LOS ANGELES — At the end of a transformative NASCAR experience that took the City of Angels by storm, Joey Logano held off hard-charging pole winner Kyle Busch to triumph in Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
Logano got the lead on Lap 116, moments before Kyle Larson retaliated against Justin Haley for earlier contact that was not of Haley’s doing. Larson steered toward the bottom of the track, knocking Haley’s Chevrolet into the concrete Jersey barrier on the front stretch.
In the competitive debut of the Next Gen race car, Logano had control of the race for the restart on Lap 117 and held the top spot to the finish, with Busch frustrated in pursuit on the quarter-mile track built for the NASCAR Cup Series event in iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of NASCAR’s daring foray into downtown LA.
“I can’t believe it,” Logano exulted after the race. “We’re here. The LA Coliseum. We got the victory with the old Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. This is an amazing event. Congratulations, NASCAR. Such a huge step in our industry to be able to do this, put on an amazing race for everybody.
“I’m out of breath. I was so excited about this. This is a big win. My wife is having a baby tomorrow, our third one, so a pretty big weekend for us.”
It was an exhibition race — but what an exhibition. Rapper Pitbull, who co-owns Trackhouse Racing with Justin Marks, warmed up the crowd with a 45-minute set before the green flag. At the halfway break in the 150-lap event, crews changed tires and made adjustments to the Next Gen cars as rapper Ice Cube filled the Coliseum with a performance of his own.
A pantheon of California sports stars — among them former University of Southern California tailback Reggie Bush and LA Dodgers manager Dave Roberts — joined NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon in a corps of grand marshals and shouted the command to start engines.
The race itself crystallized into a battle among Logano, Busch, Larson and Austin Dillon. After the final restart, Larson briefly took second from Busch, who regained the spot with more than 20 laps left and charged after Logano.
“I was being perfect doing everything I needed to do — keep the tires underneath me,” said Busch, who led a race-high 64 laps. “When I got close, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to try more and pounce at an opportunity,’ and just overheated the tires and smoked them in three laps and that was it. Disappointing, obviously.
“Come out here and win the pole, and lead laps, run up front. The finish goes green and it’s not chaotic and we can’t win, so it sucks. Congratulations to my son (Brexton Busch) – he won yesterday. That’s cool. I was trying to match him. He’s winning more than me these days, so somebody better send him a contract.”
Dillon passed Larson to finish third, and Erik Jones ran fourth after overtaking the reigning Cup Series champion in the closing laps. Larson held fifth, as William Byron, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, AJ Allmendinger and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
Busch earned the pole position for the main event with a wire-to-wire victory in Sunday’s first heat race, with Daniel Suarez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney joining him in the Clash as the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers.
Blaney used his bumper to shove past Denny Hamlin to claim the final transfer spot from the opening heat.
In fact, drivers who started first won all four heat races, with no one else leading a lap. Tyler Reddick dominated Heat 2 — winning by a full straightaway — as Chase Briscoe, Dillon and Custer qualified behind him.
Driving for Kaulig Racing’s newly minted NASCAR Cup Series team, Haley took the third heat, with Byron, Bell and Chase Elliott joining him in the main event. In Heat 4, Logano and Larson ran 1-2, with defending Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell and Jones taking the final two transfer positions.
Hamlin made the Clash by winning the first of two Last Chance Qualifiers, with Harvick and Allmendinger finishing second and third to advance.
If the first LCQ was relatively tame by short-track standards, the second was utter chaos. After hitting everything but the lottery, as FOX broadcaster Mike Joy put it, Ty Dillon took the checkered flag but was demoted to the rear for jumping the final restart with three of the 50 laps left.
That gave Ryan Preece the race win and the final two transfer spots to Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton, who was spun while leading on Lap 47.
The second LCQ featured seven cautions and saw strong contenders Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman eliminated when their cars sustained irreparable damage.
Sunday’s Clash exhibition race was a historic day for the sport, marking the first time the event was held outside of Daytona International Speedway. The LA Memorial Coliseum, home to the USC Trojans, was transformed from grass to a 0.25-mile asphalt circuit.
Post-race technical inspection is complete in the Cup garage, confirming Logano as the race winner.
The NASCAR Cup Series will return to action Feb. 15-20 at Daytona.