• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Martin Truex Jr. evades chaos to win 2023 Clash at the Coliseum

ByBrenden Martin

Feb 6, 2023
Martin Truex Jr. celebrates

Photo courtesy of Chris Graythen | Getty Images

After going winless and missing the playoffs in 2022, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 driver Martin Truex Jr. won the second installment of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Truex passed Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 driver Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go and never looked back. Preece led a race-high 44 laps in his debut with SHR where he finished seventh.

“Tonight was kind of just to persevere, not give up and just battle through,” Truex Jr. said to FOX Sports’ Jaime Little. “Sometimes they work out your way and sometimes they don’t. Tonight it went our way.”

Richard Childress Racing had a huge day with its new driver lineup. No. 3 driver Austin Dillon finished second and No. 8 driver Kyle Busch took the bronze in his first race with RCR.

“It was a battle all night long, “Busch said. “We used the outside on a lot of passes. Everybody would get bottled up on the bottom and start bumper tagging and I’d just go around them on the outside.”

Busch has finished on the podium in both Clashes at the Coliseum, coming in second in last year’s inaugural run.

The day began with four heat races of 25 laps and two last-chance qualifiers of 50 laps to determine who made the 150-lap main event.

SHR No. 10 driver Aric Almirola passed Kaulig Racing No. 31 driver Justin Haley in the first heat to secure the pole in the main event. Almirola started the main event strong by pulling ahead of JGR No. 11 driver Denny Hamlin by two seconds just after 10 laps.

Almirola caught lap traffic about 13 laps which officially started the chaos. The first of 16 total cautions occurred on Lap 17 when Legacy Motor Club No. 43 driver Erik Jones hit the wall and bent a toe link. Jones tried to run on the damaged car on the ensuing restart but went to the infield after a lap to end his race.

Almirola appeared to choose the outside lane at the choose cone under caution, but the move ended up being a mistake as the No. 10 team was unaware they were choosing that lap, according to Almirola’s crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.

The drama was laid thick even early in the race. 23XI Racing No. 23 driver Bubba Wallace used his bumper to get by Hamlin, a co-owner of his team, on Lap 43. Hamlin was shifted to the outside lane where he couldn’t rejoin the inside until he fell to 12th place.

Leaving the inside lane was a race killer for many drivers. After starting up front, Almirola was lapped by Wallace on Lap 67 when he was in 23rd place out of the 27-car field. Drama even continued from last season on the fourth caution where Trackhouse Racing No. 1 driver Ross Chastain spun Hamlin.

A two-lap shootout to the halfway mark lead to Wallace leading at the break where Wiz Khalifa performed as teams got to repair their cars.

The beginning of the second half put the whole race into purgatory, starting with JGR No. 54 driver Ty Gibbs being spun to end a tough weekend for the rookie.

Gibbs’s car went up in flames during practice on Saturday, preventing him from attempting a qualifying lap. Despite starting last in the final heat race, he worked to get up to second in the second LCQ behind Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 driver Chase Elliott, who was the only Hendrick driver not to finish in the top 10.

“They call it the Clash for a reason,” Gibbs said.

At this point, it would be quicker to name drivers that were not involved in any cautions. After there were only five cautions in the main event last year, 16 yellow flags were shown, including the halftime break. The red flag came out for a short time as fluid was found on the track.

Preece had been one of the few cars wheeling after each caution and he finally made the pass for the lead on the outside of Wallace with 68 laps to go.

Big names were included in these cautions. The 11th one was caused when Team Penske No, 22 driver Joey Logano, last year’s Busch Light Clash winner and defending champion, punted Busch off a turn. The wreck involved the two drivers who finished first and second in the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum last year.

The field got into single-file racing for a little bit before Haley spun around in eighth place on Lap 44. He finished 11th.

Preece looked like he was running away with the race until he began experiencing electrical issues when he was passed by Truex Jr. with 25 laps to go. Preece got his car back up to speed, but only enough to finish seventh.

The final caution came with seven laps to go when Wallace was spun by Austin Dillon battling for second behind Truex Jr, who held on in the final seven laps to win.

“You can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed,” Dillon said to Fox Sports’ Regan Smith. “I just know [Wallace] sent me into the corner and I saved it three times through there and then when I got down I was going to give the same. It was probably a little too hard.”

Truex Jr.’s win at the Clash could be a good omen for the team, as it went through all of the 2022 season without a win.

“Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins,” Truex Jr. said to FOX Sports’ Jaime Little. “To come out here and kick it off this way, I’m just really proud of all these guys.”

NASCAR will be off next week as FOX will be broadcasting Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, Feb. 12. The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season will begin the week after with the 65th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. EST.

Before the Daytona 500, the Bluegreen Vacations Duels will be on Thursday, Feb. 16 with the first duel being at 7 p.m. and the second duel at 9 p.m. EST.

NOTE: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage is complete. There were no issues, confirming the driver of the No. 19 as the winner.