Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR

Saturday Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum Notebook

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Kyle Busch tops qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum

LOS ANGELES — Kyle Busch turned a lap in 13.745 seconds (65.489 mph) Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to pace single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.

That means Busch will start from the pole in the first of four 25-lap heat races on Sunday, each featuring nine cars on the quarter-mile pavement track built specifically for the event, which features the competitive debut of NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series car. 

Tyler Reddick (13.761 seconds at 65.402 mph) qualified second to earn the pole for Sunday’s second heat race, followed by Justin Haley (64.790 mph) and Joey Logano (64.521 mph), who will start first in Heats 3 and 4, respectively.

The top four finishers in each heat will advance to the 150-lap Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum (6 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“I never would have thunk it,” said Busch, the only Toyota driver in the top 14 in time trials. “I don’t know, you know, it’s pretty cool. It’s just different with the opportunity to do something like this. NASCAR took a lot of flak on what this was going to look like and what it was going to be. But we’re having a great time. We had a bunch of fans come out just to witness the qualifying.  

“I’m looking forward to seeing what this place will look like (Sunday) and have the opportunity to race this No. 18 Toyota and keep it up front. We’re not in (the main event) yet—we still have to go through that heat race.”

In fact, the only driver who is guaranteed a starting spot in the Busch Light Clash is Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion. There’s one provisional starting spot available to the top driver in points from 2021 who fails to make the show through the heats or two subsequent 50-lap last-chance qualifiers.

Three drivers will advance from each of the LCQs, with the provisional completing the 23-car Clash field.

Larson qualified eighth and will start on the outside of the front row in Heat 4. The other front-row starting spots in the heats go to Daniel Suarez (fifth), Cole Custer (sixth) and Chase Elliott (seventh). 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Harrison Burton, William Byron and defending Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell qualified ninth through 12th, respectively. 

Chase Elliott tops Saturday morning practice session at the Coliseum

Exploring the limits of the Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series race car, Chase Elliott jumped to the top of the speed chart during the final session of practice for the Busch Light Clash at Coliseum.

On his 93rd lap of the day, the 2020 Cup Series champion covered the quarter-mile distance and in 13.455 seconds (66.890 mph) to edge Kevin Harvick for the fastest lap of practice by .002 seconds.

“The track does kind of change a little bit as you run,” Elliott said during a question-and-answer session on the highest level of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. “You gain some grip, and it seems like everybody goes a little faster the longer you run in a session. That was interesting. 

“We were able to go through the things we wanted to change session to session, and now we just need to decide where we want to land; maybe in-between some of those changes that we did. But just try to make the right decisions and get yourself in a good position and try to go qualify well.”

Kyle Busch seeks yet another “first” in Next Gen car debut

At Bristol in 2007, Kyle Busch won the debut race of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In March of 2008, he gave Toyota its first victory in the NASCAR Cup Series with a dominating win at Atlanta.

Contemplating the prospect of winning the first race in the Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car, however, Busch says that “first” might be taken with a grain of salt.

“In the back of my mind, you would say, yeah, you want to be the first guy, but I think many of us would argue that the first race for this vehicle will be the Daytona 500,” said Busch, who leads all active drivers with 59 victories in Cup Series points races. “You know, we’re here obviously, it is a race. Yes, they will pay somebody at the end of the day to win it. But this is more, as we’ve kind of alluded, a little bit where it’s a show. 

“I mean that’s fine, and we’re going to do our best job of being able to put on a good show. There’s going to be a race involved. There’s going to be a checkered flag at the end of it. And I’ve been involved in the sport enough where there’s a lot of asterisks on the things that I’ve accomplished. So I’m sure me winning this race—I did not win the first race of the new car—it would be whoever wins Daytona, that’s how it would go.”

Busch, who was fifth fastest on the practice chart on Saturday morning, could make the issue moot by winning the Daytona 500 for the first time.

After practice, Ryan Blaney praises adjustability of Next Gen car

In Saturday’s opening practice session, Ryan Blaney 35th fastest among the 36 hopefuls for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. 

Soon after his group of 12 cars took to the track for their second session, Blaney jumped to second fastest overall.

The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford ended practice ninth overall as the track gained speed throughout the scheduled two-hour warm-up. Blaney said wholesale changes to his car after the first session accounted for the improvement in performance.

“We found a lot,” Blaney acknowledged. “We changed a whole lot between the first and second practice. We were really bad the first run and just really loose. The corners are so tight here that the moment your rear slips out from under you, it takes forever to catch it and you lose tons of time. 

“We came in and put tons of wedge in it and changed the right front spring and rear springs. There is a lot of adjustability in these cars with rear and front bar and stiffness on the arms on them—you can change a lot. We did a good job of getting on top of it and taking a huge swing at it. 

“We were so far off. The adjustability on these cars is a lot though… It’s nice to have so many options where you can tweak on things.”

With independent rear suspension, differential in place of rear-end housing and rack-and-pinion steering all new to the Next Gen car, crew chiefs will have a lot to work with—and a lot to learn—in the coming weeks.

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