● Entering his sixth season under the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) banner, Truex has become quite the short-track ace during his first five seasons with JGR’s No. 19 team. Prior to his time with JGR, Truex had never won on a short track. However, since joining JGR, he’s brought home six of his 12 total victories on short tracks, which includes three wins each on the Virginia shorts tracks – Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. In fact, nine of Truex’s wins since joining JGR at the start of 2019 have been on tracks 1.33 miles in length or shorter, which bodes well for the New Jersey native at this weekend’s race on the quarter-mile oval at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
● Truex and the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry team for JGR set the tone right out of the gate for last season by winning 150-lap feature in the non-points Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 5. Truex won his heat race, then went on to lead the final 25 laps of the feature en route to a victory that gave the team plenty of momentum. Truex went on to win three regular-season races and brought home the regular-season championship.
● Truex will participate in the Clash for the 13th time in his career this weekend, and does so as the defending winner of the non-points event. His next-best Clash finish of second came in the 2015 edition at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the traditional home for the non-points event before the inaugural race at the Coliseum in 2022. Truex started 23rd and brought home a 15th-place finish during the inaugural Coliseum race before bringing home the trophy in 2023.
● In 2023, Truex scored three points-paying wins, nine top-five finishes, 17 top-10s and led 899 total laps in a bounce-back season from 2022, when he was winless and led just 572 laps.
● History was made on Feb. 6, 2022, when the NASCAR Cup Series competed for the first time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum was a bold way to unofficially kick off the start of the NASCAR season. On a temporary paved oval at a quarter-mile in length on top of what is typically the running track around the football field the Trojans of the University of Southern California call home, NASCAR thundered into America’s second-largest media market. The location was strategic, as was the event’s timing – held on the off-weekend between the NFL division championship games and the almighty Super Bowl. For all the unknowns beforehand, the event proved to be an absolute success. The buzz was palpable throughout the weekend as more than 70 percent of ticket buyers were first-time NASCAR attendees. When NASCAR returned to the Coliseum for the 2023 Clash, the event continued to stand out, drawing 3.65 million viewers on FOX while going head to head with the GRAMMYs on CBS. The race earned a total of 540 million tuning minutes, an 8 percent uptick from the 2022 Clash, which scored 501 million tuning minutes. It’s why NASCAR is back at the Coliseum for a third go-round this weekend.
● While NASCAR certainly made history when it began racing at the L.A. Coliseum, it’s appropriate to say auto racing history was remade. As World War II wound down, racing open-wheel Midget cars around the Coliseum cranked up. Beginning in 1945, the United Racing Association (URA) ran on a quarter-mile track that was paved right over top of the athletic track. Racing continued through 1948, but under the auspices of the Automobile Association of America (AAA). But with more permanent racetracks populating Southern California, racing at the Coliseum fell by the wayside. That is until 1979, when Mickey Thompson packaged off-road racing into his innovative stadium series, with the Coliseum serving as his first event of many. Broadcast on ESPN and TNN, it was where an up-and-coming off-road racer with NASCAR ambitions first started making a name for himself. You might’ve heard of him – seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jimmie Johnson.
● NASCAR kicks of its 76th season in 2024 and, for many of the previous years, the sanctioning body began its annual campaign at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Starting the year in California isn’t a break from tradition, necessarily. In fact, you could argue it’s a return to a previous tradition. The 2022 Clash at The Coliseum marked the first time since 1981 that NASCAR didn’t start its season at Daytona. But starting the year off in California was not new. In 1965 and again from 1970 to 1981, the NASCAR Cup Series’ season-opening race took place at Riverside International Raceway, a road course approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Riverside is long gone, the site now home to the Moreno Valley Mall, but the L.A. Coliseum was at 311 Figueroa Street 34 years before Riverside opened its doors in 1957 and it’s still there today. It’s a juxtaposition of old and new, a microcosm of NASCAR’s brave new world.
● In true L.A. fashion, almost any NASCAR Cup Series team can show up at the Coliseum, but not everyone is getting past the velvet ropes to participate in the 150-lap main event. Because the track at the L.A. Coliseum is only a quarter-mile in length – the shortest track the NASCAR Cup Series will compete on in 2023 – only 23 cars can compete in the feature. Getting to the main event is much more arduous than walking the red carpet and slipping the bouncer a $100 bill. Here’s how it works…
● On Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for a dual practice/qualifying session that determines the starting order for four, 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how Saturday’s heat races will be filled out:
- The field will be split into three practice groups, with each group receiving three sessions. The fastest lap time from each competitor’s final practice session will determine the starting lineup for the four heat races. The top-four overall lap times in final practice will earn the pole for each heat race, while the fifth- through eighth-fastest lap times will make up the other half of the front row for each heat.
- The complete field for each heat race will be filled using this methodology: Heat one will be made up of cars listed in overall positions one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37 on the final practice timesheet.
- The top-five finishers (20 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance to the Clash, with the winner of heat one winning the pole and the winner of heat two earning the outside pole.
- The winners of heats three and four will fill out the second row, with the remaining order being determined in the same manner.
- The remaining finishing positions from each heat that did not advance will continue to Sunday’s 75-lap Last Chance Qualifying (LCQ) race. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:
- The starting order will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.
- The sixth-place finisher from heat one will be on the pole for the LCQ race. The sixth-place finisher from heat two will be on the outside pole. This pattern will continue to fill out the remaining LCQ field.
- The top-two finishers from the LCQ race will advance to the Clash, filling out positions 21 and 22.
- The 23rd and final spot in the Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2023 championship standings who does not transfer on finishing position in their heat race or in their LCQ race.
- All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend.
Martin Truex Jr.
How important was winning the Clash last year to start the season in a positive direction for the No. 19 team?
“I think it was definitely a huge part. It builds confidence and particularly in the decision-making process. We went to the Clash in 2022 and we were absolutely awful. It was like, ‘OK, we need to change everything around.’ To have the guys come with a new setup and be as good as we were all weekend long, it was a huge boost to start the year. You always want to start the season strong, exhibition race or not. You want to go out there and win and get your confidence going. That just kicked things off for us and we knew we were back. We knew we could do it but, until you actually do it, you always have that question in the back of your mind. That weekend answered the question that we could still win races. It really set off our season on a good note, and we looked forward to the weekly grind after that because we knew we had something to run up front and compete for wins each and every week with our Bass Pro Shops Camry XSE.”
With the short, tight, quarter-mile track, what does your car have to do and what does it take to succeed at the Coliseum from a mechanical standpoint?
“It’s really difficult to make your car do everything you want it to do. You have to stop and you have to turn and you have to have drive-off the corner. It sounds easy, but the place is so small and so flat and these cars don’t want anything to do with a small, flat track. You have to keep the left-front brake from locking up, that’s a big key. As every short track, you have to get the car rotated and you have to get the power down. It’s very difficult to do there, no doubt.
With the struggles of 2022, was it reinvigorating to get back on track in 2023 with three wins and also adding the non-points Clash win, as well?
“That’s what we set out to do when the year started and it’s nice when a plan comes together. We had a great regular season and got back to victory lane a few times, and we were really consistent during the regular season and led a lot of laps. We just got to what we are used to doing – running up front and leading laps and putting ourselves in that conversation each weekend and have a shot to win a bunch of races. We let some get away and finished the deal on some, and the playoffs didn’t go as well as we had hoped. Hopefully this year we can come out and clean some things up and step up a notch farther.”
The Clash at the Coliseum is now in its third year. How has the event evolved?
“It’s been a fun event over the past few years – that event, with it kicking off the season and going somewhere new and doing something different. We don’t need to do it at Daytona, and I think taking the Clash to a new area and a different part of the country was a good thing. I think moving it around and keep doing it somewhere different would be cool, much like they’ve done with the race in L.A. Now that they’ve unlocked that way of doing things, to put a track into a stadium, now they know they can build a track anywhere and pretty quickly. Gives you options for the future, for sure.”
Are you excited for the Clash since you are the defending race-winner, and do you like some of the changes NASCAR made to the format?
“I am looking forward to defending the Clash victory and excited to get out there and see if we can do it again. I like the new format with not having to qualify and going off practice times because, last year, we were really fast in practice – I think fastest overall. And then in qualifying, we had to go out after one of those long commercial breaks and the track cooled off and we qualified bad and had to start in a bad spot for our heat race. But, overall, what we learned last year should really be helpful and hopefully we can find a little bit more from there and go back it up this year with our Bass Pro Shops Camry XSE.”