NASCAR driver clinches spot in Clash even before qualifying

As the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, Ryan Blaney has no way of missing this year's Busch Light Clash preseason exhibition race.

Busch Light Clash, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, NASCAR
Busch Light Clash, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, NASCAR / Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
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For the third year in a row, the NASCAR Cup Series preseason Busch Light Clash exhibition race is set to be contested at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum following a 43-year run at Daytona International Speedway.

The format for this year's race at the purpose-built, quarter-mile oval inside the home of the USC Trojans differs slightly from last year's, but the overall concept is the same. There are heat races, a last chance qualifier, and a main event.

There are four 25-lap heat races, for which the starting lineups are set based on practice speeds in the final practice session. The top five drivers from each race advance to the 150-lap (two 75-lap stages) main event, and everybody else drops to the 75-lap last chance qualifier. The top two drivers from the last chance qualifier also advance to the main event.

There is only one last chance qualifier this year; there were two last year, and the top three from each advanced, reducing the field size by four drivers for 2024.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion locked in

But there are 23 drivers, not just 22, set to compete in this year's main event, because there is one spot reserved for whichever driver ends up being the highest finisher in last year's standings among those who do not manage to lock in either via the heat races or the last chance qualifier.

This means that 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney has no way of missing this year's Busch Light Clash.

Even if he fails to qualify with a top five finish in his heat and then fails to place inside the top two in the last chance qualifier, he can fall back on the fact that he will have had the highest points finish among all non-qualifiers.

If Blaney ends up qualifying via the heat races or the last chance qualifier, then last year's championship runner-up, Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson, would be locked in regardless, and so on.

UPDATE: Due to the schedule change, there will no longer be any heat races or a last chance qualifier, just a practice/qualifying session to set the starting lineup for the main event. However, Blaney is still locked into the 23-car field, as there is still a spot set to be awarded on points.

Last year's provisional points spot went to Team Penske's Austin Cindric, who had placed 12th in the 2022 standings, as the top 11 drivers from 2022 all managed to lock in either via the heat races or the last chance qualifier.

Having said that, last year's main event consisted of 27 drivers, not just 23, so we could end up in a situation where the provisional points spot goes to a driver who placed top 10 or even top five in last year's standings.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Martin Truex Jr., the reigning Busch Light Clash winner, and Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson are listed by DraftKings Sportsbook as the co-favorites to win this year's race.

DraftKings is currently giving fans an instant $200 just for signing up and betting $5 on any driver -- win or lose -- so take advantage of this offer now before it's too late!

Next. NASCAR: New championship favorite emerges for 2024 season. NASCAR: New championship favorite emerges for 2024 season. dark

Fox Sports 1 is set to provide live coverage of the Busch Light Clash from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET this Saturday, February 3. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss any of the action this weekend or throughout the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season!

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