 crew agree, which is why they’re relying more on the data they collected last March than in September.

“I thought the cars were pretty good in the spring last year, too,” said Berry, who finished seventh that day. “Obviously, all three of us really hit it very well in the fall. So overall, I think they have a good baseline for there. We know that we’re going to have to be a little bit better andadjust to the difference in the track. And I think if we do all that, we’ll be fine.”

With 12 national series starts, Allmendinger has raced at Las Vegas more than almost any other Xfinity championship contender (teammate Landon Cassill has 16 Vegas starts). The track was last resurfaced in 2006, but Allmendinger said the 16-year-old asphalt has held up well.

“I think more than anything, the bumps have gotten a little bit worse in (turns) one and two, but it hasn’t aged tremendously to the point where all of a sudden there’s no grip on the racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “… It definitely wears out tires a little bit more as the run goes on. The lap times you can see fade a bit, but it’s still not crazy compared to some of the racetracks that we go to.”

The wealth of experience comes in contrast to much of his competition, like Berry, who only saw the track for the first time last year. That was often the case for Berry in 2021, who previously went into races with maybe one Xfinity race to glean from while drivers around him had seen these tracks for over a decade.

“At least (I’m) stacking some starts there in Vegas,” Berry said. “We’re getting some knowledge built up and we’ll be good. And obviously the more I race, the more that I’m going to learn. I’m excited to get back to Vegas, but there’s a lot of other tracks I’m excited to go to that I experienced last year maybe early on and really will be able to see how much I’ve improved as a driver.”

Some other notes ahead of Saturday’s race at Las Vegas (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio):

Same car, different track

NASCAR officials mandated that each Xfinity team use the same chassis, engine and transmission at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an effort to cut costs in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

“I’m okay with having used the same car because I thought it was a good race car,” Allmendinger said, “and we can focus on what that car felt like last week, even though Fontana and Vegas are a completely different racetrack, but the same aero package that we had in it and build off of what we did last week.”

Berry admitted he and his team would rather have a fresh car at their disposal, but teams have been hard at work after a full-contact race at Auto Club anyway.

“I think they gave (teams) a little bit more additional time to work on the car because there’s a good many of the teams that I believe either got in an accident and have to get a backup car out or just said that they’re just going to go to the back,” Berry said. “So I’m not sure if it’s all playing out like they expected or not. But I mean, the majority of the top 15 or 20 are planning on running the same car.”

Truck Series Ringer?

Camping World Truck Series regular John Hunter Nemechek will make his Xfinity season debut Saturday behind the wheel of the No. 26 Berry’s Bullets Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing.

Nemechek, who is typically found driving the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports, has two Xfinity wins to his name, both coming on mile-and-a-half tracks. This weekend, he’ll get track time in both his truck and the Xfinity car. The question is whether any knowledge can translate between the two drastically different vehicles.

“I do think there will be some things that can transfer from lines and laps and how the track rubbers up,” Nemechek said Wednesday. “I think there is some value with that. I think just being out there on Friday night could definitely help for Saturday. I also definitely think after only 20 minutes of practice and Truck qualifying, being able to go and practice the Xfinity car and qualify the Xfinity car right before the Truck race will definitely help me as well.”

Nemechek also won the Truck Series race in Las Vegas last year, another sign of encouragement for the former Cup Series driver.

“Vegas has been really good to me. I’ve been runner-up there I think once (in 2019) in the Xfinity car,” Nemechek said, “so I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel for Sam Hunt (Racing) and everyone at Toyota this weekend.”

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.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash

 

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

New NASCAR Cup season features several changes

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While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:

Drivers

— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 

Races

— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.

Rules

Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.

Achievements 

— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.