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After being spun out by Joey Logano, Kyle Busch called the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion “two-faced” and an “ass**** on the race track,” and he threatened future retaliation.

After getting wrecked by Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace claimed the Richard Childress Racing driver “dumped” him and that he — Wallace — “got run into the fence by him.” Wallace also drove into the side of Dillon’s car under the ensuing caution period, just to make his displeasure absolutely clear.

Dillon later defended his move but admitted it was payback for an earlier move Wallace had made on him.

“I just know he sent me through the corner, and I saved it three times through there, released the brake and all kinds of stuff, and then when I got down, I was going to give the same,” Dillon said of Wallace during his postrace media availability. 

Erik Jones, meanwhile, was less than pleased with Michael McDowell after a bump from McDowell ended his race just 16 laps in.

“Obviously, he really wanted the spot,” Jones said of McDowell, his tone and facial expression dripping with sarcasm during a live TV interview. “Michael has gotten me twice pretty good now, which is frustrating.”

Frustrating. That’s how most of the drivers who competed in Sunday night’s Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum would probably describe their race at the tight, quarter-mile short track in Los Angeles.

But with the Daytona 500 and the official start of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season less than two weeks away, is it really a bad thing that some drivers are already ticked off at each other?

The way the 2022 Cup Series season ended left a lot to be desired

Taken as a whole, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was a pretty good one. It produced a record-tying 19 different race winners, including five first-time winners, and the campaign was filled with enough controversy and drama to keep most fans engaged and keep drivers and teams on their proverbial toes as parity reigned supreme in a sport typically dominated by a few power teams.

This is only part of the story, however. In all reality, the 2022 season — great as it was in many respects — ended on a bit of a downer. One reason was the chorus of complaints about the first-year Next Generation race car that grew louder and louder as the season wore on. At one point, rumors even swirled that some drivers might even boycott a race due to what they deemed to be NASCAR’s inadequate response to their unease over the car’s safety features.

The boycott never happened, but multiple drivers — most notably, veterans Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — made it abundantly evident they weren’t going to give it a rest until NASCAR acknowledged their concerns and promised change. Thankfully, the sanctioning body finally called a mandatory drivers meeting and announced a modification to the bumpers of the cars beginning in 2023, but that didn’t happen until the car’s safety flaws had left a permanent stain on the season and two of the sport’s top drivers — Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman — were sidelined for multiple weeks with a concussion stemming from a hard impact to their car’s rear end.

As a result of lingering concussion symptoms, Busch even decided to permanently call it quits from full-time racing.

Once all the outrage over driver safety finally began to subside, NASCAR hoped it could conclude the season on a high note, but that proved impossible for two reasons. One was that the final race — where four drivers competed straight up for the Cup Series championship — felt like little more than a Joey Logano coronation, as the Team Penske driver started from the pole, led 60 percent of the laps, and cruised to a fairly comfortable victory.

Also, just a few hours earlier, it was as though someone threw a cold bucket of water on the Championship 4 race when Joe Gibbs Racing announced that its vice chairman, Coy Gibbs — the son of team owner Joe Gibbs and father of then-NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs — died unexpectedly in his sleep the previous night. So even if the event had turned out to be a thriller, it wouldn’t have changed the reality that everyone at Phoenix Raceway was competing with a heavy heart and didn’t even really want to be there.

The Clash at The Coliseum was just what the doctor ordered for NASCAR

So, the 2022 NASCAR season didn’t end well — for multiple reasons. We’ve established that. 

This is why NASCAR should be jumping for joy this week that Sunday’s Clash at The Coliseum — though just an exhibition race held on a makeshift track at a venue normally reserved for football games — turned out to be extra spicy and, yes, a little controversial in a good way.

The last thing NASCAR and its fans needed was a yawner like the one witnessed in the final race of last season and, quite frankly, last year’s inaugural Clash at The Coliseum.

Sometimes, NASCAR needs its drivers to play bumper cars and trade barbs with one another so a new and healthier narrative can take effect. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday night in Los Angeles.

So let’s be thankful that Ross Chastain wrecked Denny Hamlin (again). And that Joey Logano punted Kyle Busch (angering not only Busch but team owner Richard Childress). And that Austin Dillon ran into Bubba Wallace. And that Michael McDowell spun Erik Jones. And that Todd Gilliland hit Kevin Harvick — and vice versa.

A bunch of drivers being irked with each other heading into the Daytona 500 and the start of the new season is a whole heck of a lot better than how we ended 2022.


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