NASCAR is excited to return to Los Angeles’ quarter mile
LOS ANGELES – As expected there was a lot of optimism exuded as the NASCAR Cup Series drivers arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday for opening practice and then qualifying for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum (8 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the annual exhibition opener to the season.
Last year’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum presented a fresh opportunity and challenge from the location – a paved quarter-mile track purposely built inside the University of Southern California’s 100-year-old football stadium – to the brand-new Next Gen cars making their competitive debut.
However, a sold-out stadium crowd – with estimates of 60-70 percent of the people attending their very first NASCAR race – ended up enjoying a highly-competitive NASCAR debut at the facility with Joey Logano taking the victory and setting the stage for what would be a series championship season.
This year the teams, the cars, the drivers are all well-tested and extremely happy to be racing in downtown Los Angeles again this week.
Drivers insisted Saturday that whatever pre-disposed thoughts they had for this unique event last year, they left Los Angeles not just satisfied with the event, but even thrilled with it.
“Last year honestly was probably the most amazing event I have ever been a part of with NASCAR,” Trackhouse Racing driver Daniel Suarez said, Saturday. “The fans were super amazing. The energy was unbelievable as well. I have never felt so much excitement of the fans like we did one year ago.”
It was a prevalent sentiment at the L.A. Coliseum this week.
“When they told us the first time it was like, ‘What? Where? How? With brand new cars?” defending race winner and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano said. “But it worked out great and obviously that’s why we’re back again and not really many things have changed and the things that have make it even better for the fan experience.
“This is great. I think it’s added something to the Clash in general. It was special when it was in Daytona, to win at Daytona is special, but I think last year after going through the whole weekend and being able to win the race, the excitement and the amount of eyeballs that were watching were far more than what it would have been at the Clash to where I would almost look at winning the Clash last year as one of my biggest victories and I don’t think there’s many non-points paying races that you’d ever say that about.
“But just the fact that it was an inaugural event at a place like this was just really cool.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR. TOPS CLASH PRACTICE
Martin Truex Jr. set the early pace in opening practice for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fastest in both the opening practices, setting the fastest lap of 67.360 mph on the quarter-mile track.
Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace, who drives the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, was second fastest followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 Ford. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet and Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford rounded out the top five in practice.
Ty Gibbs’ No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was sixth fastest before the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate had to park and make a quick exit as smoke poured out of his car. Gibbs was fine, the car taken to the garage and the team was able to make repairs so Gibbs could use it in qualifying later Saturday night.
“We have a very fast Monster Energy Toyota TRD and I’m very excited to be to here in L.A.,” Gibbs said. “The track is really cool. I feel like we have a lot of speed. Definitely sucks catching on fire but that’s part of it.”
Briscoe, who was also fast Saturday, but had an incident with the wall between Turns 3 and 4 in the final practice session. While racing hard alongside A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet for several laps, the two cars touched multiple times before Allmendinger nudged Briscoe’s No. 14 SHR Ford into the wall. There wasn’t any major damage and both cars continued.
All but one car among the 36 entered this weekend turned practice laps faster than the pole-winning speed in 2022.
Defending winner Logano was only 21st quickest in practice and spun out in the third session after contact with Tyler Reddick.
Qualifying to set the four Heat Races is set for 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Earlier this week NASCAR formally announced that Ross Chastain’s famous last lap desperation move around the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway half-miler will not be allowed going forward.
Chastain smiled when asked his feelings about the “one-and-done” nature of his move in the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet when he “floored” the accelerator and hugged the outside wall to earn a position in the Championship 4 Round on the last lap of the October race.
“I was proud indeed that I was able to take advantage of that like I did,” said Chastain, who finished runner-up in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
“I’m proud of it. But I don’t ever want to do it again.”
JULIE GIESE GIVES CHICAGO STREET RACE UPDATE
Julie Giese, president of the Chicago Street Course, is at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for this week’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum – open to picking up any tips for NASCAR’s first summer street race also on a temporary circuit as with The Clash this Sunday, February 5 (8 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Definitely going to apply “best practices” to Chicago,” Giese said, offering a smile.
She reports that all work is moving forward in Chicago – where the race has official office space now – in preparation for the downtown event. The 2.2-mile racecourse will run around famed Grant Park alongside Lake Michigan.
The event is being promoted as a two-day music and racing festival with major music acts – The Chainsmokers, Miranda Lambert, The Black Crowes and Charley Crockett – performing full concerts during the race weekend in addition to the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on July 1 followed by the NASCAR Cup Series on July 2.
Giese said the logistics schedule for the months leading up to the race is up-to-date and on point. The efforts for this first-of-a-kind event also include educating the community, working with city leaders and making sure the entire Chicago area knows “what [the race] will look like” in its first-ever edition.
Giese was integral in leading the “Daytona RISING” re-imagination of the sport’s most famous venue Daytona International Speedway in 2016 and served as president of Phoenix Raceway which was renovated and remodeled in 2018.
She said the Chicago community has been helpful and enthusiastic.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement and it’s been really fun,” Giese said. “It’s a big city but the outreach every day, I’ve met with people who tell me so-and-so wants to be a part of this. The networking has been tremendous.
“The more you talk to people and the more you help them understand what we’re going to do and what it means for the city of Chicago with $113 million dollars of economic impact, it gets them excited. It’s going to be very cool. It’s going to be a very special moment for the city of Chicago.”
— NASCAR News Wire —