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Denny Hamlin Powers to Busch Light Clash Pole; Bell, Buescher Among DNQ’s

Denny Hamlin will lead the field to green in Saturday's Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum, scoring the pole in a qualifying session that featured several shock DNQs. Photo Credit: Lesley Ann Miller, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

Well, the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season is certainly off to an interesting start.

After the short-term weather outlook forced NASCAR to obliterate its two-day schedule for the Busch Light Clash, precedent and format all went out the window, with the introduction of a practice-like qualifying session on Saturday.

The 36-driver field was split up into six groups of six vehicles, which would be permitted to be on track for a four-minute timed session. When the session concluded, the quickest 22 drivers would advance to the main event, with a 23rd and final position being awarded to the highest driver in 2023 point standings that hadn’t yet advanced.

Denny Hamlin, driving his brand-new No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry XSE, rocketed to the top of the speed charts during the session, posting a time of 13.139s (68.498mph).

“Been pretty happy with this Sport Clips Toyota so far. We’ve only had short runs here and there, and you never know with the Clash,” said Hamlin. “Certainly with the lesser field amount, the strong cars can really show. I think Chris [Gabehart] and the team did a great job preparing a great car for me, and just driving it all we can.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also led the field in practice for the Busch Light Clash, holding out over teammates Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs, in a session that showed the dominance of the four-car organization.

MORE: 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash Practice Results

He was followed by Joey Logano, the inaugural winner at the LA Memorial Coliseum, who clocked in second with his No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Ty Gibbs placed third, with Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch completing the top five starters.

William Byron, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, and Justin Haley – in his first outing as a driver for Rick Ware Racing – completed the top-10, all locking themselves into the big show.

MORE: 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash Starting Lineup

However, the biggest surprises in the NASCAR Cup Series field came from outside the top-20, as several heavy hitters with major organizations failed to qualify for the Busch Light Clash, to the surprise of many.

After winning the NASCAR Cup Series championship the last time the series was on-track, Ryan Blaney was forced to use a points provisional after only posting the 25th-quickest time in the final practice session.

With Blaey forced to use the points provisional, the remainder of the field was thrown for a loop, as several race-winning-caliber entries were also slotted outside the top 22, resulting in an early end to their racing endeavors in Los Angeles.

In total, three vehicles that made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2023 failed to qualify for the 23-car field on Saturday, those being Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, and Josh Berry, who combined for five victories last season.

Others who missed the field included Josh Williams (16), Carson Hocevar (77), Daniel Suarez (99), Austin Dillon (3), Erik Jones (43), Austin Cindric (2), Daniel Hemric (31), Kaz Grala (15), Harrison Burton (21), and Zane Smith (71).

Now, the 23-driver field, minus a few potential heavy hitters, will take on the 150-lap main event around the quarter-mile Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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