Kyle Busch applauds NASCAR decision to move Clash to Saturday

LOS ANGELES—The decision was courageous and unprecedented, and it found favor with the NASCAR Cup Series drivers scheduled to race in Sunday‘s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.

Because of a dire weather forecast for Sunday and several days beyond, NASCAR opted to move the season-opening exhibition race to Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. NASCAR made the move after consultation with its FOX Sports television partners and the management of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Kyle Busch was vocal in his praise of the decision, which ultimately was governed by potential public safety issues from heavy rains and possible flooding.

“No question—I think today is an unprecedented mark in our sport and one that I think all of us will applaud NASCAR and FOX and everybody on for giving us a chance to get a race in today,” Busch said. “I don‘t know if we would have been able to do it before Wednesday. And would we even have been here on Wednesday?

“This is the best chance that we had, and I feel like it was a very good move.”

Busch, who finished second and third, respectively, in the first two editions of the Clash at the Coliseum, didn‘t think the revised schedule would have a negative effect on the performance of his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

“You better be ready when you get here,” Busch said. “It‘s all good. It‘s already done, so (we‘re) ready for what we have in store for today—just get out there on the track, run some practice laps, get some qualifying laps in hopefully that are good and get us in the top 22 to be in the show and from there, go race it out.”

For Ryan Blaney, a championship means changes—and good ones at that 

NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney arrived in Southern California for Saturday‘s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum poised to start the momentum toward a second title after an offseason filled with new experiences, plenty of championship feting and most importantly, an engagement.

Blaney, who turned 30 on New Year‘s Eve, got engaged to his long-time girlfriend Gianna Tulio in December—big life events for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion whose spent the months since he won the title happily serving as NASCAR‘s competitive ambassador. Blaney has made media appearances in all the big markets, sat courtside at high profile NBA games and received a whole new level of recognition everywhere he‘s been.

Of the new profile, Blaney insists the best part is the good vibes generated by his No. 12 Penske Racing Ford team.

“It‘s nice to walk around, you‘re like, ‘Man, I feel like I‘ve done something really nice for the whole company and organization, for RP (team owner Roger Penske) and everyone working there,‘ “ Blaney said Saturday from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“I don‘t want to say you feel validated in being there, because everyone always believes in you, but it‘s just like a personal confidence-booster. It‘s nice to feel part of that champion group that‘s won for RP, so it personally makes you feel a little bit better and a little bit more certified in being there and racing for the cause each week.”

One of the most personally rewarding things, Blaney concedes, is seeing the words “NASCAR Cup Series Champion” on his 2024 driver‘s suit.

“That meant a lot—it did mean a ton,‘‘ Blaney said. “It was one of those things that was like a month removed from all those celebrations and it‘s in the new year, but you see that—you get the trophy, you get the Goodyear car, you get the ring and then once the banquet is done that stuff is over.

“You‘ve got all of that stuff, but then it‘s a nice little refresher for the new year when you pull out the fire suit from the bag and you see the champion logo beneath the NASCAR logo.

“That part was nice. You look at that every morning, at least I will on race day. You look at it and it‘s one of those little things you notice. It‘s kind of a nice little reminder.”

Denny Hamlin happy to start 2024 season with health issues behind him

In racing parlance, you can now say Denny Hamlin has fresh rubber on all four corners.

Hamlin, who was playing hurt during last season‘s NASCAR Cup Series Playoff, needed surgery in November to repair a condition in which his collar bone intruded into the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Starting in 2010 with an operation to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, Hamlin now has had surgery on both knees and both shoulders.

“I feel like it‘s progressing really well,” said Hamlin, who also got engaged to long-time girlfriend Jordan Fish during the offseason. “While not 100 percent, (it‘s) certainly better than it ended last season. Ran enough laps in the sim (simulator) and other places to feel pretty good at it.

“Actually, I‘m happy to start the season knowing that I don‘t have any physical ailments ahead of me. I feel really good about that, for sure.”

Hamlin, 43, and Fish have two daughters together. They announced their engagement on New Year‘s day.

“It‘s good,” Hamlin said. “Certainly, age is all a factor, right? Certainly, the relationship that you‘ve got… She‘s a great mom, a great partner and glad to move forward.”

It‘s a new chapter for 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott

There are few drivers on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series grid more eager for a season re-start than 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. The series‘ reigning—and perpetual—Most Popular Driver broke his leg in a snowboarding accident early last year and missed six races while recovering.

The lost time behind the wheel of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and a highly competitive title essentially proved too big an obstacle to overcome. Elliott missed the Playoffs for the first time in his eight-year full-time career. It was Elliott‘s first non-winning season since 2017 and so, understandably, the 28-year-old is eager for this year‘s first green flag.

“I‘m excited for another year,‘‘ said Elliott, who had left shoulder surgery during the offseason.

“For me, the way it feels, my career doesn‘t feel like one book, and every season is another chapter. It feels like every year is a whole different book in itself, and I think they have all had different feels, to me. Every year, from my rookie year up to last year, has felt so entirely different. I closed that book up and will try again. I‘m thankful for the opportunity and ready to go to work.”

Elliott‘s last victories came in a five-win 2022 season. He finished 21st in last year‘s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. His best career finish in the annual preseason exhibition is runner-up in 2021, when the race was run at Daytona International Speedway.

— NASCAR Wire Service —

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