Ryan Blaney made the most of the provisional he needed for a spot in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, earning a place on the podium alongside winner Denny Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch. Not typically a thing in NASCAR, the winner’s podium with its medals for the top three was a salute to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s history as an Olympic venue.
The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion was not fast enough to earn a spot in the field on his qualifying speed. Blaney needed to be in the top 22 to lock himself into the event, but he wound up 26th on the chart. The Clash field, however, has 23 drivers, and the final spot goes to the driver highest in points from the 2023 season who is not yet locked into the race.
Blaney took the provisional and started last. A methodical drive to the front put the Team Penske driver in position to contend for the victory when the final caution flew with 10 laps to go. Blaney restarted second on the outside of the front row before ultimately settling for a third-place finish.
“The plan was not to take a provisional,” Blaney said. “Our group was pretty slow. I guess we just couldn’t go, so we were lucky that we got in the race and then we did a good job all night. We just kind of stayed clean, and our car was fast, too, to just kind of drive up through the field. A couple of restarts went our way to where our lanes went.”
It took time for Blaney to get there, and his average running position through 150 laps was 13.3. The race’s first half nearly went caution-free until a spin one lap short of the break halted the action. Blaney was running 15th midway through the race.
However, clocked as the fastest driver on restarts, Blaney charged into the top 10 when four cautions occurred in the race’s second half. He also took advantage of the choose rule, lining up fourth with 10 laps to go and then second on the final restart.
Blaney pulled himself into contention in the closing stages but third was the best he could manage. Motorsport Images
“I had a shot,” Blaney said. “I got a terrible restart on the last one, but I probably wouldn’t have won anyway. We came from a long way back, so it was fun. I think every time I’ve been here, I’ve been spun backward two or three times, so it’s nice not to have that at the last one. It’s good.”
It is the best finish Blaney had earned in a Clash event and his first top-five finish in three starts in L.A. It is also the first time since 2020 in a Clash event that Blaney has finished inside the top 10.
Saturday’s race was moved up by a day and condensed because of severe weather expected in the area for the remainder of the weekend.
“The demographic and the way that they kind of pulled the trigger on today trying to get it in, I think that was really smart by NASCAR,” Blaney said of the third edition of The Clash in L.A. “Maybe it doesn’t show in the stands just because of what it was, but it gets a lot of support, and you also have the NASCAR Mexico Series here too. I think that’s good as well to kind of grow their side. It’s a neat area to do it in.”