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Martin Truex Jr. – Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum

Entering his fifth season under the JGR banner, Martin Truex Jr. has become quite the short-track ace during his first four 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 with three wins each on the Virginia shorts track at 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.

Event Overview

● Event: Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum

● Time/Date: 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 5

● Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

● Layout: Quarter-mile oval

● Format: 150-lap Feature with a 27-car field set by Heats and Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ)

● TV/Radio: FOX / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

● Note: Heats and LCQ are broadcast live from 5-7 p.m. EST. Feature airs live at 8 p.m. EST.

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Truex will participate in the Clash for the 12th time in his career this weekend. His best finish of second came in the 2015 edition at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the traditional home for the non-points event before last year’s inaugural race at the Coliseum. Truex started 23rd and brought home a 15th-place finish at the event in 2022.

 

● History was made last February when the NASCAR Cup Series competed for the first time at the 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, quarter-mile paved oval built 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 coming into the event, it proved to be an absolute success. The buzz was palpable throughout the weekend, and more than 70 percent of ticket buyers were first-time NASCAR attendees. And with 4.3 million viewers tuned into the live TV broadcast on FOX, its ratings were 168 percent higher than the previous year’s Busch Light Clash, which was held at Daytona and broadcast on FS1. It was the Clash’s best rating since 2016, when it was broadcast on FOX. On Twitter, NASCAR was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States during the race, besting the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which was held the same day.

 

● While NASCAR certainly made history last year 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 the top of the athletic track. Racing continued through 1948, but under the auspices of the Automobile Association of America (AAA). As more permanent racetracks began 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 across the country. 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 – none other than seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

 

● NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023, and for most of those years the sanctioning body began its annual campaign at Daytona. Starting the year in California isn’t a break from tradition, necessarily. In fact, it could be argued that it’s a return to a previous tradition. Last year’s Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum marked the first time since 1981 that NASCAR didn’t start its season at Daytona. But starting the year 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 that was 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 Coliseum is only a quarter-mile in length – the shortest track the NASCAR Cup Series will compete on in 2023 – only 27 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:

●  Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for practice prior to single-car qualifying to determine the starting order for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how the heat races will be filled out:

 

●  The top-four fastest qualifiers from Saturday’s single-car qualifying session will be on the pole for each heat race, while cars that qualified fifth through eighth will make up the other half of the front row in each heat.

 

● The remainder of each field will be filled using this methodology: Heat one will be made up of cars with qualifying positions of one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37.

 

● The top-five finishers (20 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance to the Busch Light 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 finishers from each heat that did not advance will continue to one of two 50-lap Last Chance Qualifying (LCQ) races. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:

 

● The starting order for these two events will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.

 

● Those who did not advance from heats one and three will make up the first LCQ race. The second race will be made up of those from heats two and four.

 

● The sixth-place finishers from heats one and two will be on the pole in their respective LCQ races. The sixth-place finishers from heats three and four will be on the outside pole.

●This pattern will continue to fill out the remaining cars in each LCQ.

 

● The top-three finishers (six total cars) from each LCQ race will advance to the Busch Light Clash, filling out positions 21-26 of the 27 available positions.

 

● The final spot in the Busch Light Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2022 points 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., Driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry TRD
 

What are you expecting from the NextGen car this year that will be different than last year? Do you think your team will make some gains, especially since some changes had to be made to the back of the car in particular?

 

“I think so, especially on short tracks and road courses, where we had some of our issues. What we’ve seen so far in all of our wind-tunnel testing and everything else I think we’ll be able to make some gains on what we needed last year and what we were lacking. Feeling good about that, but until we go test and also get on the track for real, there’s no guarantee, but it seems like things are lining up that are going to be able to help with what we thought we needed help with last year.”

 

With the experience you gained there last year, what do you expect at this year’s Clash at The Coliseum?

 

“I think the Clash will be a better race overall this year. Last year, there were just so many unknowns. You even had a new car and just, setup-wise, it was all a big guess. We all just got thrown out there, and whoever guessed right was the fastest there last year. I think we’ll see more of a competitive race even though they’ve put down new asphalt. Will the asphalt be any different or will it be exactly the same? It will be interesting to see. I expect a more competitive race and it will be hard to make the show if you are not locked in, for sure.”

 

How did the NextGen cars change your approach to short tracks last year?

 

“Short tracks were a challenge last year for us. It was a lot harder to pass than the previous car at short tracks. With the increased shifting and the way the brakes were on this car, it’s just so much different. I think the shifting has made the biggest difference. But with the braking going along with that, independent rear suspension, and differential and all of those things going on with the bigger brakes that we have now, we almost have more brakes than the tires can even take. So it’s been a challenge not to modulate that and try not to lock up the rear tires, which has been a big issue for us as a team.”

 

What are your expectations for this season as you work to get back in the playoffs and focus on getting into championship contention again?

 

“We are looking forward to the season and we have some pretty high expectations. Winning races and going for another championship is really the only reason why I’m still here, so anything short of that is going to be a disappointment. We’ve got a great team and really no changes other than hopefully the fastest over-the-wall pit crew in the sport. We are pretty excited about that group and what they can get done on pit road for us. It’s going to be all about taking advantage of our opportunities. We had a good season last year, but we didn’t get a win. We had a lot of opportunities to do that but we weren’t able to put one of those away. That’s what we are focused on – how do we not make mistakes and how do we get our cars more competitive more consistently. But I think with the changes NASCAR has made to the cars, I think it’s going to help us. We are fired up and ready to go and I think we are going to make some big problems for a lot of people this year with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota.”

 

No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Team Roster

Primary Team Members

 

Driver: Martin Truex Jr.

Hometown: Mayetta, New Jersey

 

Crew Chief: James Small

Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

 

Car Chief: Chris Jones

Hometown: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

 

Engineer: Nick Burton

Hometown: Arvada, California

 

Engineer: Jeff Curtis

Hometown: Fairfax Station, Virginia

 

Spotter: Drew Herring

Hometown: Benson, North Carolina

Road Crew Members

 

Underneath Mechanic: Ryan Martin

Hometown: Mechanicsburg, Virgina

 

Mechanic: Todd Carmichael

Hometown: Redding, California

 

Interior/Tire Specialist: Tommy DiBlasi

Hometown: Annapolis, Maryland

 

Engine Tuner: Gregg Huls

Hometown: Beatrice, Nebraska

 

Transporter Driver: Kyle Bazzell

Hometown: Fairbury, Illinois

 

Transporter Driver: Eddie DeGroot

Hometown: Baldwinsville, New York

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