Kevin Harvick said on Saturday that it didn’t matter how this weekend’s Busch Light Clash was actually going to look at this point. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said that there was no way to screw this exhibition race in the NASCAR Cup Series up anymore.
“I don’t think you can screw it up at this point,” Harvick said on Saturday after practice. “The event is here. The race track didn’t fly up. Practice went good. The cars all made the corners. People were passing each other and as our good friend Jim Hunter would say, ‘You have to have cars that pass, Kevin’ to make a good race. When you look at everything that has happened, the amount of tickets and media passes and all the things — you can’t screw it up at this point. That is my opinion.
“The race doesn’t even matter.”
Well, the race that many wondered if it was a very large mistake to move here, panned out as good if not better than anyone had ever expected. Joey Logano bested Kyle Busch by .877-seconds in a thrilling season opener in which an estimated crowd between 50-60,000 showed up to watch.
We saw drama. We saw two past champions not even make the Main Event. We saw the winner of the final Last Chance Qualifier get penalized a second time for jumping the restart and his win taken away.
We saw two different pairings of drama between Kyle Larson and Justin Haley as well as Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones.
In the end, you got Logano holding off a hard charging Busch for the thrilling win.
The Busch “Crash” has found its rightful identity again.
“The guts that it took for NASCAR to take the leap and try an event like this and then seeing how practice went and how smooth everything has gone. The doors that are open have been blown wide open now.”
Boy have they ever.
The Busch Clash had recently become the Busch Crash. It was an embarrassment. A waste of time and money. Most, if not all cars in the field, would end up with crash damage which made the event very expensive for race teams.
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.
It became as what Denny Hamlin called, “diluted.”
“Back then you had to, I think, you had to get a pole,” Hamlin said of the initial Clash. “I mean, that was the only way you get in and over time, if enough teams complain that they’re not a part of it, the rules get changed to make it to where more people can be included.
“Well, anytime you do that you dilute it. It’s not as special.”
He’s not wrong. He’s not wrong at all in fact. The Clash was diluted and was a tough sell to fans, team, drivers and most importantly, sponsors.
“I think we all were probably kind of getting to the point with the Clash in Daytona like we need to do something,” said Larson. “That race was kind of just going on, I feel like, to go on. It added a week of being in Daytona and I feel like it was kind of becoming all for what.”
The first segments were full of 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 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.
So, last year’s race was moved to the Daytona road course. It honestly failed to give this exhibition race a spark too.
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.
With a race that was becoming a hard sell and lacking luster, spicing it up to unprecedented proportions was needed.
You can’t go back to the original Clash format because sponsors didn’t want to put millions in for a 20 lap shootout. The teams struggled to field throw away cars for a boring 75 lap race where 95% of it was a high speed parade.
So, what do you do?
NASCAR decided to spend the money instead. They put in over $1-million to move this race to a makeshift track in a football stadium. They changed the entire complexity of this event making it just that – an event.
“Well, typically the Clash in general is a hard race to sell sponsorship for just in general it’s a very short race,” Hamlin continued. “But certainly, this one, as much build up as it has enables you to put it on the schedule as a legit race that you know, you can, you could sell for what you would sell for a normal event.
“This format is certainly where you have to get in on your own merit. There’s only one provisional there’s no inclusion for someone that’s got high in this for that. It’s back to being, in my opinion, it’s gonna be the best 23 cars on the racetrack or the best 20 cars this weekend anyway, so certainly in my mind, it makes it more prestigious than just getting in on one of the 10 things that you can get in on.”
It gives the spark to the event back again and this weekend absolutely showed it.
“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.”
Harvick said that this is the type of event that you need to blow it out of the water at the start of the season to get the eyeballs and the people and you guys to all show up because it is different.
“That is the world that we live in,” he continued. “We live in different and trying new things and having the guts to do it is sometimes hard to do but the rewards are pretty big on the other side when it works.”
That’s how we feel. But how does NASCAR?
“I think an incredible day for the sport,” said NASCAR senior vice president of strategic innovation, Ben Kennedy. “Really proud of NASCAR, the industry, everyone coming together. Patrick Rogers, the entire team did an incredible job, Derek Muldowney and the rest of the folks, building a track. Really proud of the group.
“Teams and drivers coming together, rallying around this. FOX has just been tremendous with us, six hours on FOX today. I think this will be great as we look to kick off our season in two weeks for the Daytona 500.
“Really good day, proud of the sport today.”
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell echoed what Kennedy said.
“Taking a chance, Patrick and the team, for putting this together,” said O’Donnell. “We looked at a number of different venues. Ben and I went on a few road trips. I think Ben’s work getting here with USC, who was a terrific host for us, just seeing the industry not only come together but have fun.
“When you look at this Next Gen car, all the pressure that was on, really the entire industry, all the long hours coming into this, I think a lot of us in the industry forgot that we’re in a pretty cool sport. It is fun to be a part of.
“This event delivered. I think it delivered on that. You saw it in the drivers, the industry, saw it with a lot of folks in the media. I think a lot of folks had fun. We’re going to learn.
“The Next Gen car really wasn’t a story, and I’m happy for that. This is probably the toughest test we could have on the track that we set up in terms of durability, beating and banging, driveline, different things. We’ll learn from that.
“All in all really successful debut for the car, as well.
“Today was what we’re all about. Really the whole weekend. If you look at what the drivers have done for the sport over the off-season, really getting out there and help promoting us, this is a big market for us. It was important for us to come out here and look like we’re having fun, even if we weren’t. That wasn’t the case. I think everybody was really enthusiastic, ready to go, they wanted to win this race. I think that showed.
“High-fiving us is more we’re doing the same because they delivered, put on a great race for us.”
Kennedy says that coming out of today that they’re going to go back and do a pretty in-depth postmortem on this event. He says that certainly there are a lot of new things that came along with this event, from Pitbull, Ice Cube, DJ Skee. Everything along with the format, the entire event really.
“I think we’ll go back to that, then really think about what the future might look like both for being here at the L.A. Coliseum and the type of venue in general, too,” he says. “I think there were a lot of questions coming in as to what the racing product might look like on track. I think between the format that we had with the heat races, last chance race, all the way through the main, at least from a fan perspective, a lot of energy in the bowl, hopefully those tuning in on TV enjoyed it as well.”
So what would the future of the Clash now look like? 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.
The thing is, do you come back to LA again next year or make this an event that roams not only the country, but dare I say internationally too?
“It’s something that I think we’ll certainly look at,” Kennedy said. “Los Angeles, as we’ve mentioned from the start, is really an important market for us. It’s important for us to get here in a big way, too. It’s been two years since we’ve competed in Southern California. To be able to get back here to downtown Los Angeles at the L.A. Coliseum, come back a few weeks later at Fontana, I think it was really important to us.
“The Coliseum, USC, have been tremendous partners. That will be certainly an important part as we think about this. But to your point, too, if we can prove this out, a proof of concept, it does open the door to other locations in the future.”
Corey 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.”
Harvick agreed. He says that you can even do this in the middle of the year for an All-Star race too and rotate it around.
“For me, I look at the NFL and what they do in London and I look at the things that they do,” he said. “I think in order to really open doors, I think Wembley Stadium would be fun. I think everyone wants to do something but the weather has to be different. But this is something that you could put in the middle of the year and I think the All-Star race is definitely something that could learn something from this just because of the fact that it needs to be more like this instead of just at a 1.5-mile track that we go to all the time.
“It needs to have that intrigue and fun and atmosphere that goes along with an event that is different. I am of the opinion that I would never do this twice, but I know that I will probably get overruled after this happens. It is kind of like the Roval, the intrigue isn’t as much the second year. I would move it all over the place. If this goes like everyone thinks it will, it will just blow the doors open to opportunities and I would take them.”
Kennedy, agreed with that.
“I think as far as venues go, I talked to Kevin in the elevator yesterday, he was talking about that,” he said. “I think it does open the opportunity and door to do that. I think it’s going to be really important as we think about those venues, the size of it. I think the Coliseum was a perfect footprint as you think about the size of the field itself.
“I don’t know that we’d want to make the radiuses of the corners that much tighter. I think you probably play with the straightaway length a little bit. I think it will be an important factor. If we are going to take this to other locations, I want to make sure that the racing product is good for our fans.”
O’Donnell, didn’t put those rumors to bed. In fact, he heightened them.
“I think everything is open. To Ben’s point, you look at the footprint, one of the unique things about this stadium is the Olympics and the track that they had around a football field doesn’t really exist anymore in the purpose-built football stadiums. It’s a lot tougher to look at that footprint of what might have the room for us.
“Certainly if you looked, and I’m not advocating that we’re taking the Clash overseas, I don’t want anyone to take that away, but it does open up the opportunity for us if we wanted to showcase NASCAR, we’ve always talked about, Ben and I, you have to go to a road course, they have to build a track somewhere if you’re in Europe. Not anymore. We’ve proven out you can go to a cool stadium with a track around it, we know what to do, we can go in and out, some opportunities there.
“Ben, if he hasn’t already, is already studying the footprints of a lot of different stadiums in the U.S., what works, what may not work, but also pretty happy here.”
The risk paid off and helped NASCAR enter the official portion of the 2022 season with as much momentum as they’ve had in decades. This had a 2001 type of feeling to it but after such a successful Clash, I don’t think this year even compares to 2001. It’s bigger.
NASCAR knocked this out of the park. They are in great hands with Steve Phelps, Kennedy and O’Donnell running things the way they are now. From the Next Gen, to the new schedule and now to tracks like this, NASCAR is at the verge of another breakout.