Joey Logano was the victor of an historic Busch Light Clash on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the first edition of the yearly exhibition event not at Daytona on the shortest track [one-fourth mile] NASCAR’s Cup Series has raced at since 1971. At the venue most commonly known as a football stadium and host to Olympics and Super Bowls, Logano became the only repeat winner of the Clash in the last eight years.
“I can’t believe it. We’re here — LA Coliseum. We got the victory with the old Shell/Pennzoil Mustang,” Logano said. “This is an amazing event. Congratulations, NASCAR. Such a huge step in our industry to be able to do this, put on an amazing race for everybody. I’m out of breath. I was so excited about this. This is a big win. My wife is having a baby tomorrow, our third one, so a pretty big weekend for us.”
Kyle Busch finished second, Austin Dillon was third, and Erik Jones and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five in the 150-lap race that began with 23 cars.
Busch led a race-high 64 laps. He, Logano and Tyler Reddick were the only other race leaders.
“I was being perfect, doing everything I needed to do – keep the tires underneath me,” Busch said. “When I got close, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to try more and pounce at an opportunity,’ and just overheated the tires and smoked them in three laps and that was it. Disappointing, obviously, come out here and win the pole, and lead laps, run up front. The finish goes green, and it’s not chaotic, and we can’t win, so it sucks.”
Logano took his race-winning lead from Busch just before the fourth and final caution of the race came with 34 laps remaining.
“The guys working on the car did an amazing job finding speed when we were slow,” Logano said. “We were 28th or so on the board yesterday and made some good changes – worked with our teammates – Ryan Blaney a lot. I owe a lot to him, too, to see some of the gains that they made and, ultimately, get the win. I want to say hey to my buddy, Hudson, and Jamison and my wife, Brittany. This is cool. I’m headed home right after this. I told her, if you’re having the baby, I’m just running right off the track from here, so I don’t think it’s happening right now, but this is special to get the first Next Gen win, the first win out here in the Coliseum. It’s a special one, so we’re gonna have some fun and celebrate it.”
The final caution was a result of Justin Haley hitting the wall while battling Larson for the third position. That caution came just one lap after a yellow flag when Ryan Blaney fell off the pace after contact with Jones. After the incident, Blaney threw his HANS device at Jones’ car.
“He destroyed me for seventh,” Blaney said. “It doesn’t really make any sense. I don’t know. I was kind of just riding around and just run in the back of you and killed our car. Yeah, I was mad, but you’ll have that.”
Reddick dominated the first half of the race after taking the lead from pole sitter Busch on lap four. Reddick, then, led 51 laps before falling out of the race with a broken transaxle during the first caution of the race for a Chase Elliott spin on lap 54. Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe also bowed out of the race during the same caution — Hamlin without power steering and Briscoe with a driveline issue.
Busch returned to the lead when Reddick fell out of the race and continued up front until a mid-race break at the conclusion of lap 75. Bush, as a result, restarted with the lead for the second half — a lead he maintained until the eventual winner made his race-winning pass.
Busch was fastest in a traditional qualifying session Saturday, but his pole start in Sunday’s Clash came after he led every lap and won the first of four 25-lap heat races. Reddick, Reddick, Haley and Logano also were heat winners and, as a result, started the Clash in the top-four positions. All four 25-lap heat winners led their entire heat races.
After the top-four finishers of the 25-lap heats advanced to the Clash, the remaining drivers, including Hamlin, contested one of two 50-lap last chance qualifying races. Hamlin led the entire first 50-lap race to claim one of the remaining Clash starting spots, along with the other top-three finishers from each of the last-chance races.
One of Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr., was slated to contest the second 50-lapper after also failing to advance through one of the 25-lap heats. Truex bowed out of his last-chance race, though, guaranteed a provisional starting spot in the Clash. The final spot on the Clash starting grid went to the driver highest in last year’s points standings among those who didn’t advance to the Clash by racing their ways in. After the four short heat races, Truex was in position to take that provisional last spot.
Ty Dillon took the checkered flag first in the second last-chance qualifier but didn’t advance, as his seeming win came after he jumped the final restart with three laps remaining. He also was penalized for jumping a previous restart.
After Dillon’s two jumped restarts, Ryan Preece was credited with the win, and Harrison Burton moved into and advancing position after first appearing to be the first driver out of and advancing position at the checkered flag.
The second last-chance race was marred by seven cautions, including four in the final five laps. It also included the first pass for the lead of the day when Alex Bowman took the lead from Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.
Kurt Busch also led laps in the second 50-lap race but failed to advance to the Clash after spinning with five laps remaining.
“Just got put on a bad spot on one of the restarts,” Busch said. “When you are not managing the race and holding the white line, it puts you in a vulnerable spot. We needed to transfer. We needed to start off the year strong, and we did not. I’m just disappointed to not be in the A-main. We’re racing in the Coliseum. This is what it is all about. NASCAR did a great job putting this all together. Thanks to Monster Energy, Toyota, Jumpman, everybody with this team. We’re supposed to be in the A-Main, and we’re not.”