LOS ANGELES – Justin Haley set the fastest lap in Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum qualifying Saturday night at the quarter-mile purpose-built track inside the famous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The 23-year-old Indiana native drove the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet to the top qualifying position with a lap of 67.099 mph and will start out front for one of the four heat races Sunday afternoon to formally set the 27-car field for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum non-points exhibition opener Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Two-time series champion Kyle Busch will be making his debut for the Richard Childress Racing team from the front row of the second heat race; his No. 8 RCR Chevrolet was second fastest overall at 66.406 mph.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, who advanced to the 2022 Championship 4 round, will start his No. 20 JGR Toyota on pole in the third heat race and Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will start the No. 24 Chevrolet out front in the fourth heat race.
“I feel like we were a pretty good car in practice there, just wasn’t getting the full potential out of the race car and obviously in qualifying our lap was just dominant,” Haley said. “I feel pretty confident about where we are. It’s obviously a good place to start the season. Not sure why we’re so good here. I wish I had this talent at all the races but pretty thankful and it’s really cool to give Kaulig Racing their first pole, my first pole as a driver in my second year as a driver here.”
The qualifying session consisted of three laps – one warm-up and two timed, the faster of the two-timed laps counting toward their starting position in the four heat races.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr., who was fastest after practice Saturday afternoon, was only 22nd fastest in the night-time qualifier.
Two cars – the No. 54 JGR Toyota driven by Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ty Gibbs and the No. 12 Team Penske Ford driven by Ryan Blaney – will both start last in their heat races. Blaney’s qualifying time was 11th fastest at the time but ultimately disallowed because after spinning on a hot lap he drove the wrong direction to the back straightaway and spun his car around to complete the lap at speed. It’s illegal to drive backward on track.
Gibbs was also penalized after it was determined his Joe Gibbs Racing crew made unapproved adjustments just prior to the qualifying session. Gibbs’ Toyota caught fire during the final practice session and was taken to the garage for repairs. The team was able to fix it without going to a backup car, however NASCAR determined some of the repairs fell into the “unapproved adjustments” penalty category.
“First off want to thank my whole Monster Energy team they’ve worked so hard,” Gibbs said. “We have to start last in the heat race but we’ve got a great car.
“It’ll be fun,” he added with a smile.
The format to set the 27-car feature field Sunday afternoon includes four 25-lap heat races with the top-five finishers advancing to the feature. There will then be a pair of ‘last chance qualifiers’ with the top-three finishers in each advancing to the feature with one final starting spot awarded to the highest 2022 championship finisher that hadn’t moved into the main event field otherwise. Nine cars entered will miss the feature show.
After going winless in 2022, Truex Jr. got his 2023 campaign off on the right foot as he set the early pace in opening practice for the Busch Light Clash. His No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fastest in both the opening practices, setting the fastest lap of 67.360 mph on the quarter-mile track.
Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace, who drives the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, was second fastest followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 Ford. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet and Blaney rounded out the top five in practice.
Briscoe, who was also fast Saturday, had an incident with the wall between Turns 3 and 4 in the final practice session. While racing hard alongside A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet for several laps, the two cars touched multiple times before Allmendinger nudged Briscoe’s No. 14 SHR Ford into the wall. There wasn’t any major damage incurred and both cars continued.
All but one car among the 36 entered this weekend turned practice laps faster than the pole-winning speed in 2022.
Defending winner Logano was only 21st quickest in practice and spun out in the third session after contact with Tyler Reddick.