NASCAR Cup Series
Late-Race Restart Foils Ty Gibbs' Plan to Become Youngest-Ever Clash Winner
Feb 4, 2024
NASCAR made an unprecedented call in moving up the race date for the Busch Light Clash, Denny Hamlin continued his feud with NASCAR fans following his win, and several drivers ignited feuds with each other. This week, Toby Christie takes on these topics in Toby's Take.
The Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum is officially in the books, and the race turned out to be a wild slugfest, which was won by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin. The event showcased bent fenders and upset tempers. Now, we head into the Daytona 500, and the official start of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, with a ton of storylines.
But this week's Toby's Take is all about the Busch Light Clash. Between NASCAR moving the race date up by a day due to weather, drivers beefing, and the sport's black hat winning the race; there's a lot to talk about.
The Clash was originally slated for a Sunday night start time, but with impending weather on its way, NASCAR, the race teams, and the television partner for the event -- FOX -- called an audible and moved the Main Event to Saturday night.
The call needs to be celebrated as it rained all day Sunday in Los Angeles, and it is slated to be raining for the foreseeable future.
For years, I have heard fans shout on social media that they have wanted NASCAR to just move NASCAR Cup Series events to the Saturday before the scheduled race date when a forecast looks unfavorable on Sunday. Up until this weekend, NASCAR had never made that call. However, on Saturday, NASCAR did what it had to do to get the event at the LA Memorial Coliseum, and the sanctioning body is now taking steps to make things right for fans who had purchased tickets for Sunday's race but were unable to attend the event on Saturday.
Major kudos to NASCAR, the race teams, the television partners, and everyone who was involved in talking over the idea, and major credit to NASCAR for having the cajones to move the schedule of the race up by an entire day. With this no longer being an unprecedented call, will we see NASCAR utilize this strategy in the future? I hope so.
After the race was moved up, the question now became what kind of race would we see?
The first two editions of The Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum were very ho-hum subpar races, to say the least. A large reason for the lackluster racing was chalked up to the Next Gen car, which has struggled to produce great racing on short tracks since it was adopted in 2022. NASCAR has tried throwing magical fixes to cure the short track package, but to date, nothing has really resulted in a great short track race.
But perhaps all NASCAR needed for the short track package to come to life was time. As crew chiefs and crew members get more and more time to tinker, the car will naturally improve at short tracks, and fast forward to Saturday night and what we saw was a race lightyears ahead of the last two editions of The Clash.
It truly felt like a perfect balance of on-track aggression and competitive moves for positions on the track. Whether it be Joey Logano vs Ty Gibbs, Ross Chastain vs Tyler Reddick, or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. vs John Hunter Nemechek, there were feuds brewin' throughout the entire race. And to go along with the feuds that were sparked, there was a tinge of uncertainty about who would win the race all night long.
Heading into the final sets of restarts, it looked like Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano all had legitimate shots to win the race. Ultimately, Gibbs and Logano saw their hopes fade after contact on a late-race restart, but it was compelling stuff near the front of the field down the stretch. Dare I say that this was the short track race that we had been hoping for from the Next Gen car?
Maybe, just maybe, we'll get to see some truly compelling short track events in 2024. How refreshing would that be?
The persistent rumor is that 2024 will mark the final year of the Busch Light Clash being contested at the LA Memorial Coliseum. If that's the case what is next for The Clash? Or rather, what should be next?
A lot of people within the industry have called for The Clash to be contested in an actual real-world short track, not some makeshift temporary race track placed in markets that typically never land inside the top-10 markets of the NASCAR TV Ratings rankings. While I fully understand the sentiment, and I will be the first to admit, that I was skeptical about the NASCAR quarter-mile track inside of a stadium idea when it was first revealed, I disagree.
This year's race at the LA Memorial Coliseum showed massive improvement, and the race is now to a point where I feel like we can say the quarter-mile makeshift track layout that NASCAR has utilized in LA works.
For those yearning for local short tracks to be represented on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, that's precisely what the NASCAR All-Star Race does now that it has moved to North Wilkesboro Speedway. To me, that feels like the event best suited to put local short tracks on display, while the Clash is better suited to serve as a preseason marketing appetizer for markets that maybe don't typically consider themselves to be NASCAR fans.
The Clash is that race that can lure in potential casual fans heading into the sport's biggest race -- the Daytona 500. People like NFL fans clicking around in the week waiting for the Super Bowl. For those who are skeptical about if this iteration of the event works for that, I had an old friend from High School, who texted me following the race asking all sorts of questions about NASCAR. This friend has admittedly never been an ardent NASCAR fan but now intends to tune into the Daytona 500 after watching The Clash.
It's apparent that The Clash, an exhibition event which many had wondered if it would remain on the schedule a few years ago, is now here to stay. But the question is where will it go next? The beauty of it is that with NASCAR's makeshift track, the location matters very little. The track layout can be moved virtually anywhere. Mexico? Canada? Seattle? Europe? Mississippi? Any market NASCAR wants to tap into, they can now bring the track with them.
A major storyline in the NASCAR Cup Series offseason has been Denny Hamlin, who has been recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery. In the recently released NASCAR Full Speed Netflix Docuseries, Hamlin revealed more details about his shoulder issues, which he described in the show as a hereditary degenerative issue. In the docuseries, Hamlin constantly was unable to remove his firesuit without help due to the shoulder issue, he couldn't lift his arm very high, and he had trouble dialing the brake bias knob inside his No. 11 race car.
After undergoing shoulder surgery, Hamlin announced he may not be ready in time for The Clash. When that announcement dropped, it alerted many.
Well, if there were any questions about how Hamlin would bounce back, there be no more questions. Hamlin took care of business by winning the Busch Light Clash from the pole, and in doing so he once again spurned the fans in attendance in his post-race victory interview. Hamlin egged on the crowd by reminding them that he defeated their favorite drivers, again.
It was a throwback to his Bristol Night Race victory interview.
With Kyle Busch turning from a heel to face with his move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing last season, Hamlin has emerged as the biggest villain within the sport. The villain, who has 50 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, will look to march to his first career NASCAR Cup Series title. While there is a lot of time between now and Phoenix Raceway in November, and The Clash is only an exhibition event, Hamlin sure looked good in his first race back from his offseason shoulder surgery.
Hamlin, as he always does, enraged the NASCAR fanbase, but Hamlin's feud with the fans wasn't the only feud sparked on Saturday night.
Only 23 drivers and teams made it into the Main Event for Saturday night's Clash, but following the 151-lap race, several drivers were frustrated with someone else in the field.
The first documented beef of the race occurred at the half-time break of the race, where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. climbed from his car, marched down to John Hunter Nemechek's car, and confronted the driver of the No. 42 LEGACY MOTOR CLUB Toyota Camry.
But that's not all.
Joey Logano sought out Ty Gibbs following the race. Logano was miffed about contact from Gibbs on a restart with 10 laps to go, while the two were battling for the race lead. The contact from Gibbs moved Logano up the track costing Logano precious track position. As Gibbs climbed from his car at the end of the race and walked toward his hauler, Logano approached and a spirited debate ensued.
There's no love lost between Logano and Gibbs, who have had run-ins in the past.
While that feud was renewed with 10 laps remaining in the race, another feud was sparked after the checkered flag was shown as Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick got into it. After the race was finished, Chastain slammed Reddick into the outside wall in Turns 1 and 2.
There were a lot of tempers boiling over, and we hadn't even reached the first points race of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season. Will any of these spats bleed over into the Daytona 500 weekend? It's very possible. No, I don't think someone will exact revenge by crashing someone on purpose at Daytona International Speedway, but I do think the issues from The Clash could result in someone deciding whether or not to give a race-winning shove to a competitor in the closing laps of the biggest race of the season.
Let the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season begin!
Photo Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images