The 2022 NASCAR season was officially rung in on Sunday as the Next Gen car took its first few laps around the LA Coliseum. With the new season came the new track, new car, new teams, and new drivers. According to thousands of fans and even the drivers, the new-look Clash was a huge success with many clamoring for it to be brought back to the Coliseum or another new venue in the future.
As announced over the offseason, practice and qualifying are returning for every race on the 2022 schedule. Saturday’s practice for the Clash was split into three groups of twelve, each running for eight minutes. These sessions were much needed as the drivers got accustomed to the new cars and the ¼ mile track that none of them had run before. Lap times ran around 13.5 seconds with 2020 Champion Chase Elliott having the fastest time of 13.456. He was followed by veteran Kevin Harvick, 2021 Rookie of the Year Chase Briscoe, newcomer Justin Haley, and two-time champion Kyle Busch.
Later that evening, the drivers were sent out for single car qualifying to set the order for the next day’s heat races. The order for qualifying was based upon last year’s owner points with the lowest points going first. The field was split into two with 18 cars going in the first round and the other 18 in the second. Times ran just a bit slower than practice as the teams had trouble heating up their tires with just one warm up lap and two qualifying laps.
JGR’s Kyle Busch ran fastest with a 13.745, putting him on the pole for Heat 1. The 8 of Tyler Reddick followed closely behind with a 13.761 and started first in Heat 2. Continuing his eye-opening weekend, Justin Haley wheeled his 31 LeafFilter Chevy across the line at 13.891 and earned pole position for Heat 3. Joey Logano had a much better showing in qualifying than practice, putting his 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford on the pole for Heat 4.
Opening Sunday’s action, the heat races and last chance qualifiers set the field for that evening’s main event. The top four finishers of the heats earned a spot in the main while the top three in each LCQ (out of two) moved forward. Heat 1 stayed green without much action as Kyle Busch took the checkered flag, pulling away from the field early. Alongside him, Daniel Suàrez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Blaney found themselves a spot in the main.
Heat 2 saw more of the same with Tyler Reddick keeping his #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevy at the front for all 25 laps. Joining him in the main was Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, and Cole Custer. Heat 3 again kept it green while Justin Haley managed to fight off his close competition to win and advance. William Byron, Christopher Bell, and Chase Elliott fought through the field to claim their spot in the main alongside Haley. Heat 4 saw the first caution of the contest when rookie Austin Cindric took a spin after some contact with the 77 of Landon Cassill. Logano brought it home first with Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, and Erik Jones joining him in the main.
The two last chance qualifiers consisted of those who did not make it through to the main via the heat races. LCQ1 involved those from Heats 1 and 3, including Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, BJ McLeod, Todd Gilliland, Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Corey LaJoie, and Cody Ware. With Kyle Larson advancing from Heat 4, Martin Truex Jr. would be the only driver able to advance on last year’s points, so he chose not to compete in the LCQ. Shortly after the green flag flew on the 50 lap LCQ1, the yellow was brought out for Aric Almirola who hit the outer wall, ending his day. Staying green the rest of the way, the top three – advancing to the main heat – were Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and AJ Allmendinger.
LCQ2 was a vastly different story for Bubba Wallace, Austin Cindric, Alex Bowman, Ryan Preece, Kurt Busch, Harrison Burton, Landon Cassill, Brad Keselowski, and Ty Dillon. Long story short, the main event had to be pushed back by 30 minutes since the qualifier ran so long. Ty Dillon opened the action by hitting the wall, but was able to continue after the caution. This all but foreshadowed the rest of the event for him. At a later restart, Dillon jumped the first-place driver, Kurt Busch, and was black flagged and sent to the rear.
The yellow was brought out again a few laps later for owner-driver Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill. Leader Kurt Busch hit the wall hard shortly after the restart, ending his day. Not too long after, the red flag was brought out for wall repairs after Cindric hit the inner wall hard. Ty Dillon made many enemies the rest of the day, ending Alex Bowman’s day and sending Harrison Burton. He thought that worked out well enough for him as he won the qualifier and seemed to advance alongside Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace. That didn’t last long, however, as he was once again black flagged for jumping the restart and disqualified. Preece was declared the winner and then-fourth place Harrison Burton advanced from third.
That set the field for the main event. The four heat winners found themselves starting 1-2-3-4 with Kyle Busch on the pole. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the field as the points-advancer. The main event was 150 laps total with a “halftime” break at lap 75. The only inspection issue saw Ryan Preece sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Tyler Reddick got a good jump on Busch, but Busch held on to lead the first lap of the 2022 season. As soon as lap 40, now-leader Reddick had caught the tail of the field and put Truex and Hamlin a lap down.
The first caution flag was brought out on lap 53 for Stenhouse who took a spin. Shortly before the restart, the 14 of Chase Briscoe found himself in the infield with drive line issues, and the leader in the 8 followed shortly thereafter. This put the 18 of Busch in the lead with the 22 of Logano alongside him.
Another caution came out on lap 65, this time for a spinning Chase Elliott. The leaders remained the same until lap 75 when Logano gave Busch a bump to take the lead. Since this occurred after the declared break, Busch remained the leader at the restart. After a halftime performance from rapper Ice Cube, Busch and Logano brought the field back to green.
At lap 115, the caution was brought out again for the 12 of Ryan Blaney who had a broken right rear suspension. After throwing his HANS device at the 43 of Erik Jones, Blaney found himself back out on track. The restart once again saw Busch and Logano out front, battling hard for the lead. An even tougher battle was breaking out behind them with the 31 of Haley and the 5 of Larson fighting for third. Before the end of lap 116, the 5 drove down on Haley, sending him into the concrete infield wall and destroying the front of his car. After such a strong weekend, it was a heartbreaking finish for the 31.
For the final restart, it was Logano and Larson on the front row with Logano taking the early lead. He was able to hold on, even through the carnage of a backfield wreck between Truex Jr. and McDowell, and Joey Logano was declared the winner of the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum and the first race of the Next Gen era. In what was considered a massive success for NASCAR, the Clash brought the excitement and action that the sport has been working towards.
Featured photo from @joeylogano on Twitter.