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February 26, 2023

Stage 2 stack-up snarls nine cars at Auto Club

Several cars stacked up in a Stage 2 restart, thinning the field of potential contenders in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

When the green flag flew on Lap 86 of 200 in the Pala Casino 400, the middle of the pack jammed up behind Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford, sending several cars skidding on the frontstretch. Eliminated were the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola, the No. 41 Mustang of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Preece, the No. 45 Toyota of 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick and pole-starter Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

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Reddick was among those drivers dipping low to take evasive action, but Bell’s car ricocheted off the outside retaining wall, sweeping the Fords of Preece and Almirola into his path.

“I saw it stacked up pretty bad,” Reddick said after a check at the infield care center. He finished 34th in the 36-car field. “I saw the car behind me kind of laid off to get a really big run, so I kind of elected to make the decision to go to the bottom and get around it. Unfortunately, I think Ryan (Blaney) had the same idea. We just got collected and went through the grass and the right front of The Beast Unleashed Toyota Camry TRD was broke.”

Bell led just the first lap, but finished 32nd after completing just 88 of the 200 laps.

“Yeah, just the same thing that everybody already said – you can’t see what’s going on,” Bell said of the clogged track in the mishap. “You are just going off the guy in front of you and all of sudden he slows down and I got into him, and other guys got into me.”

Teammates Almirola and Preece were critical of the circumstances.

“I took off on the restart and went from second to third gear and all of a sudden everybody in front of us just stopped,” said Almirola, who wound up 35th. “I think the leader was just playing games, trying to prevent the runs coming from behind and they stopped in the middle of the restart zone was right about where they should have been accelerating. It was just a huge accordion effect. We were back in 16th, so everybody just started stacking up and you can’t stop on a dime. It’s disappointing to get wrecked out of the race like that on a silly Mickey Mouse restart, but I should have known better.”

Said Preece, who finished 33rd to open his SHR tenure with two straight DNFs: “It’s kind of stupid, to be honest with you on a professional level and we all wreck on a restart. I don’t know what happened, but just a victim of circumstances. It sucks. I was racing around Aric and we were just trying to be smart and get to the end of the race. Something like that, you’re not expecting everyone to wreck coming to the restart line.

“It’s unfortunate. That adjustment could have gotten us a lot better and we could have kept on making little gains. That was our goal, not to beat ourselves and just be there in the last 50 or 60. That’s why we stayed out that run, to see what our car would do in clean air and if we needed to work on it, which we did, and I felt like we just kept on making it better and better. It’s really a bad ending for this HaasTooling Ford Mustang, and even Aric, so we just have to go to Vegas and be on offense and start digging out of this hole we’re in right now.”

Other drivers sustaining damage were Ryan Blaney, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland, Cody Ware and Ty Dillon.