PREVIEW: Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum

By: Ashley McCubbin

The off-season is finally coming close, and stock car fans will be treated to action on the track, courtesy of the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series. The anticipation will come to a clash, in the form of the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.

The inaugural event last year proved to be a good idea, as racing product on-track was solid all day, with battles all day long, even with the possibility to go three-wide at times despite how tight. There were some bumps, but isn’t that what every short track fan knows well? It got a little chaotic in the second Last Chance Qualifier, but that’s to be expected in knowing go or you’re left watching.

That event in 2022 was won by Joey Logano, which explains why the odd makers have him as one of the three favorites to win the event at +1000. The Team Penske driver dominated, pacing 35 laps at the end of the race to secure the victory in smooth fashion. When you consider he has the best average of active drivers at the next tightest track on the schedule (Martinsville Speedway) in the past 10 races with nine top-10’s, the success proved to be no surprise. In fact, the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford is considered a short track ace by many with his average ranking in the top-five of active drivers for the past 10 races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway, as well.

The other two who the odd makers are turning to? Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.

Larson placed fifth in the inaugural event, and holds the best average finish of active drivers in the last 10 races at Bristol (6.3) including a victory in 2021. Whether he is able to repeat the performance will be intriguing, considering he’s not a short track threat on a regular basis if you peer into his history at Martinsville or Richmond.

Elliott, meanwhile, found himself placing 11th at the Busch Light Clash in 2022, thanks to a spin mid-way through the event. However, that should not take him out of the conversation in knowing how much short track experience he has in late models. He also knows what it takes to get the job done at Bristol with an All-Star Race victory there, and won at Martinsville Speedway in 2020.

A lot of people may be overlooking Kyle Busch as this will mark his debut with Richard Childress Racing, but you cannot ignore his performance last season. Perhaps that’s why he ranks fourth right behind the trio on the odd-makers sheet. He led a race-high 65 laps, and was catching Logano at the end until he overcooked his equipment. He’s also known for his short track success, with multiple wins at both Richmond and Bristol. The aggressive nature of his driving may be what you need to focus on, as well, as a little bump in the tight corners may be the secret to success.

RCR knows how to have success at the Coliseum, with Austin Dillon placing third behind Logano and Busch last season. An oddity is that performance, though, when you consider Dillon’s average finish over the past 10 races at the trio of short tracks does not put him inside the top-nine of his competitors.

Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher could play factor, as they won the most recent short track events on the Cup Series calendar, and Bell placed eighth at the Clash in 2022. The success for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver expands beyond that, as he has an average finish of sixth in five starts at Richmond to go with his Martinsville clutch victory. Buescher, meanwhile, accompanied his Bristol win with a third at Richmond.

Bell’s teammate Denny Hamlin should be mentioned, as he was king of short tracks on the Cup Series schedule for the longest time, and only placed 23rd in the inaugural event due to a power steering failure. He has a win and eight top-five’s in his last 10 races at Richmond for a series-high average of 5.3, accompanied by six top-10’s in his last 10 appearances at Martinsville.

All Hail the Melon was the chant at Martinsville, when Ross Chastain made that desperate pass in the final stages to secure his way into the Championship 4. The only issue with him is he has not made many friends, and the shorter the track, the more likely something could occur. Hamlin would lead the suspects, by the way, as their history is richer than most. He should be able to hold his own, though, scoring three top-10’s in the five short tracks event in 2022.

With all the focus on Jimmie Johnson and the rebranding of GMS Racing to Legendary Motor Club, let’s take a look at the driver line-up, considering Erik Jones placed fifth in the inaugural event. There may be headlines for a new reason this weekend, but seem highly unlikely after watching him fail to score a top-15 in the five short tracks. The difference maker? Enter Noah Gragson, who embarks on his rookie campaign in the Cup Series. He was able to score victories in the Xfinity Series, including a bump and run on his own teammate Justin Allgaier at Bristol to secure a win.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s