What a difference a year makes. Aric Almirola, who missed the field for the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the iconic LA Memorial Coliseum, will start from the pole in the 2023 edition of the NASCAR Cup Series exhibition event.
Almirola led seven laps and took the victory in the opening Heat Race of the day on Sunday. Almirola came to the finish line ahead of Alex Bowman, who finished runner-up in Heat 1, while Justin Haley led 18 laps but faded to a third-place effort.
It was an impressive turnaround from the 2022 Clash for Almirola, but it's even more impressive when you factor in that for the majority of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Almirola was expected to retire at the conclusion of last season. He opted to return, and it has paid dividends to the tune of a pole in the Busch Light Clash.
Noah Gragson and Joey Logano were the other two transfers to the Main Event that joined Almirola, Bowman, and Haley from the opening Heat Race.
Heat 2, like Heat 1 was dominated by a Chevrolet -- this time it was Kyle Busch in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing machine that led 18 of the 25 laps. However, just like in Heat 1, the dominant car would not end up winning the Heat race, as Martin Truex Jr. scored the Heat 2 win over Busch, who finished second.
By virtue of the Heat 2 win, Truex will lineup alongside Almirola on the front row for Sunday night's Busch Light Clash.
Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, and Kevin Harvick joined Truex and Busch as transfers into the Main Event from Heat 2.
For Harvick, he miraculously scooted into the transfer position when Chase Elliott received a massive shove from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the final set of turns. The shove caused both Stenhouse and Elliott to slow just enough for Harvick to get the fifth and final transfer spot.
Here is a video of the move that secured Harvick's place in the Clash:
In Heat 3, Denny Hamlin put a hurtin' on the field, as he led 20 of the 25 laps and he cruised to the finish by a margin of more than a second over Chase Briscoe.
Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, and Daniel Suarez would join Hamlin and Briscoe as transfers from this heat.
In Heat 4, it was William Byron, who saved the best for last, as he led wire-to-wire and scored an emphatic Heat win over Bubba Wallace.
Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece, and Erik Jones would also advance to the Main Event from Heat 4.
The Last Chance Qualifier races were won by Michael McDowell and Chase Elliott, who each led all 50 laps of their events, however, both drivers had to hold off some hard chargers in the closing laps to take the LCQ wins.
Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland advanced to the Main Event along with McDowell in LCQ1, while Ty Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger advanced with Elliott from LCQ2.
Austin Cindric, who finished fifth in the LCQ2, was awarded the final starting spot in the 2023 Busch Light Clash field by virtue of being the highest points finisher from 2022, who hadn't already locked a spot into the field for the event.
Here is the Official Starting Lineup for the 2023 Busch Light Clash:
- 10 - Aric Almirola
- 19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- 11 - Denny Hamlin
- 24 - William Byron
- 48 - Alex Bowman
- 8 - Kyle Busch
- 14 - Chase Briscoe
- 23 - Bubba Wallace
- 31 - Justin Haley
- 3 - Austin Dillon
- 45 - Tyler Reddick
- 1 - Ross Chastain
- 42 - Noah Gragson
- 5 - Kyle Larson
- 12 - Ryan Blaney
- 41 - Ryan Preece
- 22 - Joey Logano
- 4 - Kevin Harvick
- 99 - Daniel Suarez
- 43 - Erik Jones
- 34 - Michael McDowell
- 9 - Chase Elliott
- 20 - Christopher Bell
- 54 - Ty Gibbs
- 38 - Todd Gilliland
- 16 - AJ Allmendinger
- 2 - Austin Cindric
The drivers who failed to advance to the Busch Light Clash were Harrison Burton, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Corey LaJoie, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cody Ware, JJ Yeley and BJ McLeod.
Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance