LOS ANGELES (AP) — Denny Hamlin, who wasn’t even sure he’d be healed from offseason shoulder surgery in time to compete in the Clash at the Coliseum, won the Saturday night exhibition that NASCAR hurried into a one-day show to avoid a dangerous “Pineapple Express” storm headed toward California.
Hamlin, in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, started from the pole and led 59 of the 151 laps. But his teammate Ty Gibbs controlled a large portion of the race until a late caution set up a restart with 10 laps remaining.
Hamlin got the lead on the restart and was about to win until Gibbs crashed on the last lap to send the race into overtime. Hamlin then got a jump on reigning NASCAR champion Ryan Blaney, who needed a provisional to make the 23-car field, on the restart for the win.
“It’s just a great momentum boost,” said Hamlin, who will now move on to the season-opening Daytona 500, where he will seek a fourth win in “The Great American Race.”
“You know, I clean off all the trophies every January 1st in the entryway of the house and now we get to add another one pretty quick, so pretty happy about that.”
Hamlin then turned to the crowd — many of the spectators were booing him — and repeated his standard taunt: “You know I beat your favorite driver again, right?”
Hamlin has now won the Clash four times, but his other three wins came when the exhibition was held at Daytona International Speedway, including his rookie year. Joe Gibbs Racing has won the race a record 12 times, and now two years in a row following Martin Truex Jr.’s victory last season.
Kyle Busch finished second in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, and Blaney rallied to lead Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to finishes of third and fourth. Austin Cindric, their third teammate, missed the race after the field was set by speed instead of the scheduled heat races.
The top three finishers of the Clash receive medals in an Olympic-style podium ceremony.
Logano, winner of the inaugural Clash in 2022, and Gibbs had a heated exchange after the race over contact between their cars.
NASCAR had only planned to run heat races Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with the main event scheduled for Sunday. But with heavy rains and flooding expected, NASCAR eliminated the heats, set the field of 23 by practice speeds, and started the race just 30 minutes after qualifying.
A planned “halftime” performance by Machine Gun Kelly was canceled.
NASCAR about midday Saturday made the decision to run the Clash Saturday night out of concerns for the impending inclement weather. The decision was widely applauded by drivers, who saw the weather radar and worried the race would not happen before Wednesday if it was not moved up. Teams report to Daytona a week from now to begin preparations for the Feb. 18 season-opener.
“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 was scheduled to follow for a doubleheader. Spectators on Saturday were already being admitted for free and seating was general admission.