NASCAR Cup Series
Weekend Stat Sheet: February 3-5
Feb 6, 2023
LOS ANGELES – The near-capacity crowd was rocking, the city embracing and the NASCAR Cup Series’ racing was on point over the weekend for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum - the second time the sport has made its competitive start at the famed Los Angeles landmark.
All the extras were there – from A-List celebrity appearance and a hugely popular “halftime” show with Wiz Khalifa performing. There was perfect weather and most importantly, plenty of enthusiasm from fans and lots of optimism from the drivers and race teams eager to start competing in the second-year generation of Next Gen cars.
Sunday night’s main event was a spirited preview of the 2023 season and ended with Martin Truex Jr. proudly wearing a gold medal high atop the Olympic-style podium - reminiscent of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s previous times as an Olympic host. Although The Busch Clash is an exhibition to signal the new season start, a win is a win, and the 2017 series champion Truex hasn’t earned a trophy in more than a season. So, Sunday night was an especially important starting point for that No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team.
The 2022 season marked the first time since 2015 that Truex had gone a full season without a win, and first since he joined the JGR operation in 2018. The Clash may not have awarded points for Truex, but it sure gave him a healthy dose of what he and his team needed. Winning.
“Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year, said Truex,“ whose four Top-5 and 15 Top-10 finishes were his lowest totals in six years.
“Just wanting to go out and show them what we can do,“ he added, “We’ve been fired up this off-season, working very hard, all of us. It’s just nice when it all works out and you can come to the track and things go the way you hope they will.
“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that. We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp and at Toyota. I’ve got a great team and I knew they were great last year and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race and even though it’s just good momentum.
Several teams would agree with that California takeaway. Points or no points, The Clash provided a good dose of positive season send-off for the 2023 season.
Both Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolets – driven by Austin Dillon and the team’s high-profile 2023 addition Kyle Busch – stood silver and bronze on the podium. It was a grand entrée for Busch who moves to RCR from the Joe Gibbs Racing team, where he won season titles in 2015 and 2017.
The Clash also proved noteworthy for Stewart-Haas Racing’s new driver Ryan Preece, who ultimately finished seventh but led the most laps (43) in his No. 41 SHR Ford. It showed not only his well-noted talent as a short track ace, but also his desire to start this opportunity with a championship team like SHR in all the right ways.
A problem with the fuel tank as he was out front may have been the only way his competitors were able to get past.
“Ultimately, this car was so badass,“ Preece said. “It was a so fast. We drove from 16thoutside, inside, everything it took. I’m proud of the speed. I’m happy for the opportunity, but it sucks giving them away.“
Tyler Reddick finished sixth in his debut for the 23XI Racing team, competitive throughout the event.
And his teammate, Bubba Wallace, driver of the organization’s No. 23 Toyota led 40 laps – second only to the winner - and contended for the victory for most of the night until proving to be a victim of some rough driving. He got turned by Dillon with seven laps remaining while they fought for second place.
It was indicative of a dramatic evening ushering in NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary season and it provided plenty of storylines for the upcoming official 2023 opener, the Feb. 19 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s definitely exciting,“ Truex said of the event. “It’s a different venue for us and it’s kind of got a different vibe with all the things going on and the history around this place, like giving the medals and doing the podium. And it’s a unique event.
“It’s a one-off deal and it’s fun. We’ve done the Clash for a long time and it’s never really been hyped up like it is now being its own standalone event and I think that’s really neat, especially doing it somewhere totally different like here with a lot of history.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun and hopefully the fans keep supporting it and coming out. There’s no telling what we can make this thing into.“