LOS ANGELES – On Sunday evening, Martin Truex Jr visited a place he hasn’t seen in over a full season of NASCAR Cup Series racing. Truex pulled his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into victory lane in one of the most iconic venues in all of sports when he won the Bush Light Clash at the Coliseum in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Truex’s was able to hold off Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet by a mere .786-second leading the final 25 laps of the 150-lap annual non-points race to open the 2023 season making this the first time the former series champion has claimed a Busch Light Clash victory.
“Just really good race car, the guys did a really good job with this Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry,” Truex said, “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.
“Tonight, was just kind of persevere, not give up and just battle through and we found ourselves in the right spot at the end. Sometimes they work out your way and sometimes they don’t. Tonight, it went our way.”
Dillon’s second place finish put him next to his new teammate, two-time series champion Kyle Busch, on the podium with medals; reminiscent of the Olympic Games the venue has also famously hosted.
It was a full house at the 100-year-old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the race – lots of new fans mixed with the most loyal long-timers dressed in their best NASCAR fan t-shirts, driver jackets and hats excited to watch the NASCAR Cup Series show exactly the kind of high-drama short track action that has made the 75-year-old sport an American treasure.
The track which was purpose-built inside the stadium to introduce the sport to a new market, appears to have whole-heartedly embraced by the fans.
The race was slowed 16 times for cautions. Dillon had a late race run-in with Bubba Wallace, their cars colliding. Wallace got the worst end of the contact and was knocked from contending for the win to instead finishing 22nd in the 27-car field – despite leading 40 laps and challenging Truex as the race wound down.
“Obviously, Bubba knocked me through the corner,” Dillon said. “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 [North Carolina short track] Bowman Gray Stadium.”
Dillon acknowledged that Wallace may be upset with him and said they would talk.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five. Tyler Reddick was sixth in his debut in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota.
New Englander Ryan Preece, 32, making his first start in the No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing led the most laps (43) but fell back with 24 laps to go, telling his crew there was some sort of electrical problem. He finished seventh.
Denny Hamlin, who won his Heat Race earlier in the day in his No. 11 JGR Toyota, finished ninth with driver William Byron in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet rounding out the top 10.
The four Heat and two Last Chance Qualifier races Sunday afternoon provided plenty of drama in setting the field for the Main Event under the lights – and under the fire of the Coliseum’s famed peristyle (torch). Both RFK Racing Fords – driven by team co-owner Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher were among the eight cars that didn’t qualify.
Joining the RFK drivers on that list of DNQs are Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Cody Ware, J.J. Yeley and B.J. McLeod.
NASCAR Cup Series Race – Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles, California
Sunday, February 5, 2023
1. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 150.
2. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 150.
3. (6) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 150.
4. (5) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 150.
5. (14) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 150.
6. (11) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 150.
7. (16) Ryan Preece, Ford, 150.
8. (12) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 150.
9. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 150.
10. (4) William Byron, Chevrolet, 150.
11. (9) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 150.
12. (18) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 150.
13. (23) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 150.
14. (13) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 150.
15. (7) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 150.
16. (17) Joey Logano, Ford, 150.
17. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 150.
18. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, 150.
19. (19) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 150.
20. (26) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 150.
21. (22) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 150.
22. (8) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 150.
23. (25) Todd Gilliland, Ford, Fuel, 140.
24. (21) Michael McDowell, Ford, Fuel, 137.
25. (27) Austin Cindric, Ford, Engine, 106.
26. (24) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, Suspension, 81.
27. (20) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Suspension, 16.