NASCAR embraces novelty, chaos of Clash at the Coliseum

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

NASCAR treated fans to a memorable warmup to the 2022 season, holding the Busch Light Clash at a temporary quarter-mile track at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

There is no denying that modern auto racing is big business. While NASCAR stopped releasing official revenue figures to the public after the 2015 season, the organization brought in more than $193 million in ticket revenue and $660 million in television money in 2018.

Sponsor advertising is rooted more deeply in racing than it is in any other sport on the globe, and as NASCAR has become more corporate, it has become undeniably duller.

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The drivers are blander than their counterparts from decades past, and the workaday nature required to run a full 36-race Cup Series schedule definitely saps enthusiasm and energy from drivers and teams.

But in the last two seasons, NASCAR has managed to get drivers excited about a late March Cup Series race and a preseason exhibition race by playing around with a couple of tradition-laden venues.

Last year, it was a dirt track laid over the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) Bristol Motor Speedway oval in Bristol, Tennessee, and this year, it was a quarter-mile temporary track built on top of the football field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Sunday at the Busch Light Clash was more like a local short track race day, with four 25-lap heat races, followed by two 50-lap last chance qualifiers for the drivers who had failed to qualify for the main event in the heat races.

The main event featured 23 cars: the top four finishers from each of the four initial heat races and the top three finishers from each of the last chance qualifiers, plus Martin Truex Jr., who got in as the highest finisher in the 2021 standings among those who did not qualify in any of the preliminary races.

With Super Bowl LVI scheduled for the following Sunday less than seven miles away at SoFi Stadium, the parallels between NASCAR’s experiment and the NFL’s flagship event were obvious.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has hosted two Super Bowls before, and the race even featured lots of pre-event pageantry and a “halftime show,” an earnest performance from Ice Cube that seemed to get lost across the vast expanse of the 99-year-old stadium.

Joey Logano won the race, but that was almost an afterthought among the beaming faces of drivers, fans, crew members, broadcasters, and TV viewers. Even the notoriously crabby Busch brothers had smiles during post-race interviews despite disappointing results.

Kurt was leading when he was knocked from the second last chance qualifier by the twin battering rams of Austin Cindric and Ty Dillon with five laps left, and Kyle finished second to Logano in the main event after leading a race-high 64 of 150 green flag laps.

The racing itself was thrilling over nearly every quarter mile, with cars running two and three-wide for most of the day, and credit goes to NASCAR engineers for crafting a track with room to race in such a tiny space.

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The constant paint-swapping gave the day an edge that is missing from most typical NASCAR race weekends, and the slower speeds and tight quarters made driving more important than drafting. NASCAR holds the option to come back the next two years, and given how enjoyable this weekend was for nearly everyone involved, they’d be foolish not to do so.