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Denny Hamlin Wins at the Busch Light Clash One Day Ahead of Schedule

Photo Credit: AJ England/Racing Refresh

By Adam Carabine

Despite off-season surgery on an injured shoulder, Denny Hamlin won his fourth career Clash -  his first inside the LA Memorial Coliseum.  Most surprising, however, is that the race was run a day earlier than originally intended.

With a huge weather pattern threatening the Los Angeles area, NASCAR made an unprecedented decision.  While there were heat races and a last-chance-qualifier planned for Saturday during the day, the main events were originally scheduled for Sunday, February 4th.  NASCAR decided to move the main events to Saturday evening - the first time in their history that a race has been moved forward a day.  With unseasonably heavy rainfall expected for multiple days starting overnight Saturday, NASCAR felt it was in the public’s best interest to get it all done ahead of the severe weather. 

NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell addressed the media after the big announcement, saying “at the end of the day, it’s what’s the right thing to do: keep everyone safe. And this is that decision.”

O’Donnell added, “Everyone working together has been a hallmark of the last couple of years of NASCAR.  We want to make the decisions that are in the best interests of everyone, first and foremost the fans.  When you have open dialogue with the industry, particularly the drivers, why you’re making decisions - they may not always agree, but at least if you can explain the ‘why,’ that’s very helpful and we’ve been pretty good at that in our recent past.”

In this particular case, it seemed like most drivers were impressed with NASCAR’s quick thinking.  Martin Truex Jr. said, “I think it’s the right thing to do, obviously the weather looks terrible all the way until Wednesday.”  

Kyle Busch offered high praise, saying, “I think today is an unprecedented mark in our sport and one that all of us will applaud NASCAR and Fox and everybody on for giving us the chance to get a race in today.  [...] This was the best chance that we had, and it was definitely a very good move.”

In place of the regularly scheduled heat races, and LCQ, NASCAR opted to do two practice sessions followed by a short qualifying session.  The 22 fastest drivers would earn a spot in the main event, with a 23rd provisional spot being reserved for the driver with the most points in 2023 who had also yet to qualify.

13 drivers were eliminated from the main event, including a few notable names.  Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez were among the unlucky 13, and were forced to start packing earlier than they had hoped.  Josh Williams, driving the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing was one spot away from earning a place in the main event.  

Defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney had a bad qualifying session, and had to rely on the points provisional to earn his spot in the main event.  

Photo Credit: AJ England/Racing Refresh

Eventual winner Denny Hamlin had the fastest time in qualifying and started the race from the pole.  When quizzed about his recovery from recent shoulder surgery, Hamlin was quick to brush off any ideas that it would get in his way at the Busch Light Clash.  “[It feels] very good, I feel pretty good about it.  I’m actually happy to start a season knowing that I don’t have any physical ailments ahead of me, so I feel really good about that, for sure.” 

Hamlin got off to a good start in the race, leading all but three of the first 50 laps.  His teammate in the No. 54 Toyota, Ty Gibbs, took over the lead and held on to it for quite a while.  

While Gibbs would go on to lead the most laps of any driver, it was Denny Hamlin who had the last laugh. With 9 to go, Hamlin took the lead back from his teammate, and held on to win the race.  Even a late-race caution couldn’t deny him the victory, as he survived overtime with a Green-White-Checkered finish.  

Denny joked to the swath of boos he received during his post-race interview, “You know I beat your favourite driver again, right?”


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