For the third year in a row, the LA Memorial Coliseum roared to life with both the screams of fans and the growl of high-octane V8 racing.
This year was a doubleheader with the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum and the return of the NASCAR Mexico Series to the United States with the King Taco La Batalla en El Coliseo.
Due to uncertain weather, the race weekend was packed into one day with practice and qualifying for the Cup Series being shortly followed by the season-opening race. What was free entry to the qualifying event turned into free entry for all.
The weather and sudden schedule change caused performances by Dillon Francis and Machine Gun Kelley as well as other celebrity appearances to be cancelled.
Qualifying ended with Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Sports Clips Haircuts Toyota taking pole position followed by last year’s winner Joey Logano in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Ty Gibbs in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet and Kyle Busch starting fifth in the No. 8 Morgan & Morgan Chevrolet.
Logano got the jump on Hamlin off the green flag but Hamlin took the race, back in turn three of the third lap. Hamlin held the lead until Gibbs took the lead in lap 50 and held it until the restart on lap 71 put him into a battle going three wide with Logano and Busch, where Logano pushed on the outside of turn two to regain the lead.
After halftime, Logano’s lead was threatened as Gibbs chased from behind alongside Busch and Kyle Larson, who drove the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. Another restart on lap 77 finally relieved the pressure Larson was putting on Logano, and a second restart on the same lap allowed Gibbs to take the lead from Logano on lap 78.
“It always kind of turns into a little bit of calamity there,” said Busch. “It did a little bit there toward the end. We always kind of expect that. Fortunately for us, we were on the OK end of it.”
Another restart on lap 140 set up Hamlin in the second row directly behind Gibbs. Hamlin capitalized, going side by side in turn two before ultimately passing Gibbs on the inside of turn four. With just 10 laps to go, Hamlin took first, with Busch and Ryan Blaney, who drove the No. 12 Menards/Great Lakes Flooring Ford, close behind.
Gibbs, now back in fifth place, spun out in turn four with two laps to go, triggering yet another restart. The lap 148 restart forced Hamlin, Busch and Blaney to enter an aggressive two-lap push. Hamlin dive-bombed each corner, locking up his tires and creating a gap between himself and Busch. That strategy ultimately paid off, with Hamlin cruising just ahead of Busch to seal his win at the 2024 Clash at the Coliseum.
“A lot of it was just what happened in front of me with the 54 and 22, and you just never know what was going to happen there, but I got a really good run off of turn two and just got position and was able to hang on from there,” said Hamlin.
Before walking off to the podium Hamlin left one last comment for the fans, “You know I beat your favorite driver again, right?”
The dramatic race and dramatic finish set the tone for the races to come in the upcoming NASCAR season with the season’s opening race, the Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 18.
This year’s race may end up being the last year of the experimental Clash at the Coliseum as NASCAR has yet to announce whether the experimental race will return in the 2025 season.
Prior to 2022, the Busch Light Clash was held at the Daytona International Speedway just before the Daytona 500. But with the future of the event up in the air, Logano said that even if the Clash at the Coliseum doesn’t return to LA in the future, the success of the last three events shows a glimpse into the potential for future experimental racing series from NASCAR.
“The experiment was a great success, and we proved that we can do it anywhere,” said Logano. “I said it the first year we came here; it was a huge win for the sport. Now that we’ve raced at one of the most historic stadiums in the world, it’s pretty cool.”