1. The Clash at the Coliseum was one heck of an exhibition …
It’s difficult to overstate how wild it was watching this year’s Busch Light Clash, something I’ve never thought in any previous NASCAR season. “They actually did it,” was the overwhelming thought any time the mind wandered over the weekend. A quarter-mile track, built inside the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, giving the world its first full look at Next Gen racing. Surreal isn’t too strong a word to describe it.
Fun is also very appropriate to what played out, and as Han Solo once said, I mean all of it: The short (short) track racing, the large crowd, and yes, even Pitbull and Ice Cube performing. The entertainment flourishes may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but you could easily turn the channel during those times, and anyone wringing their hands over those touches needs to stop being so precious about a non-points race.
The Clash is an exhibition, so what we just saw is what it should be doing. It should still have Cup Series drivers battling it out, absolutely. But NASCAR doesn’t need just another race in what is already one of pro sports’ longest seasons. New locations (more on that in a bit), new formats and musical guests should all be welcomed. Making the Clash a good time while still giving the Cup teams a chance to shake off the rust should be the goal every year.
There is, of course, a chance that non-fans might tune in, like what they see, then be disappointed if they tune back in at, say, Kansas and find it’s not at all what they saw at the Clash. But frankly, that’s a good problem for NASCAR to have, because the last decade or so hasn’t been full of people even giving it a first chance. The Clash was a conversation-starter this year, and that’s all you can ask of it in the end.
2. … but it probably told us almost nothing about what to expect this season
Even when the Clash was just a preseason exhibition at Daytona the week before 500, it’s hard to say it was a harbinger of anything important for the campaign ahead. If there was anything negative you could say about the 2022 edition, it’s that it likely revealed even less than usual, seeing as there are exactly zero points races on a quarter-mile track and the cars this year are brand new.
If you squint hard enough, maybe you can take something out of Justin Haley running so well. But it’s all guesswork. Was Tyler Reddick‘s prop shaft failure a sign of a structural issue in the Next Gen cars that could rear its ugly head at short tracks later this year? Even NASCAR isn’t sure, though Chevrolet is looking into it.
Since the Daytona 500 often isn’t an indicator of who’s really going to be strong or what the season-long storylines might be, we’ll have to wait until NASCAR returns to California to start getting some insight — which as it turns out, is just a few weeks from now.
3. Where should NASCAR hold the 2023 Clash?
Perhaps the best part of NASCAR pulling off the Clash at the Coliseum is how it sparked the imagination as far as future editions of the event. If you can build a short track in a football stadium, the sky’s the limit.
OK, maybe not the sky, exactly. As my wife helpfully pointed out during the Clash, the February weather isn’t conducive to races in front of raucous outdoor crowds in many places.
(Though Ice Cube could probably rock the mic anywhere in any temperature.)
Travel could also be an issue too, though perhaps not now that the NFL schedule — and yes, that’s what did it — has knocked the Daytona 500 back a week from its pre-2022 norm.
Other than that, I’d say go nuts. The Clash could be the vehicle to work a street course into NASCAR, something that has been discussed for years, and holding a street race as a non-points event could alleviate some of the concerns around it. A short track that isn’t currently on the NASCAR schedule (go ahead and name your favorite) would also be welcome. Or NASCAR could just take it’s “build-a-track” operation somewhere different.
The speed at which we’ll get an answer might come as a surprise. NASCAR has options to return the Clash to the L.A. Coliseum in both 2023 and 2024, and has just 90 days to decide on whether to exercise the 2023 option. After what we just saw, that would be fine as well, though the novelty factor would undoubtedly be lessened each time out.
4. If you throw a HANS device and no one sees it, was it really thrown?
One of the more entertaining subplots from Sunday was normally chill Ryan Blaney getting upset enough after feeling Erik Jones tried to “destroy me for seventh” that he chucked his HANS device at Jones’ No. 43 Chevrolet after climbing out of his Ford.
Or did he? You’d think that on a quarter-mile track, there’s nowhere to hide, but none of Fox’s cameras caught Blaney in the act. Hence, there are shots of the aftermath, but none of the actual HANS toss, as it were.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 7, 2022
There was also circumstantial evidence that Blaney nimbly made his way into throwing range, at least.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 7, 2022
Blaney was definitely mad, so I’m saying he did throw it. And jokes aside, the idea of someone getting mad enough at another driver that they expressed their displeasure that way is another tally in the win column of the 2022 Clash.
5. Is it possible to clone Tony Stewart?
With all due respect to Jeff Gordon (whose hair is now officially A Choice) and the work he did in the Fox booth for the last six seasons, he wasn’t missed on Sunday because Tony Stewart was great. This came as no surprise as many fans seemed to be anticipating Smoke joining Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer on commentary, but he was even better than expected. Stewart made plenty of informative points, played effortlessly off both his partners (including a hilarious quip about Bowyer hitting plenty of walls “in my cars”) and generally made it feel like he had been part of this announce team for years.
Ideally, Stewart would just join Fox full time, but he can’t because, well, he’s pretty busy. Owning a track, part of a race team and part of a whole racing series is a full plate by anyone’s standards.
So the answer here is simple: Scientists are getting close to cloning woolly mammoths, which have been extinct for millennia. Cloning Stewart should be a lot simpler since he’s alive and well. Maybe do a Kickstarter as I’ll happily chip in for the sake of TV broadcasts for the first half of this upcoming NASCAR season.
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