LOS ANGELES — After starting on the pole, Kyle Busch wasn’t able to hold on for a second consecutive Busch Light Clash victory, this time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Last year in the exhibition race, Busch took advantage of a crash between Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott during the final lap on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. This time around, a hard-charging Busch was unable to get to the back bumper of race winner Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford in the closing laps on the quarter-mile temporary track.
But it wasn’t from a lack of effort as he managed to muscle his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a runner-up result in its Next Gen competitive debut.
“I was being perfect doing everything I needed to do – keep the tires underneath me,” Busch said. “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.”
While Busch showcased speed throughout the weekend, it may be too early to tell if he’ll be a front-runner to start the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season given how unique the Coliseum circuit is compared to others on the schedule.
Other teams in the Gibbs stable struggled, most notably Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., who finished 23rd and 15th, respectively. For Busch, it was a good base run to move forward with as the organization continues to fine tune the Next Gen cars.
“Felt like coming in here off of the truck we were OK,” Busch said. “Made good speed right away. Even in our house, had a struggle. (No.) 19 (Truex) was way off. Definitely some little, little things on the setup sheet can certainly make for a big difference on the track.”
“The teams I think is the biggest thing, obviously, just car setup, what you can do with the car to make it drive well here, make the tight radius of the turn versus anywhere else really,” Busch added. “Even Martinsville, I think it’s probably pretty different than.”
Another caveat to Busch’s impressive run out of the gate was interim crew chief Seth Chavka, filling in for Ben Beshore due to a one-race suspension for a lug-nut violation carried over from last season’s championship finale at Phoenix Raceway. Chavka also filled in for Beshore last October at Texas Motor Speedway for another lug-nut violation.
Though the Coliseum race might be an anomaly, Chavka, a race engineer on the No. 18 team, believes the strong run still fueled confidence with the new car.
“We just came from the Phoenix test a couple weeks ago and had a couple things we learned there and kind of applied it to the race-car setup package coming here,” Chavka told NASCAR.com. “Seemed to be pretty decent off the truck and made some small adjustments here and there. For the most part, it went pretty smooth. The best part for us team is just the chance to go through tech and go through the new process with the car. See what the officials are looking at and that type of thing.”