NASCAR took chance on revamped Clash last year, now they’re back for Year 2

NASCAR is back. The shortest offseason in sports is coming to a conclusion with Sunday’s Busch Light Clash. It’s an event that revamped a year ago after questions amounted to whether how beneficial this annual event truly was for the sport.

The original concept for the Busch Clash was for a Sunday afternoon event, a week before the Daytona 500, and to fit it all in during a half an hour TV window on CBS. It was to build attention for the Great American Race. That’s why the short sprint race only included a field of pole sitters from the previous season. I mean, as few as 7 drivers were in the Clash in 1981.

Well, the exhibition race had become 55 laps longer than the inaugural event in 1979, formed a field as large as 28 and gone away from anything that the race was initially found on.

The Busch Clash had become the Busch Crash.

Even worse, not only was it full of crashing, it was downright boring. It had become unwatchable. Literally. Crowds fell to an estimated 5-10k in paying attendance in the final years that it was held at Daytona.

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 of it, then having manufacturers pit together for drafting partners.

From there, it was the usual crash fest in the end. Just look at how the last one on the oval ended in 2020. We’d see a six-car crash that was sparked by a block by Joey Logano with 10 laps-to-go 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 2019, 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, NASCAR moved the race from the oval to the road course in 2021. That felt awkward. Having a road course race during Speedweeks. The attendance was dismal and so was the rating.

Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for the 2021 Clash in primetime on the road course. That was 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 in 2021. It still shows that doing the same thing again in 2022 wasn’t going to be ideal.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Great Lakes Flooring Ford, and Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Ford, practice for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Coliseum on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

So what do you do? Cancel it all together? NASCAR elected one last gasp to save the Clash and did so by moving it across the country to a football stadium. It was a major risk.

“Last year, this was one of the biggest risks, if not the biggest risk, our sport has ever taken,” said Clash winner as well as series champion, Joey Logano. “When you think of the track we’re racing at, brand new.  Brand new cars that had never been raced before in front of a lot of new fans that have never seen a race before, this could have been really bad.  I was very nervous.  This could be really bad for the sport and it was great.  You think about it.  The race was really good.  The heat races.  The last chance qualifiers.  Each race kind of had its own feel and personality and the feature was good.  There was good racing.  There was a concert in between.  It was a spectacular week, I thought, out here to pull this one off.  It seems crazy. 

“When they told us the first time it was like, ‘What?  Where?  How? With brand new cars?  OK.’  But it worked out great and obviously that’s why we’re back again and not really many things have changed and the things that have make it even better for the fan experience.  This is great.  I think it’s added something to the Clash in general.  It was special when it was in Daytona, to win at Daytona is special, but I think last year after going through the whole weekend and being able to win the race the excitement and the amount of eyeballs that were watching were far more than what it would have been at the Clash, to where I would almost look at winning the Clash last year as one of my biggest victories, and I don’t think there’s many non-points paying races that you’d ever say that about, but just the fact that it was an inaugural event at a place like this was just really cool.”

It proved that it was wise to move it.

Last year’s exhibition race that was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum drew a 2.32 rating which equated out to 4.283 million. The 2022 Clash outdrew 2021’s by almost 3 million people and nearly doubled the last one held on a Sunday afternoon on the Daytona oval.

This move to the Coliseum gives the spark to the event back again.

70% of the attendance last year were first time ticket buyers to a NASCAR race. The estimated attendance was north of 50k and some reports of 60k+. That’s huge for this race. See, the Clash had become to dull and stagnant that they struggled to get 10k to walk through the Daytona gates to witness it. The 2021 race on the road course struggled to get to 7k. Now, you take the race to a big market like LA, in a football stadium at that, and it actually worked.

Brad Keselowski sees it as a giant positive not only for the drivers side, but from an ownership standpoint as well.

“It’s an interesting event.  When you look at the revenues of the race teams, the majority of the revenues are coming from the sponsors, so it does OK for that,” he says. “But when you look at it for the value to the industry, it’s probably, in my opinion, the second-most valuable event that we have all year to the Daytona 500. “To be in Los Angeles, which is certainly a huge market, I read some graphic the other day from NASCAR that we have more fans in L.A. than any other area, which is hard to think of, but of all the regions we go to, there are more NASCAR fans than anywhere else, so I think we lose sight of that sometimes.  But to be able to be in their backyard and to engage them for a key event, I think that’s really important.  Of course, for our TV partners this is a tremendous event as well.  They’re the lifeblood of our sport in so many different ways as probably the primary revenue generator, so from the team perspective it’s probably more neutral, but from an industry perspective this is a significant event for us.”

Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing as well as a driver for JGR, agreed.

“The value is the location is the biggest thing,” Denny Hamlin said. “A lot of team sponsors are probably headquartered somewhere near here so there’s a value in activation that comes with that and it’s also valuable to introduce new fans to the sport. I think that with roughly 40 percent of the audience members that show up this weekend will be new to our sport. Just helps grow the sport in general. Pretty positive thing from that standpoint.”

His 23XI Racing driver, Bubba Wallace, says that the diversity of the city of Los Angeles is massive to the sport and to be able to bring NASCAR to race in front of them, is a win-win.

“I think it’s big and I think I said it at this time last year, but getting into a market where it’s so diverse and exposing our sport to eyeballs is important,” said the newly wed. “We have to continue this trend whether it’s here in LA or we move it somewhere else, whatever it may be. I think this is a start of changing the face of NASCAR and it’s fun to be a part of. For me to just go out and compete and represent our sponsors and our team and we have MJ (Michael Jordan) watching and everybody knows who MJ is so have to do it right.”

Kevin Harvick said after a successful inaugural edition, you can’t mess this up anymore. It’s not going to be a dud. So, if this weekend’s race is deemed successful, does it come back? I mean if it works in LA, why not try another venue?

NBC Sports reported last year 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.

“It’s something that I think we’ll certainly look at,” Ben 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 said 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 noted. “If this model works then it can open a lot of doors for the future.”

Kennedy, agreed with that.

“I think as far as venues go, I talked to Kevin (Harvick) 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.”

Steve 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.”

So, if you get a second straight hit, it’s a risk to move it away, but why not explore? You want to take the Clash to other venues while the attention is high rather than it trending down. Does coming back to LA a third straight year in 2024 risk the popularity going downward?

One potential thing could be a points paying race. On Saturday, the Auto Club Speedway President said that there’d be no racing there in 2024 and maybe even in 2025 too as they’ll reconfigured the race track. So, without a points paying race in the LA market, there’s word that they could come to the Coliseum as a points paying event instead.

“Sure. I think NASCAR whatever deems is important to them,” Hamlin said. “I’m sure having a race in this area is very important with the talk of the two-mile oval in Fontana, you would have no more and they may be taking a year off while it rebuilds. Certainly I think they’re going to be open to options and maybe this does fall in that slot or we go somewhere else.”

Harvick questions on what you could do with this race at other venues, so why not take it to somewhere else?

“I think that, to me, as I look at this, there are a lot of possibilities of things that you could do with other venues,” Kevin Harvick said.  “I like it as something that could move around and go to different spots and I think when you look at the stadium aspect of things, it opens up possibilities to take this event to different countries and different parts of the world to expose our sport, or you could have a Stadium Series.  I don’t know.  I think there are a lot of options.  I think this has opened a lot of doors that probably in the past weren’t really expected to be opened because when I came here last year I really thought this was gonna be a joke, personally.  And it was probably one of the races that I had the most fun at last year.  You look at the atmosphere and everything that happened, it was a great event and I think coming back this year everybody is looking forward to it.”

Keselowski agreed.

“I think it’s a great venue.  They did a heck of a job.  Similar to Kevin, I had some pretty big concerns coming into it last year and I was blown out of the water by what I saw here.  I thought they did an amazing job.  The potential is here to do so many different things – points races or carry the idea to other venues that I think it’s certainly in one year’s time earned a lot of respect within the industry that opens up numerous doors and opportunities.  How that plays forward, I know I’m pretty open-minded to it as both a driver and an owner and look forward to see it do just that – play out.”

One comment

  1. I watched the last 40 laps of the race and thought from a tv stand point of view it was very boring. It may be interesting there in person with all of the hoopla that goes on before the race, and celebs that show up for this event. But a small track where there is little passing ability and no speed makes for a boring race. Been a race fan for over 50 years.


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