At NASCAR’s second trip to the LA Coliseum, Martin Truex Jr. took the checkered flag in the Busch Light Clash to kickoff 2023.
Although the regular season does not start until February 19th at the Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series began the 2023 season with the Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum on Sunday. It may have been an exhibition race, but NASCAR’s brightest stars put on quite the show and got fans more excited for the upcoming season.
Martin Truex Jr. survived 16 cautions to take the crown at the Coliseum. Despite not taking the lead until 25 laps left in the race, he had the fastest car most of the night and saved his car for when it mattered most.
1. Martin Truex Jr. finally returns to victory lane
It may not count as a regular season win, but the victory Sunday night may have been one of the most satisfying of Truex Jr.’s career. Despite being top five in points during the regular season, MTJ failed to make the Playoffs in 2022 because he went winless for the first time since 2014. His win at the Clash may be exactly what the #19 team needs to rebound in 2023.
Truex Jr. had one of the fastest cars all weekend, being near the top of the leaderboard in practice, qualifying, and during the heat races. While others led for the majority of the event, Truex Jr. was inside the top five all night and clearly had the best car. Once the cautions settled and the cars spaced out, MTJ easily disposed of Ryan Preece with 25 laps left to take the lead. He then held off Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch on the final two restarts to earn his first career Busch Light Clash win.
With his career post-2023 still in doubt, Truex Jr. made a statement at the Coliseum that, even if this is his final season, he is still a legitimate title threat.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 6, 2023
2. New year, same parity
After 19 different winners in 2022, several predicted there to be less parity in NASCAR in 2023. Another year with the Next Gen theoretically would allow the more funded teams to begin to separate themselves from the pack. The Bush Light Clash, however, showed that there still may be a ton of parity this season.
While Martin Truex Jr. had the most dominant car, several drivers traded the lead and had impressive runs.
Richard Childress Racing was perhaps the most impressive team Sunday night. Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch finished second and third, respectively. Dillon was firmly inside the top five for the entire race and just did not have enough to chase down Truex in the final laps. Busch was also near the top of the leaderboard for most of the night before Joey Logano turned him early in the second half. The new driver of the #8 then drove through the field and had a chance at the win on the final restart. Busch was supposed to bring new energy to RCR and, after one race, it looks like he did just that.
Ryan Preece was the other major story of Sunday night. In his first race in the #41 for Stewart-Haas Racing, he drove through the field and was leading for the majority of the second half. Truex was able to pass him and an electrical issue forced him to finish seventh, but it was still a career evening for Preece. In just one race, he showed more speed and competitiveness in the #41 than Cole Custer showed in his three years in the same car. Preece’s supporters have been saying for years how he could be an elite driver if given good equipment. He has managed to live up to that hype after one race.
Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, and Justin Haley also showed significant speed at the Clash. In their debuts with their new teams, Tyler Reddick (6th) and Noah Gragson (14th) impressed as well. It should be another year of multiple different winners and unpredictability in NASCAR.
3. Kevin Harvick opens his final season with a big announcement, battle with Chase Elliott
Entering his 23rd and final season, some thought that Harvick would go quietly into the night. If the Clash was any indication, however, Harvick is determined to end his illustrious career with a bang.
During the heat race before the Busch Light Clash, Austin Cindric consistently ran into the back of Harvick and pushed him out of the groove. The 47-year-old veteran quickly taught Cindric a lesson, turning him around to spin the #2 out.
Shortly thereafter, Harvick ran into a familiar foe in Chase Elliott. The two’s feud during the 2021 season has been well-documented and they looked to start another chapter at the Clash. Both drivers kept running into the back of each other and running each other into the wall over the course of several laps. In typical “Closer” fashion, Harvick got the last laugh as he sped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott on the final turn to earn the last transfer spot into the main event.
In the Clash, Harvick survived multiple wrecks to finish a respectable 12th.
During the intermission between the heat races and the Clash, Harvick announced that he would be joining Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in the FOX booth as a lead commentator beginning in 2024. Harvick has served as an announcer for Xfinity races on FOX in the past and, despite his retirement, NASCAR fans will be able to still enjoy Harvick’s insight and commentary for years to come.
4. The Coliseum is a success, despite the carnage
Before NASCAR went to the LA Coliseum for the first time in 2022, there was a lot of skepticism about whether or not it would work. After two races at the track, it is safe to say that the move to the historic venue has been a success. The beating-and-banging, short track-style of racing is entertaining for drivers and fans alike. Drivers also seem to be taking it more seriously than when the Clash was held at Daytona. The prestige of the LA Coliseum makes it a must-win for drivers.
Brad Keselowski suggested that the venue could host a points race in the future, saying:
“The potential is here to do so many different things – points races or carry the idea to other venues that I think it’s certainly in one year’s time earned a lot of respect within the industry that opens up numerous doors and opportunities.”
Kevin Harvick built off Keselowski’s comments on visiting other stadiums, stating:
“I like it as something that could move around and go to different spots and I think when you look at the stadium aspect of things, it opens up possibilities to take this event to different countries and different parts of the world to expose our sport, or you could have a Stadium Series.”
The one drawback of Sunday’s event was the number of cautions, mainly in the second half of the race. The track is so tight that the cars kept running into each other, leading to nearly a wreck every lap and causing the race to drag on. However, when they were actually racing, the action on track was some of the best short-track racing produced by the Next Gen car.
The overall success of NASCAR’s venture into the LA Coliseum has opened the sport up to more audiences and has opened the potential for more races like it.
5. Ready for Daytona
As entertaining as the Busch Light Clash was, it now makes these two weeks before the Daytona 500 feel like an eternity. Like how Ricky Stenhouse Jr. cannot help but wreck, NASCAR fans cannot help but want more racing as soon as possible. This is made especially difficult by how fun the action was at the Clash.
The drivers seem just as ready for the regular season to start based on how they raced Sunday night. Drivers constantly rubbed into each other’s car, wrecked each other, traded the lead, and raced really hard. Tensions already rose between Erik Jones and Michael McDowell, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain, and Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott. Similar to fans, the drivers seemed like they could not wait for the winter to end either.
For drivers and fans alike, hopefully, these next two weeks go by as quickly as possible and the Daytona 500 is here in no time.