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.
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.
“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.
|1||4||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||150||Running|
|2||1||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||150||Running|
|3||10||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|4||16||43||Erik Jones||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|5||8||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|6||7||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|7||14||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||150||Running|
|8||11||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||150||Running|
|9||21||16||A.J. Allmendinger*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|10||19||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||150||Running|
|11||15||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|12||22||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||150||Running|
|13||9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|14||5||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||150||Running|
|15||23||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||149||Running|
|16||12||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||149||Running|
|17||13||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||147||Running|
|18||20||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||146||Running|
|19||3||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||116||Accident|
|20||18||15||Ryan Preece||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||75||Oil Pressure|
|21||2||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||53||Drivetrain|
|22||6||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||53||Drivetrain|
|23||17||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||52||Power|
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Qualifying race results
|1||1||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||25||Running|
|2||2||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|3||3||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|4||4||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||25||Running|
|5||5||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||25||Running|
|6||9||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|7||8||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||25||Running|
|8||6||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||25||Running|
|9||7||78||B.J. McLeod||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||23||Running|
|1||1||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|2||7||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||25||Running|
|3||6||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|4||2||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||25||Running|
|5||5||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||25||Running|
|6||4||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|7||9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||25||Running|
|8||3||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||25||Running|
|9||8||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||23||Running|
|1||1||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|2||3||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||26||Running|
|3||4||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||27||Running|
|4||2||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||28||Running|
|5||5||16||A.J. Allmendinger*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||29||Running|
|6||6||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||30||Running|
|7||7||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||31||Running|
|8||9||51||Cody Ware||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||32||Running|
|9||8||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||33||Running|
|1||1||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||25||Running|
|2||2||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|3||3||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||25||Running|
|4||6||43||Erik Jones||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|5||5||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||25||Running|
|6||7||15||Ryan Preece||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||25||Running|
|7||8||45||Kurt Busch||23XI Racing||Toota||25||Running|
|8||4||77||Landon Cassill*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||25||Running|
|9||9||42||Ty Dillon||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||6||Accident|
|9||5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0||DNS|
|N/A||10||42||Ty Dillon||50||Running (Penalty)|