NASCAR Beats the Weather, Hamlin Wins Busch Clash at the LA Coliseum

Jackson Wheeler
10 Min Read


  • Denny Hamlin’s win in the non-points exhibition came amid the rubbin’ and bumpin’ you’d expect around the claustrophobic oval.
  • Kyle Busch looked like he might have made a run of it, after a green flag restart with 10 laps to go, but he wasn’t able to convert his second-place position.
  • Yes, you might have missed it. The race start time was changed from Sunday to Saturday rather late on Saturday due to dire weather forecasts for the next few days in Southern California.

Denny Hamlin went from the pole to the checkered flag—with a few whoop-dee-doos in between—to take the win in the first race of the 2024 NASCAR season in the non-points Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Rain in Noahic proportions threatened all day but held steady just off the California coast around Catalina Island (which got soaked). As it stood the race was run in dry conditions under the lights on a temporary quarter-mile oval inside the Los Angeles Coliseum, same place they used to race sprint cars and midgets in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Hamlin’s win for Toyota came amid the rubbin’ and bumpin’ you’d expect around the claustrophobic oval. But he was happy with the win after the final restart with just two laps to go.

“They ran me right with the 54 and 22 and you just never know what was gonna happen there, but I got a really good run off of Turn 2 and just got position and was able to hang on from there,” said Hamlin after spinning some celebratory donuts. “It’s so chaotic with all the restarts with everyone just bumpin’ and bangin’, but it feels great to win here in LA.”

nascar cup series busch light clash at the coliseum

Chris Graythen//Getty Images

Denny Hamlin kicked off the NASCAR season with a win at the Busch Light Clash non-points race.

Kyle Busch looked like he might have made a run of it, after a green flag restart with 10 laps to go, but he wasn’t able to convert his second-place position so late in the race to a win.

“I felt like the first half we were better, had a better car, we were better than the 11 (winner Hamlin), but some of the adjustments we made weren’t as good, and some of the adjustments they made were better,” Busch said. “All in all, just glad to have a good night, glad to come out of here in one piece, with all the bumping and banging and everything else that happens.”

Ty Gibbs, racing his first full season in Cup after several races last year, didn’t win, but he lead more laps than anyone else. Gibbs was the victim of a spin in the final laps that dropped him down in the field to an 18th-place finish. But those things happen when you put 23 Cup cars on a quarter-mile track.

It wasn’t the track alone that provided the drama. With rain due in buckets later that evening, the call was made late Saturday to bump things up a day and run both races Saturday night instead of Sunday, with the Busch Clash starting at 5:00 p.m. local time, to be followed immediately by the King Taco La Batalla en El Coliseo NASCAR Mexico Series.

nascar cup series busch light clash at the coliseum

Jared C. Tilton//Getty Images

Denny Hamlin leads the field at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night.

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer said, “There were really no good options, we kind of vetted everything. First and foremost the safety of the fans, what’s going on in the area, from really an unprecedented weather forecast, and when we looked ahead at where we might be able to get this race in, you’re starting to look at Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday… we realized this was our best option.”

L.A.’s often hysterical news media had been making apocalyptic predictions about the rain: “Stock up on flashlights and batteries! Buy food!” Actual Caltrans signs on the freeway said to not go anywhere from Sunday to Tuesday. Had this been, say, Portland or Seattle, the media might have said something like, “Light rain expected… in other news…” But L.A. loves to go bonkers when there’s so much as a puddle spotted.

“L.A.’s often hysterical news media had been making apocalyptic predictions about the rain.”

Then there was the action on the track: in qualifying Logano popped off a 13.250-second lap about an hour before the green flag to take pole position, which is, perhaps more so here than anywhere in the world, very important. Then Hamlin delivered a blistering 13.139 just two minutes after that to bump Logano from the pole. In third place on the grid was Ty Gibbs, who missed the front row by one one-thousandth of a second.

Nonetheless, racing on a quarter-mile oval is hard enough in dry conditions, and while Cup teams do have rain tires, racing in the rain on this fish bowl of a track might have been dangerously optimistic.

NASCAR put out a press release about four hours before Saturday’s 8 p.m. ET start time:

“Due to impending weather forecast and in the interest of safety for our fans and competitors, the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash will now run at 8 p.m. ET.”

Hence, the call.

Qualifying was canceled and the starting grid was set based on speeds from the final practice session.

The abbreviated weekend is one more reason to cast doubt on the continuing presence of the Busch Clash next year, as rumors swirled that NASCAR may not be back in the Coliseum in 2025.

NASCAR moves on to Daytona next for the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 on Feb. 15, followed by the Daytona 500 Feb. 18.


Results

NASCAR Cup Series Race – Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Los Angeles, California

Saturday, February 3, 2024

1. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 151.

2. (5) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 151.

3. (23) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 151.

4. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 151.

5. (8) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 151.

6. (4) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 151.

7. (22) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 151.

8. (13) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 151.

9. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 151.

10. (6) William Byron, Chevrolet, 151.

11. (12) Ryan Preece, Ford, 151.

12. (9) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 150.

13. (21) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 150.

14. (11) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 150.

15. (7) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 150.

16. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 150.

17. (18) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 150.

18. (3) Ty Gibbs, Toyota, 150.

19. (15) Michael McDowell, Ford, 149.

20. (17) Noah Gragson, Ford, 147.

21. (10) Justin Haley, Ford, Engine, 135.

22. (14) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Steering, 77.

23. (16) Todd Gilliland, Ford, Brakes, 68.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 32.937 mph.

Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 8 Mins, 46 Secs. Margin of Victory: .610 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 0 laps.

Lead Changes: 6 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-2;D. Hamlin 3-49;T. Gibbs 50-70;B. Keselowski 71;J. Logano 72-77;T. Gibbs 78-140;D. Hamlin 141-151.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Ty Gibbs 2 times for 84 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 58 laps; Joey Logano 2 times for 8 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap.

Headshot of Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there. This was his introduction to objective automotive criticism. He started writing for City News Service in Los Angeles, then moved to Europe and became editor of a car magazine called, creatively, Auto. He decided Auto should cover Formula 1, sports prototypes and touring cars—no one stopped him! From there he interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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