NASCAR Cup Series

Joey Logano becomes first NASCAR winner at LA Coliseum with Busch Light Clash victory

7 Mins read
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

It is perhaps NASCAR‘s most ambitious plan in a long time. Many were rightfully skeptical when it was revealed. The premier Cup Series and its new Next Gen car racing in a temporary quarter-mile oval located in a college football stadium in the heart of Los Angeles? If one went back in time and presented this idea to another fan, they would likely be met with a confused look, if not boisterous laughter.

But that was what NASCAR did, and while it is too soon to make a proper retrospective, it might have been one of their biggest hits to date.

The Busch Light Clash, which had been held at Daytona International Speedway as a prelude to the season-opening Daytona 500 for over four decades, instead took place Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time ever. After Saturday’s practice and night qualifying and the drama of the Last Chance Qualifier, the yellow-and-red car of Joey Logano held off pole winner Kyle Busch to win his second career Clash in a stadium whose primary tenant—the USC Trojans football team—wears red and yellow.

Busch, the reigning Clash winner, established himself as the early favourite when he set the fastest time in qualifying before dominating his heat race. Unlike previous Clashes where only a select few were invited, all thirty-six chartered cars participated which necessitated four heats and two LCQs to whittle down the grid to twenty-three for the final. The heats’ pole sitters Busch, Tyler Reddick, Justin Haley, and Logano all led flag to flag, though stories were aplenty in the midfield such as Cody Ware‘s dramatic effort to make the final for perennial underdog Rick Ware Racing and a crash involving Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Landon Cassill.

The first LCQ once again saw the first-place starter leading every lap with Denny Hamlin locking his spot in. Save for an early wreck in which Todd Gilliland turned Aric Almirola into the wall, it was once again a relatively clean race. On the other hand, LCQ #2 was a microcosm of what doubters expected of the Clash: an incident-filled scramble that was exacerbated by drivers hoping to secure the final spots in the feature. Seven cautions occurred in the fifty-lap race, with Ty Dillon being involved in five. Dillon’s tumultuous day seemed to find light when he escaped with the LCQ win after starting last, only for it to come to an end entirely when he was penalised for jumping the final restart and the win shuffled to Ryan Preece. With reigning champion Kyle Larson qualifying via heat finish, Martin Truex Jr. rightfully opted not to run the heat and instead took the provisional given to the highest 2021 points finisher who had yet to advance (Truex was the 2021 runner-up).

The four heat winners comprised the first two rows for the feature. Reddick held the early advantage over the field, leading until Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun on lap 53 for the first caution. However, the leader met an abrupt demise when his driveshaft broke after dropping the clutch to warm up his tyres. A similar fate befell Chase Briscoe, who noted in a Reddit comment that such an issue did not occur in the Gen-6 car, and said that “it’s concerning but they will figure it out for sure, they will have to because we do the same thing every time we leave the pits.” Hamlin also retired from the race during the break with a power steering failure.

With Reddick out of the picture, Busch was once again on top. Another caution came on lap 65 with Chase Elliott’s single-car spin, followed by a halftime break at the midway point ten laps later.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The race resumed with Busch and William Byron leading, and the former cleared Byron for first. Preece exited shortly after with oil pressure problems.

Busch’s grip over the top position ended when Ryan Blaney hit the wall on lap 115 after contact with Erik Jones; with NASCAR Hall of Famer and noted helmet tosser Tony Stewart calling from the FOX booth, Blaney responded to the wreck by chucking his HANS device at Jones’ car, but returned to the race. The ensuing restart was aborted after Larson turned Haley into the wall.

The final thirty-four laps saw Busch attempt to run down Logano, an effort marred by lapped traffic. Yet it would not be enough as Logano pulled away to score his first Clash victory since 2017. The 2018 champion seems to have a knack for solid performances in inaugural events, having won the first Bristol Dirt race and leading the most laps in NASCAR’s maiden foray at Circuit of the Americas in 2021.

“Finding speed, we were slow, twenty-eighth or so on the board yesterday,” Logano told FOX. “Made some good changes. Worked with our teammate Ryan Blaney, I owe a lot to him too, to see some of the gains they made, and ultimately get the win.

“[…] This is special to get the first Next Gen win, the first win here in the Coliseum. It’s a special one. We’re going to have some fun and celebrate it.”

In the end, perhaps NASCAR has every right to pat itself on the back for the race. It has been seen as a bold move since it surfaced as just a rumour, and critics were understandably doubtful: how practical was it for the seventh-generation Cup car to debut on such a short track where not every car could fit, especially as questions surrounded parts availability? Despite its size, the West Coast is not exactly a hotbed for NASCAR fandom either, so why pursue that market? What were the logistics and finances of building a track to be used only once instead of focusing on local short tracks in the South?

As it turned out, there was not much for fans to worry about. NASCAR stated that seventy percent of the approximately 60,000 fans in attendance were new to the sport, and organisers went all in to turn the Clash into a Southern California event. Trackhouse Racing Team owner and acclaimed musician Pitbull performed prior to the final, while acclaimed rapper Ice Cube did so at halftime and disc jockey DJ Skee provided music over the public address during cautions. Many celebrities flocked to the Coliseum, and a contingent of local sporting legends were the grand marshals with USC football greats Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, 1980s NFL stars Eric Dickerson and Greg Townsend, and Olympic beach volleyball star Misty May-Treanor gave the command alongside NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon to fire engines.

Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

“Today proved that hey, we can race anywhere,” Logano said in his post-race press conference. “That says a lot about our sport. That’s the biggest win today for the future of our sport. It’s so big.”

While the Coliseum has hosted motorsport in the past such as motocross and stadium trucks, stock car racing on a football field is typically reserved for grassroots divisions. Still, the Clash’s apparent success has many wondering about NASCAR potentially holding stadium races elsewhere, including abroad: Kevin Harvick expressed interest in the UK’s Wembley Stadium (a former Race of Champions host) while Austin Dillon is intrigued by AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (which the AMA Monster Energy Supercross races at). Some even proposed returning to Japan, where NASCAR held exhibitions at Twin Ring Motegi and Suzuka Circuit in the 1990s.

However, this does not mean the Cup Series will suddenly become a four-wheeled AMA Supercross or a multi-country world championship. The Coliseum has hosted a wide array of sporting events including the Summer Olympics for nearly a century, which provides it with a larger playing surface for NASCAR to build an oval upon than American football-specific venues. NASCAR senior vice president of strategic innovation Ben Kennedy described the Coliseum as “a perfect footprint as you think about the size of the field itself.”

“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,” commented NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell. “(Ben and I) have always talked about, 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.”

Whatever NASCAR’s plan is, at least they now have experience to build upon.

Race results

1422Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord150Running
2118Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota150Running
3103Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet150Running
41643Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
585Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
6724William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
71441Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord150Running
81120Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota150Running
92116A.J. Allmendinger*Kaulig RacingChevrolet150Running
10194Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord150Running
11159Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
122221Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord150Running
13947Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet150Running
14599Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet150Running
152319Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota149Running
161234Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord149Running
171312Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord147Running
182023Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota146Running
19331Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet116Accident
201815Ryan PreeceRick Ware RacingFord75Oil Pressure
2128Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet53Drivetrain
22614Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord53Drivetrain
231711Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota52Power
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points

Qualifying race results

Heat #1

1118Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota25Running
2299Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet25Running
3347Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet25Running
4412Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord25Running
5511Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota25Running
691Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet25Running
7838Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord25Running
8610Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord25Running
9778B.J. McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord23Running
Underscore – Advanced to Clash

Heat #2

118Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet25Running
2714Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord25Running
363Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet25Running
4241Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord25Running
5523Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota25Running
6448Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet25Running
7919Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota25Running
8321Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord25Running
986Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord23Running

Heat #3

1131Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet25Running
2324William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet26Running
3420Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota27Running
429Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet28Running
5516A.J. Allmendinger*Kaulig RacingChevrolet29Running
664Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord30Running
7717Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord31Running
8951Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord32Running
987Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet33Running

Heat #4

1122Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord25Running
225Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet25Running
3334Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord25Running
4643Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet25Running
552Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord25Running
6715Ryan PreeceRick Ware RacingFord25Running
7845Kurt Busch23XI RacingToota25Running
8477Landon Cassill*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet25Running
9942Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet6Accident

LCQ #1

1111Denny Hamlin50Running
244Kevin Harvick50Running
3216A.J. Allmendinger*50Running
4851Cody Ware50Running
5617Chris Buescher50Running
631Ross Chastain50Running
7107Corey LaJoie50Running
8538Todd Gilliland50Running
9710Aric Almirola4Accident
10978B.J. McLeod4DNF

LCQ #2

1415Ryan Preece50Running
2123Bubba Wallace50Running
3721Harrison Burton50Running
496Brad Keselowski50Running
522Austin Cindric50Running
6877Landon Cassill*50Running
7645Kurt Busch45Accident
8348Alex Bowman45Accident
9519Martin Truex Jr.0DNS
N/A1042Ty Dillon50Running (Penalty)
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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