Why last year’s Busch Light Clash was much different than this year’s

Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson each filled spots in the top five of last year’s inaugural Busch Light Clash as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The only difference between these three in this year’s in comparison to the one from a year ago was that instead of it being Busch in 2nd, Dillon in 3rd and Larson in 5th, this years went Dillon in 2nd, Busch in 3rd and Larson in 5th.

Joey Logano topped Busch a year ago while Martin Truex Jr. topped Dillon by just .786-seconds this time around.

However, despite some familiarity inside the top 5 of the two events, the pair of 150-lap races couldn’t have raced any differently.

Last year’s saw just 5 cautions. This year’s…16.

As far as to why?


“Yeah, and everybody has gotten a little better since last year, so the parity was close,” Austin Dillon said. “There were a lot of fast guys. The little bit, if you are faster than someone, you kind of have to bump them, because they can kind of check up on the exit of the corner and stop you.

“If you get that run and you’re there, you kind of have to use it or be used.

“Everybody has learned a lot from last year. There was quite a bit of bad cars last year.”

Last year was the first time of this next Next Gen model race car. No one truly knew how to race it or what to expect so they took it easy. A sequential shifter was vastly different than anything that they’ve raced before. The handling, everything was different. They were even shifting on this track.

It was a big learning experience.

That, plus a football stadium that they’ve never raced on before, well it was a new set of circumstances as well. The track produces some close quarters racing, but last year they learned that the bumping and banging didn’t damage their cars like they use to. As a result, they entered this weekend’s race knowing what to expect. They’ve adapted.

“Last year was the first race for this car and we didn’t know how tough they were at the time,” said the 2021 series champion, Kyle Larson. “There was not as much slamming.”

Fourth place finisher Alex Bowman noted that “Maybe it got a little out of hand at times.”

Larson ponders on if this new car and this track could be a culprit too.

“When they build a racetrack in a football field, that’s what we’re here to do,” Bowman said. “We’re here to put on a show and be exciting. We all knew when we heard about this event, whenever it was the first time that we were going to come here, people were going to run over each other. It’s too easy.”

Now that they’re used to both the car and track, they’ve also found that you can be so much rougher with these new cars than ever before. In the past, these hits that these drivers were making now would have knocked them out of the race. Now, they can continue on as if nothing ever happened.

“I think people didn’t quite know how strong the noses and rear bumpers were,” Larson continued. “I don’t know. I mean, just a product of this track and this car. I don’t think you would see that style of racing with the previous generation car just because they wouldn’t be as strong. You’d knock the radiators out racing like that.

“I think the cars are just so stiff that that’s just kind of how it goes. Not saying it’s right, but the cars are built that way. Yeah, I don’t really know how to answer it other than that.

“This year it was just like everybody just ran through the person in front of them. If you got a hole to get down, somewhere to get down, then the three or four cars behind would just shove them through the two in front of them. A lot of accordion, and just difficult on the restarts, especially where I was, middle of the pack.”

Kyle Busch agreed with both drivers and also says that last year’s show was clean, but maybe it should have looked more this way than that and cautions than this may be the way this race runs from here on out.

“I mean, last year’s show I felt like was relatively clean and good racing, some bumping, some banging, but we could run long stretches of green flag action, where today was I would call it a disaster with the disrespect from everybody of just driving through each other and not just letting everything kind of work its way out,” Busch said.

“But it’s a quarter mile. It’s tight-quarters racing. Actually this is probably how it should have gone last year, so we got spoiled with a good show the first year. Maybe this was just normal.”

With so many stoppages for cautions, does that make a case to return in 2024?

“There are just no repercussions to driving in and using the bumper of the car in front of you,” Denny Hamlin said. “They hit someone in front of them, and the car two cars up spins. The only way to do it is to officiate unnecessary contact and (send them) to the rear. But the whole field would be black-flagged if we raced like that. I don’t really have a good answer.”

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. So, do they come back in 2024 or do they move this event around to other venues now that they know it can work?

Last year’s event was a success but I wonder now after a shitshow of an event on Sunday, how realistic is it to ask if this comes back? Do they maybe move it around?

“It’s something that I think we’ll certainly look at,” Ben Kennedy said after last year’s successful event. “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.”

The thing is, with so much carnage in the main event, was it too much. Did this year’s race give fans enough to want to come back in 2024 or is it time to maybe move on or…scrap it all together?

I don’t think Sunday’s event unfortunately was enough to bring new fans back in 2024. It definitely would be a hard sell to make this a points paying race. The main event struggled to gain any traction and that’s with 27 cars. Imagine adding 13 more spots and double the amount of laps run to the mix.

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