LOS ANGELES (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. won NASCAR’s comeback to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the season-opening exhibition race, a casual Sunday night extravaganza in which the Wiz Khalifa halftime show could be the most entertaining part of the event.
Truex took the lead with 25 laps to go in the Busch Light Clash, a 150-lap race that moved from Daytona International Speedway to the Colosseum last year. NASCAR built a temporary quarter-mile track inside the iconic stadium in a bold attempt to try something radically new.
Truex, who considered retirement in last year’s winless season, won for the first time since September 11, 2021.
“Last year was a pretty tough season for us with no wins, and for us to come out here and start it this way, I’m really proud of all these guys,” Truex said.
Last year’s race was hailed as stunning, thanks to the attraction of new fans to the event and the enthusiasm for a progressive approach to creating an entirely new type of racing.
NASCAR knew it would be difficult to repeat the success on its return and race Sunday was not great – there were 25 warnings and laps under yellow didn’t count. There were only five warnings in last year’s race.
“Last year’s show, in my opinion, was relatively clean and good, with a little push, a little bump, but we could run long stretches playing under the green flag,” Kyle Busch said. “Today was, I would call it a disaster with disrespect from everyone who just drove through each other.
“But it’s a quarter mile. This is racing in a narrow circle. Actually, that’s probably how it should have been last year, so we were spoiled for a good show the first year. Maybe it was just normal.”
Truex has put Joe Gibbs Racing on a winning streak to start 2023 after last year’s terrible shutdown. Coy Gibbs, who actually ran his father’s racing team, passed away in his sleep the night before the November season finale. Coy Gibbs’ death came just hours after his son Ty won the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
Austin Dillon and Busch, in their debut for Richard Childress Racing, finished second and third in the RCR. They joined Truex on the podium for NASCAR’s first awards ceremony, held under the iconic peristyle of the Coliseum.
Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth with Hendrick Motorsports and Tyler Reddick was sixth in his 23XI debut.
“It’s tough when you have to do six laps in 45 minutes,” Bowman said of the muddy race. “It was pretty bad when we just crashed and crashed and crashed.”
Ryan Preece, in his debut race for Stewart-Haas Racing, was leading for 43 laps until a late electrical problem put him out of action. Prior to Sunday evening, Preece had led a total of 25 laps in 115 Cup races over five seasons. Pris finished seventh.
Bubba Wallace dominated the early part of 23XI but Dillon turned him around late and then crashed into Dillon to show his displeasure. He finished 22nd, 40 laps ahead.
“I hate it for Bubba, he had a good car and good mileage,” Dillon said. “But you can’t tell who is pushing him or who is being pushed. I just know that he sent me over the corner and I bailed out there three times, released the brake and everything, and then when I came down I was going to give the same. It must have been too hard.”
The Clash exhibition format included heats and a pair of 50-lap “Last Chance Qualifiers” to help the drivers make their way to the 27-car field. Three riders from each of the LCQ advanced, with Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland dropping out of race one and Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger dropping out of race two.
Those who didn’t qualify for the main event were Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher, The Wood Brothers’ Harrison Burton, Spire Motorsports’ Corey Lajoy and Ty Dillon, and Rick Ware’s Cody Ware and JJ Yehli Racing, Ricky Stenhouse. Jr. of JTG Racing and B.J. McLeod of Live Fast Motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson returned to NASCAR on Sunday as part owner of the Legacy Motor Club team, which field two cars for Eric Jones and Noah Gragson. The seven-time NASCAR champion has spent the last two years racing IndyCar and will compete this season on a limited schedule that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Johnson already competed in the Daytona 500 later this month and on Sunday said he would also compete in NASCAR’s first-ever street race, scheduled for July in downtown Chicago.
The Cup Series opens Daytona International Speedway a week from Wednesday to begin preparations for the opening of the Daytona 500 season on February 19th.
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