Kimi Raikkonen embracing challenge in NASCAR Cup debut

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen welcomes the challenge with his NASCAR Cup debut Sunday at Watkins Glen International, even though his limited time in the car makes the effort ripe to not meet fan expectations for a driver of his standing.

“I don’t see any risk,” said Raikkonen, who won 21 Formula One races in 19 seasons between 2001-21. “Why not? What do I have to lose? 

“That I’ve done bad in a NASCAR race or bad in any race? I don’t care. I do it for myself. Good or bad end result, that could happen even if I did 20 races. They all could be bad and for many different reasons. I don’t see any negative.”

Raikkonen, who qualified 27th in the 39-car field, admits he doesn’t know how he’ll do in Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on USA), but calls this “a nice challenge.

“Obviously, we are limited running on the car and also a little bit of short practice and then qualifying,” he said. “It’s quite a challenge, but it’s also exciting. We’ll see where we stack up.”

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks isn’t sure what to expect, but he notes “the preparation is going to be there.” Raikkonen has been paired with an experienced road crew, led by crew chief Darian Grubb. The road crew, according to the team, has 284 years of combined professional racing experience. 

Another factor for Raikkonen is that the Trackhouse Racing cars have been fast on road courses. Ross Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas, and Daniel Suarez won at Sonoma. 

“If we do a good job for him as a team,” Marks said of Raikkonen, “I think that we can have a very good day.”

Raikkonen’s appearance completes a task he started in May 2011 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He ran in a Camping World Truck Series race, placing 15th, and the Xfinity race, finishing 27th.

 The goal was to run a Cup race at some point but plans changed and Raikkonen never did. With NASCAR switching to the Next Gen car this season and all teams being equal, it was a more inviting prospect — especially after Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks went to Switzerland to talk to Raikkonen about this effort.

Raikkonen said Saturday that there are “absolutely no plans to do anything after this.” 

Raikkonen will drive the No. 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, a team called Project 91 and intended to allow drivers from other disciplines to compete in NASCAR. 

This will be the only race this season for the Project 91 car, but Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said the effort could “potentially” run six to eight races next season.

“It’s great what Justin and the team are doing, giving a chance to to come,” Raikkonen said. “I’m sure there are a lot of drivers who would like to have a chance to drive but it’s not very easy. Maybe it will open some doors in the future and there’s more of a chance to try to get more Europeans.”

Raikkonen’s appearance makes it two former F1 drivers in the field. Daniil Kvyat, who ran there from 2014-2020.

“It works in a funny way sometimes, how things can work out,” said Kvyat, who qualified 36th. “I know his passion for NASCAR from many years ago. I actually followed his (NASCAR) debut and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, Kimi likes it and it might be a good thing.’”

Others are enjoying Raikkonen’s presence. Ryan Blaney is a fan. He met with the media after Raikkonen. When Blaney approached the stage, he asked the media which seat Raikkonen had sat in and then chose that seat.

“It is a special seat. I might take it with me,” Blaney quipped.

He said he has been looking forward to seeing Raikkonen since the announcement earlier this year.

“I was a big fan of his as a kid and enjoyed watching him race,” Blaney said. “His demeanor is very awesome and hilarious. I love watching his interviews and things like that.”

William Byron said he also grew up watching Raikkonen and is glad to see him in the field. He had yet to meet him Saturday but had a plan to do before Sunday’s race.

“I guess at driver intros I could,” Byron said. “I’m sure he’ll have a line of people trying to talk to him.”

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.

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)