LOS ANGELES – From self-proclaiming himself as being the worst to LA gold, Martin Truex Jr. is back on top after fighting off the plethora of cautions in Sunday night’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
A prime example of a year being a huge difference was Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Club Toyota being among the quickest all weekend and it showed at night’s end.
To reach the top step of the podium, Truex had to go toe-to-toe with Ryan Preece.
With 24 laps remaining, the 2017 Cup Series champion took the race lead and there was no looking back. Once the dust settled, Truex celebrated with his crew after a winless campaign in 2022.
No question, the Clash victory was a huge confidence booster ahead of the 65th Daytona 500 in two weeks.
“It just reminds you that you’re doing the right stuff. Honestly, we were probably the worst car here last year, literally, besides maybe the guys that didn’t have charters. We were just God awful. We barely made the race. Rode around the back and I spun out by myself on the last lap it was so bad, you know, trying to pass one car,” Truex said.
“To come back this year and be first in practice, I was really honestly nervous last night. I went to bed thinking today was going to suck. It was going to be a long day because it’s going to be hard to pass and we were starting sixth in our heat on the outside.”
The pressure was on to advance into the main event. However, Truex got the job done to be the show in the Clash.
“They only take five. It’s like, well, if you finish fifth you’re still going to suck in the race because you’re going to start 20th. To be able to drive up through the field in the heat and win that was just huge. It was a huge confidence builder,” he said.
“I knew after that if we could just be smart tonight and stay up front all night we’d have a shot at it. But it’s a big deal. Any of these races are hard to win. All of them are hard to win. Doesn’t matter if there’s points or not. We’re proud of this one. It’s a big deal.”
Truex’s crew chief James Small commented how this season has brought some excitement from his driver after missing the Playoffs last year.
“He’s just super excited. I think last year was a big disappointment for all of us,” said Small. “He knew he’s way better than that, and he’s just ready to get going. We all just want to prove everyone wrong.”
Prior to the race, there were speculations about possibly entertaining the idea of having the Coliseum as a points-paid race more so after the confirmation that Auto Club Speedway won’t be back in 2024. A time table of being converted from a two-mile oval to a short track is yet to be determined.
Small explained why such an idea isn’t wise to consider and should always stay as an exhibition race.
“I’m not sure how — the way our championship works and everything, I don’t know how you could structure it to be fair to everybody, how you’re going to do competitive pit stops. You can’t even pit the whole field on here,” said Small.
“I think it’s better in my opinion, whether that’s right or wrong. It’s probably wrong. That it stays an exhibition race.”
No stranger to wild short track action, Preece ultimately finished seventh after leading a race-high 43 laps. The new Stewart-Haas Racing hire explained that a pitfall on the fuel pump catastrophically affected his shot of winning big in SoCal.
“At first, I thought it was ignition because usually when it’s fuel it just keeps cutting, so I shut off my alternator and all of my electrical stuff and it seemed to help a little bit. It did it again and I lost four spots, so I just flipped the switch and a miracle happened,” Preece said.
“Ultimately, this car was so badass. It was so fast. We drove from 16th outside, inside, everything it took. I’m proud of the speed. I’m happy for the opportunity, but it sucks giving them away.”
Behind Truex were the Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch. Rounding out the top-five were a pair of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson.
While Truex celebrated and received a gold medal, many drivers were granted a miracle to get out of Los Angeles. That’s because the 150-lap main event was marred with 16 caution periods as a result of the intense nature short track racing provides.
Compared to last year’s Clash, the madness intensified in 2023.
Most notably, Denny Hamlin and William Byron had a brief conversation following an intense battle for ninth. Hamlin was turned after the race, making his frustrations known to Byron by pulling up to him before both entered pit lane.
In the first half of the race, Bubba Wallace had the race under control as he crossed the line in first.
Things weren’t meant to be in the second half as more concerns of the current car alarmed the competition following Wallace echoing his frustration about dealing with pain.
Later on, Wallace’s night worsen after being turned by Dillon in Turn 1 and played a role into finishing 22nd, the final car running at the finish.
Dillon explained a discussion is on the table as he felt bad for the ordeal due to the fact how strong Wallace’s No. 23 DoorDash machine was for much of the night.
“We were a little better on the long run and I got by him pretty clean the first time, and I chose to restart there behind Martin thinking that if we could get off 2 and then I could just race, but it just doesn’t go that way,” said Dillon.
“You’re just getting beat and beat, and then when we went through 1 and 2, I mean, I got crossed up. I thought I was going to wreck into the inside wall and I got hit, and my spotter told me, release the brake, release the brake, got shoved all the way to the third lane outside.
“So after that he said, three wide, I think, one time, two wide, and then, I mean, yeah, I was probably pretty frustrated at that point.”
For now, the SoCal vibes are over and all cards are on the table for “The Great American Race” at Daytona. Coverage begins Sunday, February 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. Austin Cindric is the defending race winner.
2023 Busch Light Clash Results
- 19 – Martin Truex, Jr.
- 3 – Austin Dillon
- 8 – Kyle Busch
- 48 – Alex Bowman
- 5 – Kyle Larson
- 45 – Tyler Reddick
- 41 – Ryan Preece
- 1 – Ross Chastain
- 11 – Denny Hamlin
- 24 – William Byron
- 31 – Justin Haley
- 4 – Kevin Harvick
- 20 – Christopher Bell
- 42 – Noah Gragson
- 14 – Chase Briscoe
- 22 – Joey Logano
- 12 – Ryan Blaney
- 10 – Aric Almirola
- 99 – Daniel Suarez
- 16 – AJ Allmendinger
- 9 – Chase Elliott
- 23 – Bubba Wallace
- 38 – Todd Gilliland (Fuel)
- 34 – Michael McDowell (Fuel)
- 2 – Austin Cindric (Engine)
- 54 – Ty Gibbs (Suspension)
- 43 – Erik Jones (Suspension)