Joey Logano won the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum last year and wound up the NASCAR Cup Series champion. Are you looking for any similar parallels in year two, or is that a mere coincidence?
Chris Skala: I see the parallels. Fords and Toyotas dominated the flat tracks last season, with Ford winning the majority. Logano won the Clash, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and the championship at Phoenix Raceway. Last year, it was Kyle Busch and Logano leading all the laps of the main event. At Phoenix, it was Ryan Blaney and Logano who dominated in November. I’m curious to see what Chevrolet has done to catch up. Sunday could be a little bit of a hint of what the season could look like. Have the bowties made progress, or do they have a long battle ahead?
Mark Kristl: Because the LA Coliseum is such a different track than any other on the Cup schedule, there aren’t any parallels in terms of track correlation. The parallel that exists is the Clash regained some luster as evidenced in the ratings. As a result, the winning driver will be similar to the Cup champion in that both drivers rose to the occasion to succeed on a big stage.
Mike Neff: It is a big stretch to draw a parallel between the two. Starting the season off with a win is certainly a goal for all teams and it can give some early momentum, but that is the extent of it. If it happens again this year, we’ll talk, but the odds are slim.
Stephen Stumpf: Really can’t decipher a pattern off of one year, especially when considering that no one had any idea what to expect going into the Clash last year. It would take several years of running the race before any coincidences can become a pattern.
In year two of the Next Gen car, do you expect drivers to race more aggressively at the Clash?
Stumpf: Depends on how raceable the Next Gen car is this season. The short tracks were a struggle with the car in 2022, and it was difficult to pass at times in the Clash last year. If drivers are able to make more moves and pass, the racing — and the aggressiveness of the drivers — will increase. Sure, it may be an exhibition race, but that didn’t stop drivers from being aggressive in the final years of the Clash at Daytona International Speedway. And given the unique nature of the race, taking the checkered flag will certainly be on the bucket list for several drivers.
Kristl: Drivers’ comfort with the Next Gen car, the addition of more drivers to the feature event and less worry about a supply chain shortage all should generate more aggressive drivers. Now, whether that aggression turns into more cautions remains to be seen, because the Next Gen car didn’t produce the most exciting action on short tracks in 2022.
Neff: Drivers were rather aggressive to begin last year, but the shortage of parts did cause some teams to throttle back. With a lot more experience behind these cars and teams, there will probably be some more forceful moves.
Skala: 1,000% yes. Last year 85% of the field only had two cars to work with at this point. A year later, there are teams with inventory to work with in the second race at the track. The drivers need to leave the tempers at the garage, because there is going to be a duel in the Coliseum that could lead to a surprise winner and some drivers angry. The only thing I worry about is teams spending more money on parts for a car than money earned for the race.
Should there be an off week between the Clash and the Daytona 500?
Kristl: That’s a tricky question because of the Clash location. If the Clash is located closer to either Daytona or Charlotte Motor Speedway, there isn’t the need for an off week because teams are closer to their shops and Daytona. But if the Clash remains in Los Angeles or is relocated to the soon-to-be-reconfigured Auto Club Speedway, an off week is immensely helpful, because it will take longer for the haulers to return to team shops.
Skala: Yes! There should also be a week off after. NASCAR spends around 10 weeks a year competing with the NFL. By taking the week off between the Clash and the Daytona 500, it keeps two big events from competing with each other. NASCAR would never consider putting its biggest event up against the Super Bowl or allowing the Clash to be smashed by the Big Game. This is one of those scenarios where you look at the schedule ahead of time, see when the Super Bowl is and plot around it.
Stumpf: Yes, for two reasons. First, if there wasn’t an off week, the Clash would compete head-to-head against the Super Bowl in the current schedule. Second, the teams will only have two days of rest between the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying if the race is run on a Sunday. With the importance and prestige of the Daytona 500, the teams should have more than a full week to prepare for it.
Neff: As a fan of the IceBreaker at Florence Motor Speedway, I am all for the break. Outside of that, it would be best to get started and not look back.
Do you view the Coliseum as the indefinite home of the Clash going forward?
Neff: Let’s see what it looks like this year. Last year there was a lot of buzz because it was new and different. Now that the honeymoon is over, we’ll see what the stands and ratings look like. It more than likely isn’t a long-term location but this year will make a statement one way or another.
Skala: No. Financially, teams are losing money at this event. Denny Hamlin mentioned on a podcast last year that his team was in the negative after the race. RFK Racing missed the main event last year with both drivers; I doubt it is driving three days across the United States to miss a second straight year. NASCAR has done well with the decision to put the race at the Coliseum, but now it’s time to see where else it can go. Where’s the best place? That’s up to NASCAR to decide. And unless we go to Seattle to run the race, NASCAR will be closer to home with the Clash in the future.
Kristl: Because the Clash takes place in February, NASCAR is restricted on locations. Presently, LA attracts fans and it restored hype to the event. LA is the best location for the Clash. FOX likes it, NASCAR likes it and it was a welcome change of pace from Daytona. Plus, because NASCAR only races the Cup cars at the Coliseum for the Clash, no driver is going to gain an advantage from participating in other series’ races there.
Stumpf: Yes, if it continues to be a success. The uniqueness of the race and the names present at the event helped contribute to substantial attendance, and the race itself had more than double the viewers of the 2021 edition. If the Clash at the Coliseum continues to be a ratings hit, it should be continued by all means.
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