LOS ANGELES — Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch beat each other’s bumpers all weekend, leaning on each other around the tight confines of the quarter-mile track nestled inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But the new teammates at Richard Childress Racing left smiling, each with medals around theirs necks on the podium as Dillon and Busch finished second and third, respectively, in the 2023 edition of the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum.
The duo executed its game plan to near perfection, rubbing fenders in battles for position but also yielding to each other when appropriate.
“Austin and I worked hard together today on, A, working together, but, B, all the information to put ourselves in the best possible spot,” Busch, the two-time Cup champion, said. “Good collaboration between the RCR bunch.”
Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 champion and winner of the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, showed steady speed throughout the weekend after qualifying sixth in Saturday’s time trials ahead of finishing third in his heat — coincidentally behind heat winner and eventual Clash champion Martin Truex Jr. and Busch.
“I’ll just echo what Kyle said. It was really fun,” Dillon said. “Our car was really good. It really kind of turned on that last practice. We figured out that our car was pretty good on the long run. We were able to qualify decent, which is good for us. Not a great qualifier usually at the short tracks.
“Felt like if we could just maintain we could have a shot. Kyle helped me there at the end. He knew we had a fast car, so let me try and got a shot at Martin. That was nice, so hopefully I can pay back the favor when we go to Daytona and work together well. It’s a great start for all of us.”
Andy Petree, vice president of competition at RCR, was thrilled to see the Nos. 3 and 8 Chevrolets find immediate success in Year 2 of the Next Gen car. In the vehicle’s inaugural season in 2022, RCR was victorious four times, but three of those wins came from Tyler Reddick. With Reddick gone and Busch in, the No. 8 team showed steadiness in its debut with its new driver.
“It’s kind of a proud moment to see our guys working together like that,” Petree told NASCAR.com. “And you see the mutual respect, but they raced each other super hard. Just came up a little short on trying to beat Martin Truex. But it looked like it might happen there.”
Indeed, the teammates had a chance to track down Truex late. The final restart came with seven laps remaining — Truex on the front row alongside former teammate Busch and in front of Busch’s new teammate Dillon. The No. 19 Toyota scurried away to the checkers, but not without a fight from RCR.
The key for the Childress cars was allowing room for each other to work efficiently.
“We’ve been working well together this whole weekend off the track, on the track, and having the opportunity of being able to take care of one another on a couple of those restarts,” Busch said. “You know, the 3 would be easy off the corner and give me a gap to be able to get down and some other stuff that we did, too. Yeah, I mean, that’s just a good omen for great teamwork and good sportsmanship from the two of us, so let’s keep that rolling.”
“I think the other good part,” Dillon added, “is some of the things that we like in a race car — what I was excited about, because I’ve watched Kyle’s data over the years, and the way he approaches the setup of a car and things I think we’re actually pretty close. Like our delta would be close.
“So that’s nice to be able to hopefully work off of that, and we’re only going to be able to build off that as we go and find those places that when we have a good run, where do I need to be setup-wise compared to him to echo that.”
All the positivity came despite contact between Dillon and Busch both in their heat races as well as the main event.
“But that’s what we want to see,” Petree said. “We want to see them race hard, but they’ve got respect for each other. And it was showing during the race. I saw a couple times on these restarts where they were starting side by side and you saw all the pushing and shoving and they were kind of protecting each other.
“And then on that last little run, you know, Kyle used up so much of his car to get there and he didn’t have much for Martin and looked like Austin maybe was a little quicker and he let him go, and I thought you know that’s pretty good, guys working together like that.”
Busch had to use so much of his No. 8 Chevrolet because another long-ago Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Joey Logano, drove into the back of Busch and sent him for a spin at Lap 86.
“I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake,” said Logano, the defending series and Clash champion. “I don’t know why. I mean it’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off [Turn] 2 awful. Had no rear grip off 2. And then I went down into the corner and I still had no rear grip and slid down into the 8.
“Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the way back up there. I felt pretty bad.”
Busch, who certainly hadn’t had time to chat with Logano before his post-race obligations, wasn’t thrilled with another run-in from Logano.
“He just flat-out drove through me, so he’s got another one coming,” Busch said. “I owe him a few.”
What Busch and RCR do have is momentum heading into the start of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, which officially gets underway with the 65th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 19 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM).
“It does help the momentum, you know?” Petree said. “No matter what kind of race it is to get our guys working together. You know, now we’ve got confidence, right? So we can go to the next race with that confidence and build on it, you know?
“Next thing is that Daytona 500. Let’s go get it.”