On the surface, it may be a surprise to see Justin Haley top the qualifying session for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series exhibition event the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum. But anyone who was paying attention to last year's edition of this event had to have known Haley would come out swinging this year.
Haley, who pilots the No. 31 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro for Kaulig Racing, clocked in a 13.413 sec. lap, which was nearly a tenth-and-a-half of a second faster than Kyle Busch, who turned the second-fastest lap of the session.
It was a blistering lap and one that proved to be untouchable on Saturday night.
“I felt like we had a pretty good No. 31 Celsius Chevy in practice. I just felt like I wasn’t getting the full potential out of the race car, and then obviously in qualifying, our lap was just dominant,” Haley said in his post-qualifying press conference.
“I feel pretty confident about where we are. It’s a good place to start the season. I’m not sure why we’re so good here. I wish I had this much talent at all of the races, but I’m pretty thankful. It’s pretty cool to get Kaulig Racing their first NASCAR Cup Series pole; my first pole as a driver in my second year here; and get Celsius their first pole.”
As a result of the incredible lap, Haley will now line up from the pole position in Heat 1 on Sunday, and Haley would seemingly be a great bet to advance to the Busch Light Clash Main Event.
The 23-year-old Haley started third in last year's Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum, and he looked to be a threat for the overall victory in the event. However, Haley's bid for the win came to an end 34 laps shy of the finish, after contact with Kyle Larson sent Haley slamming into the inside wall.
Haley will look to avenge the disappointment of his finish in last year's Clash on Sunday, but says he is encouraged by the amount of respect he has gained amongst his fellow competitors in the NASCAR Cup Series since last year’s Clash.
“I think the biggest thing last year was just respect,” Haley explained. “I think towards the end of the year, I gained a lot of respect from other drivers. I started talking with a lot of them a lot more. It’s hard being a new driver in a top series. It’s tough, but I kind of feel like I’ve earned that respect now and I’m pretty good friends with a lot of the other drivers.”
27 of the 36 cars will advance from the four Heat races and two Last Chance Qualifier events Sunday before the big race.
Busch will roll from the pole in Heat 2 by virtue of his second-place qualifying effort in his first attempt behind the wheel with Richard Childress Racing.
Christopher Bell will start from the top spot in Heat 3 in the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry and William Byron will attempt to secure his place in the 2023 Busch Light Clash from the pole in Heat 4.
The Busch Light Clash Heat Races are set to begin at 5:00 PM ET and will be broadcast by FOX. The Busch Light Clash Main Event will follow the Heat Races and LCQ's and it is set for a start time of 8:00 PM ET and will also be on FOX.
Busch Light Clash Heat 1 Starting Lineup
- Justin Haley
- Aric Almirola
- Alex Bowman
- Harrison Burton
- Joey Logano
- Noah Gragson
- Michael McDowell
- Chris Buescher
- Ty Dillon
Busch Light Clash Heat 2 Starting Lineup
- Kyle Busch
- Austin Dillon
- Kyle Larson
- Kevin Harvick
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Austin Cindric
- Chase Elliott
- BJ McLeod
Busch Light Clash Heat 3 Starting Lineup
- Christopher Bell
- Denny Hamlin
- Daniel Suarez
- Chase Briscoe
- Tyler Reddick
- Brad Keselowski
- Todd Gilliland
- JJ Yeley
- Ryan Blaney
Busch Light Clash Heat 4 Starting Lineup
- William Byron
- AJ Allmendinger
- Ross Chastain
- Bubba Wallace
- Erik Jones
- Ryan Preece
- Corey LaJoie
- Cody Ware
- Ty Gibbs
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen / Getty Images