CONCORD, N.C. – While this weekend’s Clash at the Coliseum serves as an exhibition kickoff to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, there is still a trophy on the line (and medals for the top-three finishers).
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum serves as the host venue with a temporary .25-mile track constructed inside the historic venue. It is a unique weekend with drivers split into three groups for three timed practice sessions on Saturday, Feb. 4, starting at 6 p.m. ET (coverage on FS1). Qualifying (Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) will determine the lineups for the four heat races.
Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman will be in practice group one, while Chase Elliott will be in practice group three. The qualifying order was determined by last year's owner points position. Bowman will head out 22nd, Elliott will go 30th, Byron will make his qualifying run 31st and Larson will be the 34th driver to take time.
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Sunday, Feb. 5, will see the four heat races (starting at 5 p.m. ET on FOX) set 20 of the 27 spots in the main field as the top-five finishers in heat will advance to the main event. Two last chance qualifiers will allow for the top-three finishers in those races to advance on as well with the final spot going to the driver highest in 2022 driver points that has yet to lock into the field.
All that said, there is a good bit of track time on tap this weekend. For a new pairing, like Bowman and Blake Harris of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet team, that time and ability to work on communication is invaluable.
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"Working on communication with Alex (Bowman) is the highest priority," Harris said. "Everything about that race is just different. The main thing we are going to try to take away is how we discuss changes that need to be made to the car and really just the communication between myself, Alex and the entire team for that whole practice session."
While the No. 5 team of Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels are entering their third season together, Daniels also sees the non-points event as a great chance to work through a multitude of things.
"Throughout the garage, everyone who is a competitor – if NASCAR is hosting a race – we are going to be at, we want to win," Daniels told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "The Clash does several things for us. It gives you a great opportunity before the start of the season to flex your team and flex the system and the processes that you’ve built over the winter that you’ve refined. All the things we are working towards and using it as a competitive event that you want to win, but also use it as a great dry run because points aren’t on the line. A trophy and a checkered flag are of course on the line. To be able to go there and improve anything that you can right away before you get to Daytona (International Speedway) helps plenty."
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Last season marked the first time that the LA Coliseum hosted the Clash. Prior to that, Daytona International Speedway had hosted the event on the traditional oval layout from 1979 to 2020 and once on the road course configuration in 2021.
Larson earned a top-five finish in last year’s race. The 2021 Cup Series champion took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the track in December and noted how he enjoyed being able to watch some of the heat races he wasn’t in from a different perspective.
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"I had a lot of fun at that event last year," Larson said. "Just a really cool opportunity to race in a historic place like that. Ready to get back there and get our season started and hopefully do a little bit better than we did last year.
"We didn’t know what to expect going into it last year. I thought it was going to be really, really hard to pass and it seemed like if you had a good car, you could move up pretty easily. I had a lot of fun with it. It was one of the more fun races we had during the season."
Tune in to watch the 150-lap main event of the Clash will begin at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 5 with coverage on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).