Truex Jr. Wins Gold in Clash at the Coliseum
February 9, 2023
Under a full-moon, the Hollywood Sign, bright Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lights, concerts and fireworks... Martin Truex Jr. earned a gold medal by taking the checkered flag at NASCAR's 2023 Clash at the Coliseum. Driving the #19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing for his 31st Cup series victory, Truex held off the second-place #3 Chevy driven by silver medalist Austin Dillon. Also on the podium was Dillon's new Richard Childress Racing teammate and two-time Series Cup champion, Kyle Busch, who earned bronze for racing third.
"Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins, to come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of these guys," said Truex, who unexpectedly was shutout from the win column last year after grabbing at least one flag in each of the previous seven Cup Series seasons. "Tonight was just kind of persevere, not give up and just battle through. And we found ourselves in the right spot at the end... Tonight, it went our way."
Truex maneuvered his Bass Pro Shops Camry into the lead with 24 laps to go in NASCAR's 150-lap season opening event. The 2017 Series Cup champion won his first career Busch Light Clash victory as he held off Dillon by 0.786 seconds in a spinout marred race that was given 16 yellow caution flags. There were five leaders in a race that officially completed in 1 hour and 43 minutes under the green flag.
Ryan Preece, driving the #41 United Rentals Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, started 16th but took the lead for 43 laps during the 75-lap second-half finish. He succumbed with 24 laps to go with a reported fuel pump issue and eventually dropped off to seventh-place. Bubba Wallace led for 40 laps including retaining the lead at the 75-lap halftime concert intermission.
The entertainment featured pre-race rap band Cypress Hill from South Gate and rapper Wiz Khalifa, both who gave the fans a taste of their popular hits. USC star football quarterback and 2022 Heisman Trophy Winner, Caleb Williams, was the honorary starter. Hollywood star actor Rob Lowe served as the Grand Marshall. DJ trio Cheat Codes and Dixie D'Amelio as performed. WWE wrestling stars Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were honorary starters for Last Chance Qualifying Race 1 and entertainer Joel McHale served as honorary starter for LCQ Race 2.
Bubba was in contention for the entire race and battling for second with Truex until he got bumped into the south-end curve just below the famed Coliseum Peristyle and steps leading down into the 400-yard oval asphalt track with seven laps to go in the race.
Dillon defended his move: "I chose to restart there behind Martin (Truex Jr) thinking that if we could get off two then I can just race, but it just doesn't go that way. You just get beat, beat. When we went to one and two, I got crossed up and ended up wrecking the inside wall and I got hit... released the brake and I jumped all the way to the third lane outside.
"Obviously, Bubba knocked me through the corner... I was going to hit him back. Didn't mean to turn him like that. But when it gets down to the end, I think everybody knows what's going on. And that's what you see at places like this and Bowman Gray Stadium."
Busch acknowledged the team's fine start: "It could be definitely be a story of that where we're working well together this whole weekend, off the track, on the track. And having the opportunity to be able to take care of one another in a couple of those restarts. The three would be easy off the corner and give me a gap to be able to get down and some other stuff that we did. It's just a good omen for great teamwork and good sportsmanship from the two of us. So, let's keep that rolling."
Denny Hamlin's started third for Joe Gibbs Racing and pushed his #11 Sports Clips Haircuts Toyota into the lead for 26 laps but fell down to ninth place by the end. Aric Almirola for Stewart-Haas Racing had the pole position and led for the first 16 laps in the #10 Smithfield Ford Mustang. The three-time Cup Series winner has made the NASCAR Playoffs five times (2014, and 2018-21) in the 15 seasons he's competed in the stock car circuit.
Earlier in afternoon 36 drivers vied for 27 slots in the Clash final. There was plenty of drama with nine drivers missing the Big Show at five o'clock after four Heat Races and two "Last Chance" qualifying races. Failing to qualify: Harrison Burton (#21 Ford), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#47 Chevy), Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford), RFK Racing; Corey LaJoie (#7 Chevy), Spire Motorsports; Ty Dillon, brother of Austin Dillon (#77 Chevy), Spire Motorsports; Cody Ware (#51 Ford), Rick Ware Racing; Chris Buescher (#17 Ford), RFK Racing; J.J. Yeley (#15 Ford), Rick Ware Racing; and B.J. McLeod in the #78 Chevy for Live Fast Motorsports.
Almirola won Heat Race 1, followed by Alex Bowman in the #48 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports, and Justin Haley, Saturday's qualifying leader in the #42 Chevy for Kaulig Racing. Heat Race 2 was a precursor to the final Truex with winning while Busch and Dillion finished second and third respectively.
Hamlin won Heat Race 3 with Chase Briscoe in the #14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing finishing second. Tyler Redick drove the #25 Toyota to third position for 23XI Racing. William Byron raced the #24 Chevy to first place in Heat Race 4 for Hendrick Motorsports. Wallace finished second for 23XI Racing while Ross Chastain grabbed third in the #1 Chevy for Trackhouse Racing Team.
Without a doubt, the City of Los Angeles, the Coliseum and NASCAR were the winners for the second consecutive year this event was scheduled for the entertainment capitol of the world. The NASCAR Cup Series next moves across the country to back east in Florida for the season opening spectacular Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway Sunday, Feb. 19. The two 150-mile qualifying Duals are scheduled for Thursday, February 16 at the Daytona Speedway. NASCAR racing immediately returns to Southern California the following weekend for the Pala Casino 400 on Sunday, February 26 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.