What To Expect?
There’s no doubt about it, this weekend’s Busch Light Clash will be unlike anything that we’ve really ever seen before in NASCAR’s premiere series. At least in the modern era (1972-present). NASCAR, this weekend, will invade Los Angeles, but not at the Auto Club Speedway as they typically have grown accustomed to when visiting SoCal. Even before that came Riverside.
Instead, they’ll head 51 miles to the west to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A football stadium. Yes, the Coliseum will play host to a NASCAR race.
NASCAR spent reportedly over $1-million to hatch up their wagons and take themselves to Beverly Hills to host a stock car race on a football field. Literally. Officials made a .25-mile asphalt race track that was placed over tons of dirt that has USC’s football field laying underneath it.
So, in saying that, the main question now is how will the racing look?
23 cars will take to the track in the A-main feature on Sunday evening (6 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). 150 laps separate the winner of the 44th annual event. But, 23 cars on a .25-mile track is nothing compared to the 42 years they spent on the high banks of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway (last year was on the 3.56-mile DIS road course).
Some are expecting a “shit show.” I mean, that many cars on a track of that size is bound to have calamity.
The speeds are going to be lucky to break 80-85 mph on the straights with some expecting corner speeds to be barely in excess of a school zone speed limit (25 mph).
Does that make Sunday a track position race? Do you use the bumper more often than not? Will the crashes create a blockade on the track where no one can get through?
“I’m not sure to be honest,” said Martin Truex Jr. “Thinking about it I mean I’ve never raced a race car on a track this small and we’ve obviously never raced the Next Gen car so it’s going to be interesting.”
Corey LaJoie sees it as maybe a less than aggressive race approach though due to the nature of parts being few and far between for this new car and guys maybe taking it a little more easier than normal because of it.
“I don’t think with everybody being kind of low on equipment that you’re going to see any bonehead moves or aggressive move besides some rooting and gouging for a transfer spot,” LaJoie said. You’re not going to see anyone wiping each other out often I don’t think. I’ve seen races at Bowman-Gray with green to checkered with no cautions. I think it will be a good durability test for these Next Gen cars.
“I can assure you that if you’re going 80 mph and someone knocks you in the left rear and you back it into the fence that you’re going to have damage.”
He says that suspension pieces are going to be key because where you gain in the bodies, you lose in that.
What he also says is that this is the ultimate wildcard show for the sport in the sense that anyone can win this weekend. Anyone of the 36 drivers that shows up this weekend has the same chance as the other one.
That’s rare territory.
“My expectations are as high as they’ve ever been in the Cup Series,” he says. “This is the most even going into event in the history of NASCAR one could argue. With the limited amount of notes. The quarter mile race track. Temporary race track. Nobody has any notes on it. Everybody’s kind of guessing on their simulation. Kind of goes back to old school racing where you set up with what you know.”
LaJoie says that the confidence is due to this new car and that they truly expect to be a top seven car on Sunday. The gap is closed and that they need to capitalize on it. This is the first time that he feels like he can go into it with a chance and by doing so giving an all out effort all race. He notes that at the annual stops at Daytona and Talladega that while the finishes can come there, he has to stay out of trouble all day and not make any real moves or race until the end.
This weekend, he can race all weekend and try his hardest because they have the very real potential to fare well on merit.
“You belong here,” he says of himself. “I’ve paid the dues and belong in the Cup Series. Now the competition has to match the work I’ve been putting in on the back end. A lot of this is about confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself to get the job done, no one else is going to believe in you. It’s good to be able to have a chance to rub fenders with guys you normally don’t.”
With that said, William Byron says that he hopes that his background on tracks like this helps him this weekend in turn. Maybe experience can pick up where the lack of knowledge of this track lacks.
“I think my background definitely helps,” said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. “Gets you back to that mindset that you’re not blocking as much but doing more so just trying to race your car against the other guys. You’re not worried about aero and what that implication is for the guy behind you. I think anytime that is less of a story and we’re talking about pure driving and how to use the brakes and throttle to get around the track is good.”
How Small Is Too Small?
This is arguably one of the smallest tracks that NASCAR has ever raced on. Yes, they’ve raced at Bowman-Gray Stadium in the past and yes that track is the same size as this one, but that was dating before the Modern Era. This is now. This is a professional racing series conducting a race on a quarter mile track.
Is that too small?
“I would have to imagine that we’re right there,” Truex Jr. said. “This is probably about as small as you can make it but I don’t know. Until you get on the track and race it to see how it is, I think that it’s a big question mark. I’d say we’re on the small end of the spectrum.”
The other factor is, with this new car comes new pieces. The brakes are vastly better than ever before. The brakes now outweigh the tire.
You can get it into the corner deeper because the new brake performance. The thing is, by doing so, it compromises the tire because you’re carrying more speed longer and slowing down harder. Once thee tires get hot, and they will due to the brakes, they degrade pretty quick as a result. So it’s a balancing act LaJoie says.
That’s why the small nature of the track will still have the wrinkle in brakes/tires and how they’ll correlate. That plus the composite bodies and the suspension pieces make this all interesting wrinkles.
Is This The Future Of The Clash?
For the second consecutive year, NASCAR has made a change to the way the Busch Light Clash is ran. From 1979 through 2019, it was annually held on the high banks of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Last year, they moved it to the road course. Now, not only is it being moved again, it’s being moved across the country.
I do however feel like something had to be done about the Clash anyways to spark this move. My vote was to eliminate it all together as I don’t feel like the road course worked for it. While it was honestly a good ending last year, it just felt awkward to have a road course race kick off Speedweeks. Plus, it wasn’t a big rated event anyhow.
Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for last year’s race. That’s down almost 1 million people as 2.455 million tuned into the 2020 Busch Clash. Granted, the 2020 race was on the oval and was held on a Sunday afternoon compared to a weeknight, it still shows that doing the same thing again in 2022 wasn’t going to be ideal.
The problem was, holding it on the oval didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense anymore anyways. It had become the Busch Crash instead of the Clash. Most, if not all cars in the field, would end up with crash damage which made the event very expensive for race teams.
See, if you were in it, there’s no way you’d bring your Daytona 500 car for it. You’d have to prepare a completely different throw away car for the Clash and then prepare a new car for the Daytona 500. Throw in a backup car for the ‘500 and the big teams were bringing three cars down to Daytona for Speedweeks.
The other thing is, the Clash went away from what it initially was founded off of. This was a race for pole winners only. Now, it had been expanded and extended from the original 20 lap format.
The original concept for the Busch Clash was for a Sunday afternoon show a week before the Daytona 500 and to fit it all in during a half an hour TV window on CBS. Well, the race had become 55 laps longer than the inaugural event in 1979, in recent year, was as boring as ever until a crap show at the end.
Due to the distance and like in 2019 having only 18 cars racing in it then, why put yourself in harms way by drafting early and often? With a guaranteed caution coming on Lap 25, you could ride around in a high speed parade and keep your car clean for the end.
That’s what happened the last two years on the oval.
The first segments were full of 18 cars running in tow with one another. The second segment was run with cars trying to save fuel until the end, then having manufacturers pit together.
From there, it was the usual crash fest in the end. Just look at how the last one on the oval ended. We’d see a six car crash that was sparked by a block by Joey Logano with 10 laps left in regulation. Then, on the restart with three laps remaining in regulation, we saw a bizarre crash in the tri-oval between nine cars. From there, a crash on the first overtime restart when Denny Hamlin cut a tire while leading, took out 10 more cars which was followed by a three car crash on the next restart.
That left six cars on track for the third overtime, one of which being a lap down.
So, I ask, why race for 75 laps when 65+ of them are run single file and we get every car crashed in the end?
I mean when you show up with 18 cars for this race and all of them have damage, there’s a problem. In 2018, 17 of the 20 cars crashed in one accident at the end before the rain fell too.
That’s 38 cars and 35 of them crashed in a two year span.
The funny thing is, NASCAR moved the Clash from Daytona due to all the carnage. It grew increasingly more and more unpopular. Now, they’re moving it to a track that’s going to create as much carnage, if not more, than Daytona ever did.
So while I applaud the change, I also applaud the change to LA for this year. It just feels like a new era of NASCAR that’s kicking off. Between the new car, the numbers being pushed forward, the single lug which completely alters the way a car is pitted, the new owners, etc, a change to this type of venue hosting the Clash is warranted this year.
“I said it all along, this isn’t the Next Gen car, this is Next Gen NASCAR,” Logano said. “Everything is different.”
It gives the spark to the event back again. You can bet your ass that even if you’re against this move, you’ll still be turning in. The ratings and attendance for this race is going to be one of the more highly anticipated ones of the entire season. New events always are.
“This is probably going to be the most highly rated Clash of all-time I bet,” Logano continued. There’s more people talking about the Clash this year than ever. Probably because we’re doing something different.”
Plus, it’s the week before the Super Bowl which just so happens to be played in the same town. Talk about a win-win. While it could also wad up a bunch of cars too and not end well either, I give NASCAR props for the change. They could always change it again in 2023.
The luster for the old Clash was gone. No one was showing up. Crowds were so scarce that I’d estimate 5-10k in Daytona anymore. Ratings were getting lower from 2019 to 2020 and the race was growing more expensive.
It wasn’t a good move for anyone involved.
So, in comes a new event.
“Yeah definitely I think that the fact that it’s an exhibition race it opens up a lot of things to try,” Bryon said. “I commend NASCAR for doing the things that they’re doing. I think it’s great. I’d feel a little bit different if it was a points race. It’s definitely about the fans. We want to put on a good show.”
Truex Jr. agreed.
“The cool thing is that it’s going to be a lot of fun to do something new,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement around it as well. I think everybody’s anxious to get on track and see what we can do. Hopefully it can be a fun event for the drivers.”
But, what about next year? What about the future of the Clash?
NBC Sports is reporting that NASCAR agreed to a 3-year deal with the Coliseum and USC. The final 2 years (2023, 2024) are option years that NASCAR has until early May to make the decision on coming back the following year or not.
NASCAR is taking a large risk by doing this but can save face and find another venue for next year if this doesn’t work. If it does work? Well then they have endless possibilities since they can now hit urban areas in large metropolitan cities since football fields are all the same size.
LaJoie says that if this truly is a success and they can do this anywhere, his vote is to go to the AT&T Stadium (the home of the Cowboys).
“It all depends on the footprint,” he notes. “If this model works then it can open a lot of doors for the future.”
As far as what would make this a good event to make people want more?
“I guess it just depends,” Truex continued. “It sounds like the crowds going to be good. There’s a lot of attention on it. I think at the end of the day we want to put on a good show. We don’t want it to be lots of cautions and wrecks. Just not a lot of chaos. Just a good race to put on a good show with all the attention that it’s getting. There’s a lot of excitement around it. A lot different with the concerts, halftime and the break. We need to make sure we put on a good show.
“I hope it’s not a show where we go crash over everybody all day.”
Will Clash Have Last Impact Past Los Angeles
With having such a large race but on a smaller track, can this weekend’s Clash have lasting impacts past Sunday? What I mean by that is, normally when you get NASCAR drivers on a short track, tempers flare. What about one half the size of the usual smallest NASCAR track with nothing but money on the line?
Drivers are more than likely going to have to use their bumpers on Sunday. Being in the lead on the final lap isn’t going to likely be the place you’re going to want to be in since the driver behind is likely to use the front end to his advantage.
But, to what cost is being overly aggressive too much?
See, you don’t want to piss anyone off too much and them use payback later on in the season when points and a championship are on the line. Why make enemies in a exhibition race?
“There’s definitely a lot more conflict I’d say. You kind of have to pick your battles,” Byron said. “This race isn’t that long so there’s not going to be a lot of chances of give and take. There’s going to be a lot more take for most of the guys.
“If you have the pace in the car to pass guys then it’s going to be a lot easier than defending.”
Plus, these cars are going to be traveling at such low rates of speed, it’s going to be inviting to push and shove on track. But, with a low supply of extra parts right now, how much does the risk outweigh the reward?
“The closer we are the smaller the tracks get,” Truex said. “Obviously it makes it more difficult. You’re going to have to take care of your equipment. Certainly they’re (the cars) are stronger than in the past with the composite bodies, so there’s more room for rubbing there.
“The Coliseum if it’s going to happen, it’s going to be more difficult to make passes clean.”
Logano agrees. He says NASCAR has put these drivers in more and more precarious positions lately and it’s all intentional. That’s also not necessarily a bad thing either he notes.
“You’re in this position more and more every year,” said the Team Penske driver. “There are moments on the race track that test your character. It tests who you are and how you want to race and what are you going to do to win a championship now.
“NASCAR has all put us in a position to make challenging decisions on what is right. I’ll be 100% honest with you, I don’t even know what’s right. You try to play out all the scenarios in your mind before the weekend starts so you know what to do in the moment, but half the time, it’s something that comes up of maybe something that you didn’t think about or maybe you didn’t have the answer to yet but you’re forced to make a decision in a split second. That’s what we have to think about.
“That’s also very entertaining for you guys. That sucks for us sometimes. You just got to do what you’ve got to do. It’s something all of us drivers think about a lot. The Clash is no different. The track is small and curbing on the bottom is inviting. We will have to wait and see. There’s transfers that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get into the feature and there’s no points on the line. Just because there’s no points on the line doesn’t mean that grudges don’t get passed along either. It’s a tricky place to be.”
What happens if you do collect crash damage that’s severe enough to have to need new parts though? What happens if you make a move that someone uses payback on you later on in the year and it costs you a potential championship or a playoff berth?
“There’s certainly a potential for that,” said Truex. “It’s a long year. You definitely don’t want to start off the year in an exhibition race with a lot of people mad at you.”
LaJoie says that the potential is there too in the sense of being the first to win not only in the Next Gen car but also maybe even being the first and only winner in the LA Coliseum. But, you also have to weight the risk vs. reward too.
“At the end of the day, there’s obviously no points on the line and not an exuberant amount of money,” he said. “There’s lots to consider. Lets just say 2 potential playoff contenders get into it and they want to fight and beat and bang, that is a thing that can last all season long and may not be worth it.”
For Logano, he says that you have to treat it like you would any other race.
“You have to be consistent,” he says. “What’s consistent? I’m going to win. I’m out there to win the race. That’s the goal and you do what it takes to do that. But, you have to have your moral code and know what is okay to do that. Is it dumping somebody is okay to win a race? I don’t think so. That’s not really in my cards. Now, bump-and-run? I’ve proven that I think that’s okay. The facts are that you have to be okay with that happening to you. Am I okay with being wrecked? No. Am I okay with being moved out of the way? I don’t have to be happy about it but I have to be okay with it if I’m going to do it. I feel like that should be the code. Whatever your happy with being done by you have to have be okay with it if it was someone else.”
Is This A Hard Race To Mentally Prepare For?
Typically at this point of the year, NASCAR drivers’ minds are on one thing and one thing only – Daytona. As the NFL winds down their season and the onus is on the Super Bowl, NASCAR’s season is getting ready to start with their Super Bowl being the opening race of their year.
It’s the big one. The race everyone wants to win. For a stock car driver, a Daytona 500 triumph adds you to a list of racing immortality. It’s Daytona. Drivers dream about what it’s like to win there.
But, for the first time since 1981, NASCAR drivers have a race prior to Daytona.
See, the Busch Clash was formed in 1979 as an annual exhibition race for pole winners and pole winners only from the previous season. It was a short race as a tune-up to help build the lead in to the Daytona 500. It was always ran on the Sunday prior to the Great American Race.
But, the first three years of this All-Star type classic was always run after the season opener which typically took place in Riverside. In 1982, NASCAR then opened their season for the first time in Daytona which meant the Clash opened things up.
Still, when showing up to Daytona, all you could really think about was the ‘500 and the build up for it. Now, you have a rare race prior to Daytona on a track no one has any history on. No one truly knows what to expect this weekend. They’ve never raced on this venue before and most drivers haven’t raced on a track this size in a long time.
How can you prepare and get yourself mentally ready for a track like this when there’s no data or tape to watch to help?
The other thing is separating this race from taking it to personal and knowing that this is a pure entertainment factor. At least 60-70% of the fans in attendance are first time ticket buyers to a NASCAR race. This race is purely a form of entertainment and nothing really indicative of the rest of the season.
That’s got to make it a hard race to prepare for.