LOS ANGELES — NASCAR champion Ryan Blaney needed a provisional to earn a spot in the field for the Clash at the Coliseum on a rushed Saturday of competition as officials hurried to complete the exhibition ahead of a dangerous “Pineapple Express” storm headed toward California.
Denny Hamlin, who wasn’t even sure in December he’d be able to race in the Clash as he healed from offseason shoulder surgery, won the pole. Joey Logano, winner of the inaugural 2022 event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, qualified second.
NASCAR only planned to run heat races Saturday and the main event was scheduled for Sunday. But with heavy rains and flooding expected, NASCAR eliminated the heats, set the field of 23 by practice speeds, and was scheduled to start the race just 30 minutes after qualifying.
Among those who failed to make the race were Daniel Suarez, who is scheduled to run in the NASCAR Mexico Series race after the Clash and former Daytona 500 winners Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon, who finished second in last year’s race.
Also missing the field was two-time championship contender Christopher Bell, who lacked the speed his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had in practice. His Toyota teammates Hamlin, Ty Gibbs and reigning Clash winner Martin Truex Jr. made the race.
Brad Keselowski, meanwhile, qualified for the Clash after missing the cut the first two years of the race.
“It’s good to be in the show, but I don’t want to just be in the show, we want to compete for the win,” Keselowski said.
NASCAR about midday Saturday made the decision to run the Clash Saturday night out of concerns for inclement weather. The heat races were scrapped, but the decision was widely applauded by drivers.
“It’s one of the most logical decisions we’ve made as an industry, potentially ever,” driver Chase Elliott said.
Hamlin, the first driver to hint on social media that the race might be moved up a day, applauded the decision, calling it a “W” for NASCAR.
The NASCAR Mexico Series race will follow for a doubleheader. Spectators on Saturday were already being admitted for free and seating was general admission.
“Thanks to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Los Angeles Public Safety for their partnership and support to make the schedule adjustment for tonight’s event to ensure a safe experience for fans, competitors, and staff,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We understand weather conditions may worsen as the day progresses, so we encourage fans to make decisions in the best interest of safety. We appreciate our fans, partners, and everyone associated with this event on this unprecedented event.”
NASCAR said it would contact Sunday ticket holders and prepaid parking will be fully refunded.
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