Martin Truex Jr. wins caution-filled NASCAR Clash exhibition

AP photo by Mark J. Terrill / NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. takes the checkered flag to win NASCAR's Clash exhibition race Sunday night at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
AP photo by Mark J. Terrill / NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. takes the checkered flag to win NASCAR's Clash exhibition race Sunday night at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

LOS ANGELES — Martin Truex Jr. won NASCAR's return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for its preseason exhibition race — a sloppy Sunday night extravaganza in which the Wiz Khalifa halftime show might have been 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 Coliseum in 2022. NASCAR built a temporary quarter-mile track inside the iconic venue in a bold attempt to try something radically different.

Truex, who contemplated retirement during last year's winless Cup Series season, won for the first time since Sept. 11, 2021.

"Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins, and to come out here and kick it off this way, really proud of all these guys," said Truex, the 2017 season's champion.

The exhibition came two weeks ahead of the Cup Series opener in Florida, the Daytona 500.

Last year's Clash was considered a smashing success based on the new fans drawn to the event and excitement over the progressive approach to creating a brand new type of racing. NASCAR knew it was going to be difficult to duplicate the success in its return, and the racing Sunday wasn't great — there were 25 cautions, and laps under yellow didn't count. There were only five cautions in last year's race.

"Last year's show I felt like was relatively clean and good racing, some bumping, some banging, but we could run long stretches of green flag action," said two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, who has moved this year from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing. "Today was, I would call it a disaster with the disrespect from everybody of just driving through each other.

"But it's a quarter-mile. It's tight quarters racing. Actually this is probably how it should have gone last year, so we got spoiled with a good show the first year. Maybe this was just normal."

Truex put JGR in victory lane to start 2023 after a horrible close to last year. Coy Gibbs, who essentially ran his father Joe's racing organization, died in his sleep at age 49 the night before the Cup Series finale last November. It came just hours after Coy's son, Ty, won NASCAR's second-tier Xfinity Series championship.

Austin Dillon and Busch finished second and third, respectively, for RCR. They joined Truex on a podium for a NASCAR-first medal ceremony held below the Coliseum's famed peristyle.

Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson went fourth and fifth for Hendrick Motorsports, and Tyler Reddick was sixth in his debut for 23XI.

"It's tough when it takes 45 minutes to make like six laps," Bowman said of the messy race. "That was pretty bad when we were just crashing and crashing and crashing."

Ryan Preece, in his debut race for Stewart-Haas Racing, led 43 laps until a late electrical problem took him out of contention, and he wound up seventh. Before Sunday night, Preece had led a total of 25 laps in 115 Cup Series races over five seasons.

Bubba Wallace was dominant early for 23XI but was spun late by Dillon and then banged into him after to show his displeasure. Wallace finished 22nd after leading 40 laps.

"I hate it for Bubba; he had a good car and a good run," Dillon said. "But you can't tell who's either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there, released the brake and all kinds of stuff, and then when I got down, I was going to give the same. Probably was a little too hard."

There were heat races and a pair of 50-lap last-chance qualifiers to help drivers make the 27-car field. Three drivers from each of the last-chance qualifiers advanced: Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland from the first race, and Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, and AJ Allmendinger from the second.

Those who did not advance to compete in the main event were Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton of Wood Brothers, Corey LaJoie and Ty Dillon of Spire Motorsports, and Cody Ware and J.J. Yeley for Rick Ware Racing, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of JTG Racing and B.J. McLeod of Live Fast Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson made his return to NASCAR on Sunday as team co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, which fields two cars for Erik Jones and Noah Gragson. The seven-time Cup Series champion spent the past two years competing in IndyCar and will run a limited scheduled this season that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Johnson was already entered in the Daytona 500 later this month, and on Sunday he said he will also enter NASCAR's first street course race, scheduled for downtown Chicago in July.

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