Thursday, February 2, 2023

PREVIEW: It's back to the Clash, where a few new faces are in new rides

PHOTO: Brock Beard

Sunday, February 5, 2023 (Heat Races 5:00 P.M. ET, Main Event 8:00 P.M. ET)
CUP Exhibition Race
Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Denny Hamlin

Just like last year’s inaugural, only the 36 Chartered entries will be making the trip to Los Angeles. This year's race will be held under the lights, featuring a main event with 27 starters instead of last year's 23.

TEAM UPDATE: #4-Stewart-Haas Racing
As announced earlier this month, the 2023 season will mark Kevin Harvick’s 23rd and final season in Cup competition, during which he will cross the career mark of 800 Cup Series starts. The 2007 Daytona 500 winner and 2014 series champion kicks off his final season in team sponsor Busch Light’s race, where he finished 10th in last year’s inaugural.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-Richard Childress Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #23-23XI Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #45-23XI Racing
Last year’s surprising announcement that Tyler Reddick would leave RCR to join 23XI Racing in 2024 changed abruptly with Kansas winner Kurt Busch’s decision to step aside from full-time competition after his concussion suffered in Pocono. Reddick drives the #45, which most recently was run by Bubba Wallace after the 23XI teams swapped numbers to continue Busch’s battle for the Owner’s Championship. Wallace returns to the #23 in place of Daniel Hemric, the eleventh-hour substitution at Phoenix for Busch’s original relief driver Ty Gibbs. Gibbs stepped out of the car following the tragic death of his father Coy Gibbs just hours after celebrating Ty’s XFINITY Series Championship. Ty races in his memory in the #54, his own XFINITY number and Monster Energy sponsorship taking the place of Joe Gibbs Racing’s #18 entry previously driven by Kyle Busch since 2008, a partnership ended after the departure of longtime sponsor M&M’s. This marks the first season without the #18 as a full-time JGR entry since 1991, just before the team’s founding. Kyle Busch slides into Reddick’s former ride at RCR, and carries many of his predecessor’s sponsors, including Lenovo, 3CHI, and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen.

TEAM UPDATE: #10-Stewart-Haas Racing
While Aric Almirola originally planned to retire from full-time competition last year, he changed those plans well before the 2022 season ended. He will again run with Smithfield as sponsor of his #10 Ford.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing
J.J. Yeley will make his first trip to the L.A. Coliseum as driver of Rick Ware’s Ford, taking the place of Garrett Smithley, who finished 33rd in last fall’s Phoenix finale. Yeley made 19 Cup starts last year, most often in the RWR #15 entry, and most recently finished 30th at Martinsville.

TEAM UPDATE: #16-Kaulig Racing
For the first time since 2018, A.J. Allmendinger is a full-time Cup Series driver. After finding a new home at Kaulig Racing, Allmendinger has become a regular XFINITY Series championship contender. He now takes over the #16 entry on the Cup side, which last year Allmendinger shared with Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson. This will be Allmendinger’s second start in the Coliseum, where he finished 9th in last year’s main event.

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Stewart-Haas Racing
After one year as Stewart-Haas Racing’s reserve driver, Ryan Preece gets his second and best chance at competing full-time in the Cup Series. After paying his dues at both Premium Motorsports and JTG-Daugherty Racing, then breaking through with two Truck Series wins, Preece now takes the wheel of SHR’s #41 Ford, taking the place of a struggling Cole Custer. As Custer returns to the XFINITY Series in SHR’s #00, Preece looks to further improve on his 2022 performance the Coliseum, where he tapped into his extensive NASCAR Modified Series experience. Preece qualified for last year’s main event, where a loss of oil pressure left him in 20th.

DRIVER CHANGE / TEAM UPDATE: #42-Legacy Motor Club
TEAM UPDATE: #43-Legacy Motor Club
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Last November’s announcement that Jimmie Johnson had joined Petty GMS Racing as partner was followed this offseason by a complete rebrand of the two-car team, now called Legacy Motor Club. As Johnson prepares for his series return in this month’s Daytona 500, his first Cup start since the 2020 finale at Phoenix, Legacy’s other two entries make the trip to Los Angeles. While Darlington winner Erik Jones returns as driver of the #43, Ty Dillon has parted ways with the #42 team, joining Spire’s #77 entry most recently run by Landon Cassill. Taking Ty’s place in the #42 is Noah Gragson, who like Preece and Allmendinger moves from part-time to full-time Cup competition. Gragson will compete against Ty Gibbs for Rookie of the Year just weeks after Gragson and two of his JR Motorsports teammates came up just short of besting Gibbs for the XFINITY title.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (February 2, 2000): Happy Birthday to Lawless Alan, the last-place finisher of the 2021 Truck Series finale at Phoenix, where his #45 Chevrolet crashed after 11 laps. Lawless will return to run another season with Niece Motorsports. 

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