Drivers line up ahead of the NASCAR Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 5. Though the event is a preseason race, fans and drivers packed the Coliseum to see the show. Photo by Lucian Himes
Though this is a pre-season event, there’s still quite a bit at stake with the Clash, according to NBC Sports. Last year, Team Penske driver Joey Logano won the Clash — ousting Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch. Logano won the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series.
This year, it was Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. who drove away with the victory. Truex Jr. fought off Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon in a split .786-second margin. Truex Jr. led the way for the last 25 laps of the 150-lap race in the pre-season event. Logano — last year’s winner — came in 16th.
“We’re one for one right now,” Truex Jr. said. “That’s a good way to start. The Daytona 500 is a huge race. It’s the biggest race of the year for us, and to go there with momentum is great. [We’ve] been really close there before. It’d be an awesome one to check off the list.”
The 22-year veteran was shut out from a playoff appearance after winning 29 races between 2015-2022, according to CBS Sports.
“Martin’s a different person right now,” crew chief James Small said. “He’s super motivated. And we’re all behind him. You saw it when we got it right. Today is what we’re capable of.”
Drivers — Start Your Engines
For the past 47 years, the pre-season event was held at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. This was the second year NASCAR switched venues to Los Angeles. NASCAR transformed USC’s football field to a .25 mile wide track, according to USA Today.
“It’s all very challenging with a quarter-mile racetrack,” said Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsport Ford driver. “I feel fortunate. This is kind of what I grew up racing on more out here on the west coast. But, for a lot of these guys, it’s the most challenging thing — just getting used to the small track and all that goes along with that.”
Besides the main event, the festivities also included the qualifying heat. Divers will have to compete in one of four heat races in order to qualify for the main event, according to USA Today. Musician Wiz Khalifa also performed the halftime show.
“It’s always a cool event for us to get our season started doing something different than what we normally do,” Steward-Haas Racing driver Chase Briscoe said. “It’s a cool atmosphere with the Coliseum and everything the game represents. It’s a great way for us to start off the season.”
The excitement for everyone is really high, Gilliand said, because the race is an exhibition event and won’t count for points in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“That’s something that is really cool about NASCAR — everyone comes here with such high hopes,” Gilliland said. “Some guys have good seasons, some guys have bad [seasons], but, at least at this point, everyone’s excited about what’s to come.”
In addition to the shorter track, NASCAR added five more drivers to the fold — making the total participants 27 instead of the 23 in 2022. As a result of the short track and the increased drivers, there were a total of 12 caution flags in the race, four before the halfway point.
“I think everybody knows there’s going to be contact,” Dillon said. “It was just back and forth. It knocked the wheel out of my hands.”
Dillon got into a squabble with 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace as the race was winding down. Dillon and Wallace were neck-and-neck, and as Wallace was just about to edge Dillon, Dillon got the better of Wallace, and Wallace spun, hitting the fence, according to Racing News.
Wallace complained to NASCAR with some expletives, according to AP News. But, Busch said, truthfully, it didn’t feel much different.
NASCAR Keeps on Innovating
Additionally, NASCAR and Ally Financial Inc. announced a league-wide sponsorship during a press conference before the race. The combined effort will expand the financial institution’s presence in the sport with Ally Bank being the Official Consumer Bank of NASCAR and NASCAR owned-tracks, according to a press release. Alex Bowman — the main athlete sponsoring Ally — had been supporting the company since 2019.
Ally helped increase the popularity of racing in Nashville. By having Bowman as its lead athlete, Ally was able to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to rescue animals with the Best Friends Animal Society, according to the press release.
“It’s super cool to see Ally and NASCAR teaming up,” Bowman said in an interview with host Monica Palumbo. “Obviously, everyone’s better off with Ally. I’m really excited for them, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s chief marketing and public relations officer, said they loved every minute of the ride since becoming a sponsor of No. 48, from seeing the growth in popularity of the sport to the increased diversity among team ownership.
“The timing couldn’t be better for us to complement our wonderful relationship with Hendrick Motorsports by expanding our footprint as an official NASCAR sponsor,” Brimmer said in the press release.
As for the rest of the season, NASCAR continues raise the bar, Briscoe said. Similarly to the Clash, NASCAR will host another event with a unique track called the Chicago Street Race in Chicago on July 1-2. Instead of a traditional race track, drivers will be racing through the heart of downtown Chicago, according to Nascar Chicago.
“I think it’s really cool for them to kind of do something different,” Briscoe said. “Racing in the Chicago streets is something that we’ve never done before as an industry, so it’ll be really cool to be a part of that event.”
Looking Ahead in NASCAR
Though the Clash is one of NASCAR’s most anticipated events, Small said he thinks it should always be an exhibition.
“I’m not sure in the way our championship works and everything,” Small said. “I don’t know how you could structure it to be fair to everybody. How do you have competitive pit-stops [when] you can’t even fit the whole field on?”
With Truex Jr. winning the Clash, he said he’s been more determined and has a lot of “fire in his belly” to go out and change what the team did last year.
“It’s just nice when it all works out, and you come to the track, and things go the way you hoped they would, and hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex Jr. said.
Catch NASCAR’s next race in the fabled Daytona 500 on Feb. 16, in Daytona Beach, Fla.
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