Ty Gibbs vs. Noah Gragson: The Cup chapter is next

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Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson ended the 2022 season as something less than best pals.

Across much of last year’s Xfinity Series season, they wrestled and wrecked in search of the championship, and all of the issues bubbled over in the final weekend as they approached the title race at Phoenix Raceway. It was almost as close as two combatants could make it — Gibbs won the race (and the title) by .397 of a second over second-place Gragson, who was charging for the front but ran out of laps.

Their rivalry took a rest for the offseason, but soon they’ll be on the same playing field — although a larger, more important one — again, seeking wins and the Rookie of the Year title in the Cup Series. Gibbs will be driving for his family-owned team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Gragson moves to Cup with Legacy Motor Club, formerly Petty GMS.

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Both drivers were aggressive — sometimes overly so, said some of their competitors — last season, and there is little reason to think their methods of operation will change at the next level. Lack of experience might be their speed limit, but expect them to poke their noses in tight spaces and, perhaps, into each other.

“I don’t like him,” Gragson said of Gibbs approaching last year’s final Xfinity race. “I want to beat him straight up. It pisses him off a lot more.”

In addition to racing at the top level of the Xfinity Series last year, Gragson and Gibbs got some unexpected Cup experience in similar circumstances. Gibbs filled in for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing after Busch was injured at Pocono Raceway, and Gragson substituted for the injured Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports late in the year. Gragson also drove some Cup races for Kaulig Racing and Beard Motorsports.

Illustrating how tight their competition could be in their first full season in Cup, Gragson and Gibbs recorded very similar statistics in both Cup and Xfinity last year. Gibbs won seven Xfinity races, Gragson eight. Gragson had 26 top 10s, Gibbs 23. In Cup, Gragson had one top five and one top 10, with an average finish of 23.1. Gibbs had one top 10 and an average finish of 22.9.

Although neither pushed their top-flight cars to wins in Cup, that experience is likely to pay big dividends as the 2023 season starts.

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA schedules

“Getting that extra experience, kind of having a preconceived thought of what I should expect for this year — it’s nice having that experience going into this year, not just getting thrown in cold turkey and saying, ‘Go race.’ ” Gragson told NBC Sports.

“The shifting is a lot different now. We have five-speed sequential. At Atlanta, I ran around there for four laps and the whole dash was lit up red. I couldn’t figure out why. I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, there’s five gears in this thing.’ I’d run around there in fourth gear the whole time and shifted to fifth. So, little things like that that you start to learn about the car and the differences of being so familiar with the Xfinity car and now getting thrown into a different situation — it’s nice to have a little bit of experience.”

Gibbs had a top finish of 10th (at Michigan Speedway) in the 23XI Racing Toyotas.

“I think it was very beneficial to have those Cup races,” he told NBC Sports. “A lot of work, but I learned a lot during those times.”

 

 

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

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.