What’s up with Bristol talk by Chase Elliott after Watkins Glen?

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — In the moments after his frustrating loss Sunday to teammate Kyle Larson at Watkins Glen International, Chase Elliott repeatedly said he was looking ahead to Bristol.

Bristol? That’s next month, not next week. 

Elliott referenced Bristol in his interview with NBC Sports’ Dave Burns after the race and said it a couple of times in the media center. Elliott caught himself after he was asked a question about Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).

“I don’t know why I keep saying Bristol,” Elliott said. “We’re going to Daytona. My bad. For some reason I had Bristol on my mind. I don’t know why.”

Chalk it up to an honest mistake for a driver fuming over Larson’s actions on the final restart.

But that it was Bristol that came to mind for Elliott was interesting. It was there last year that Elliott helped Larson win that playoff race. Could Elliott’s reference to Bristol been a subtle reminder of how good a teammate he had been to Larson there last year? Or just that Bristol is the next short track and a potential place for payback?

In last year’s playoff race there, Elliott and Kevin Harvick made contact while racing for the lead with 35 laps left. Elliott had to pit for a flat tire. When he returned to the track, Elliott hit Harvick’s car and then stayed in front of Harvick. That allowed Larson to catch Harvick and pass him for the win. 

“It kept me in the game,” Larson said that night of Elliott’s actions toward Harvick.

Since then, it’s easy for Elliott fans to wonder when their driver might be helped by Larson. 

Sunday’s race marked the second time this season that Larson has won at the expense of Elliott.

At Auto Club Speedway in February, Larson dueled Joey Logano for the lead when Elliott came up on the outside. Larson, who later said he was unaware that Elliott was there, moved up the track, forcing Elliott into the wall. Larson went on to win. Elliott finished 26th. 

Larson’s spotter, Tyler Monn, went on social media after the race and took responsibility, saying he made a late call on Elliott’s charge.

Even so, car owner Rick Hendrick met with all four teams afterward, and, according to Larson, “just kind of reiterated his expectations with us drivers, so it’s good to get those reminders every now and then.”

Then came Sunday. On the final restart with five laps to go, Elliott led. He chose the left side, giving Larson the right side of the front row. That put Larson on the inside lane going into Turn 1, a right-hand turn.

I had the restart before, I kind of got put in a bad spot because he had the dominant position on me with the nose ahead,” Larson said of Elliott. “Every time I was in the right lane (Saturday) in Xfinity (a race he won), I was in the same spot, I would always get pinched into the curb. A lot of times I got passed by the time we got to Turn 2.

“I figured it was probably going to be the last restart of the weekend. I told myself if I had a nose ahead of him before we got to the braking zone, I was going to have to try my best to maintain that, not let him get a nose ahead of me, pinch my corner off, end my chance of winning.”

Larson locked his right front wheel entering the corner and moved Elliott up the track, taking the lead. Elliott lost ground and the chance for the win. 

Afterward, Elliott spoke with Hendrick and Jeff Gordon on pit road, expressing his feelings. 

Asked how he’ll handle the matter with Larson, Elliott said: “Just offer congratulations and get excited for next week.”

Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, suggested that more than that will take place between the drivers. 

“What’s most important is that we have a good cohesive race team internally,” Andrews said.

The sooner the better. Or at least before Bristol.

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Could the launch of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 lead other teams to do something similar?

Team owner Justin Marks’ passion project was created, in part, to provide International drivers with the chance to run a Cup race. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen gave Marks the star power he sought, taking the car on its maiden voyage this past weekend at Watkins Glen International.

Marks says that the Project 91 car will run potentially six to eight races next year. His plan would be for the team to run all the road courses — falling in line with the background of most international drivers — and possibly the Daytona 500 and/or Coca-Cola 600.

A key factor for this program is that no race this season, other than the Daytona 500, has had cars fail to qualify. Thirty-six spots in the starting lineup go to charter teams. The Project 91 car is not eligible for a charter because it does not run a full season.

Four spots are left each race for non-chartered cars, but 14 of the 25 races this season have had no such cars in the field, leaving those positions open. That means there’s no risk of missing a race for a team that puts together a limited ride.

Why wouldn’t another team want to do something like this?

If there are open spots, that means the car will be in field. A team could use crew members who are based in the shop to be on the road crew. That also gives them a better sense of what inspection is like, a chance to see what other teams do to their cars and maybe figure out ways to improve their own vehicles. 

Another benefit is that by having an extra team car in races, that’s extra data the organization gets. With limited testing and practice, any track time is valuable with this new car. Trackhouse Racing, which won the first two road course events of the season, could benefit from what was learned from Raikkonen’s car at Watkins Glen.

The key is financing. A driver may have to bring significant funding. That could be the challenge, but if funding could be found for a few races, then it would make sense for a team to do so. It will be interesting to see if another team can put everything together for its version of Project 91.

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With no new winner Sunday, Kurt Busch was locked into the playoffs. Busch’s status for the playoffs, though, remains uncertain. He announced last week that he would miss Watkins Glen and Daytona as he recovered from concussion-like symptoms after a crash in July at Pocono. Daytona will be the sixth race in a row that he’ll miss.

Busch’s status has 23XI Racing looking at “all options,” co-owner Denny Hamlin said last weekend at Watkins Glen.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed half the 2016 season because of concussion-like symptoms, understands the challenge of determining a timetable to recover from such an injury.

“There’s just no (timetable) when this is thing is going to come together for him,” Earnhardt said. “He could wake up tomorrow and be a big, giant step closer to 100% or it could take time. You just don’t know. One day you wake up and the wires are back together and it doesn’t make any sense.

“The only thing I would do is just caution everybody that there is no way to know, and he can’t and won’t come back until he’s 100%. It’s not a situation where he can come in and rough it out being 80 or 90%. The other thing, too, it’s important to make sure the public knows that a doctor is making this choice for him. Kurt’s not the one sitting there going, ‘I think I’m OK.’ It’s really going to be somebody else’s choice.”

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)