The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.
Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year
Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.
Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022
Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.
Tyler Reddick is scheduled to drive a limited NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule this season for Sam Hunt Racing.
Reddick, who will race full-time for Cup team 23XI Racing, will make his first start for SHR at Auto Club Speedway in February. The rest of his schedule has not been announced.
NASCAR rules limit Reddick to five Xfinity races because this will be his fourth season running full-time in the Cup Series. Similarly, Reddick cannot compete in the final eight races of the Xfinity season.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to run some races in the Xfinity Series with Sam Hunt Racing,” Reddick said in a statement released by the team. “This is a big year for their team as they move to full-time racing with two cars, and I’m excited to be a part of helping them grow. This is also another great chance to get in a few more races with Team Toyota. As I’ve been preparing for my first season with 23XI Racing in the Cup Series, I’ve been really impressed at the resources provided by Toyota, so I know we’ll show up to the track with a chance to win.”
Reddick owns two Xfinity championships and has won 10 times in the series.
Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick — among the key storylines this season — got their first days on track with their new teams this week.
Busch, Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in a tire test Monday and Tuesday at Circuit of the Americas. The session marked Busch’s first official laps with his Richard Childress Racing team. It also was Reddick’s first laps with his 23XI Racing team.
Busch, a two-time Cup champion, joins RCR after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. Lack of sponsorship led to his move.
Busch heads into this season having won at least one Cup race in each of the past 18 seasons, tying him with Richard Petty for the all-time Cup record.
Busch, who estimated he ran 200 laps during the two days at the 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, was pleased with the session.
“Had a lot of fun,” he told NBC Sports. “Was able to work with the guys and really (have) good communication, give good feedback and have that opportunity to have dialogue of ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s try this. What do you think about this?’
“(Was) able to talk about the car in ways I’m used to and have them hear me describe things in certain ways, so they can get a better understanding where, as you go on, you can say less words and they get what you’re saying.”
Reddick said the session was helpful to get settled in the No. 45 Toyota.
Reddick told NBC Sports that a goal at the session was to “try and close the gap Toyota feels like they’ve had on the Chevys and some of the other competition last year on the road courses. I think we made some gains, but certainly, we’re going to work hard on that.”
“Some of the things they’re learning (have) started to trickle on to our side,” Graves said of the Garage 56 car. “They’ve done some things on the underbody.
“As NASCAR is looking to make short tracks in particular a little bit better, we’re trying to be less dependent on the outer body with aero and get more of it with the underbody — with the theory that it’s going to be less affected by traffic.”
Graves said that the plan is for the rear spoiler to be smaller at the Phoenix test with the underbody of the car generating more of the car’s downforce. NASCAR also is looking to better channel the air underneath the car with the diffuser.
Graves explained how having more of a car’s downforce generated underneath it could impact the race:
“When you look at the lap times, the guys that are up front have a huge advantage, but when they get to the back of the pack, they run the same speed.
“That’s what everybody in the pack is doing the whole race, running the same speed and having a hard time getting around each other. Hopefully, this will help with some of that, where it’s not so dependent on the outer body. You get into turbulent air, dirty air (in traffic) the (aero on the) outer body really goes away. The theory is that the underbody is still going to have that air underneath the car, so it will keep it a little bit better.”
Could he be joined by Kyle Busch? Busch has expressed an interest in also doing the double — something his brother Kurt did in 2014.
“I think that’s great that Kyle (Larson) has been able to kind of button that up early and get that done for himself to run the Indy 500 in 2024,” Busch told NBC Sports.
“I wasn’t so fortunate (in the past). We had a couple of deals kind of right there, right to the sign phase almost I guess you would say. It just didn’t really materialize. Teams got other deals that were more important to them that kind of didn’t want to give me the chance, or they didn’t want to go from three cars to four cars, whatever it might have been.
“A lot of discussions happened behind the scenes, but nothing materialized. I would say that our industry, both NASCAR and IndyCar is just short on people, having the right amount of people and good people to go and do these ventures. Yeah, you could go do it and go run circles and make laps, but is it going to be a winning effort was the question. That’s just kind of why it never materialized.”
Asked if he felt the door was closed to him to running the Indy 500, Busch said: “Yeah, I would say 2023, the door’s closed. I would say 2024, with Kyle (Larson’s) announcement, the door closed because that’s probably about the only team that could do it. Given the nature of who he’s racing with, but just with other teams trying to stretch too thin and not have enough people. Again it comes down to the people part. So, you just never know. See what happens.”
4. Looking into the future
As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, it’s a chance to look back at many of the memorable moments on and off the track.
When NASCAR celebrates its 100th season and others in the future, Chastain’s move is likely to be among those memorable moments.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “There will probably be people that will learn about me because of that. I’m good with that. I’m proud of that.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that that paid off for us. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it, and I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked, or why I did it.”
5. A celebration
NASCAR takes time tonight to honor its past and induct three people into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Veteran driver Travis Pastrana will attempt to qualify for next month’s Daytona 500 in a Toyota entered by 23XI Racing.
Pastrana, who will drive car No. 67, will be a teammate to Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Eric Phillips will be the team’s crew chief. Sponsorship will be from Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Pastrana, who has raced in a number of series over a 25-year career, has not competed in the Daytona 500. He finished 10th in an Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2013.
From 2011 to 2013, Pastrana raced in 42 Xfinity Series events. He had no wins, no top fives and four top 10s. He most recently competed in NASCAR in a Craftsman Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2020.
He has won seven championships across supercross, motocross and rally racing and has amassed 11 gold medals in moto and rally car events at the X Games.
Because his team does not have a charter, Pastrana will have to earn one of the four non-charter spots to make the 500 field. The competition for those positions will be intense, with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Zane Smith and perhaps IndyCar kingpin Helio Castroneves in the group.
“I really want to have a great car, a great team and great people to help me get there,” Pastrana said. “To go to the event and earn my spot is really important. Did I think I might have Jimmie and Helio trying to qualify for four spots? No, but it’s going to be an amazing week.”
Pastrana, 39, said the 500 has been on his bucket list for decades.
“Above all, I want to be a part of it,” he said. “I want to add some value to this. This is bigger than anything I’ve done. These are the best drivers. To be able to line up beside them will be something I’ll be able to smile proudly about for the rest of my life.”
He admitted that “winning for me is finishing on the lead lap.”
In a release by the team, 23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta called Pastrana “one of the most well-known and well-decorated action sports athletes of all time, and we’re looking forward to helping him in his quest to race in the Daytona 500. Attracting a driver of Travis’ stature speaks volumes to the success 23XI Racing has had in our first two seasons and points to the positive direction in which we are headed.”