After a few years of NASCAR’s Clash at Daytona turning into something of a farce as drivers competing for a non-points win wrecked dozens of cars preparing for a race that essentially means little, NASCAR decided to make changes. Last year the Clash was run on Daytona’s road course and featured a last-corner victory by Kyle Busch. This year, however, they are going big: for the first time since 1979, the sport will stage the Clash at a track that isn’t Daytona, heading to the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The new Next-Gen car debuts here for the sport, a new car on a new track. The purpose-built quarter mile asphalt oval inside the stadium will host the Clash, which remains an exhibition race. Half the size of Martinsville, it’s the smallest track the series will run on by a considerable margin. The stadium, a national historic landmark that’s hosted the first Super Bowl and held Olympic events twice since it opened (and will add a third time in 2028), was transformed to be ready to race within only a few months.
While the Clash is typically limited to drivers who meet a specific list of requirements, this year’s running will be open to up to 40 entrants, and 36 cars are registered right now. With the small size of the track, NASCAR’s limiting the race itself to 23 cars. The field will be set by finishing positions in four heat races – for which the starting grid will be set by single car qualifying – for the first sixteen drivers, with six more racing in from the last-chance qualifier, and the final spot reserved for the remaining driver who finished highest in points in the 2021 Championship.
NASCAR is billing the Clash at the Coliseum as an entertainment event to draw in more casual fans and get them excited about the start to the season. On the entertainment front, global superstar and NASCAR owner Pitbull will perform a forty-five-minute concert before the drop of the green flag. During the race break – halfway through at lap 75 of 150 – Los Angeles-born rapper Ice Cube will perform for the brief pause. Very new for NASCAR will be performances by DJ Skee during caution breaks.
On the subject of cautions, it’s probably safe to expect plenty of those. The only NASCAR action at the Coliseum before the drivers take to the actual track was virtually on the iRacing platform via its premier Coca-Cola Series, featuring caution-filled qualifiers and racing. Indeed, William Byron, an iRacing Coke Series team owner, said he “can learn some things” from the simulator and from feedback from his driver Nick Ottinger who scored a virtual top five. He’s worked with the development of the track on the simulator from the beginning, testing it on iRacing from the beginning of the project. With the virtual world being the only training ground available for the drivers before the race weekend, iRacing has been a valuable tool, he said.
Martin Truex, driver of the number 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, acknowledges that it could very likely “turn into a crash fest,” although he said he hopes that won’t be the case.
“We don’t want there to be a lot of cautions and wrecks, not a lot of chaos,” he said. “Just a good race to put on a good show with all the attention it’s getting and make it a successful event.”
Joey Logano, driver of the number 22 Ford for Team Penske, anticipated the race being “the most highly-rated Clash of all time… “because we’re doing something different.” He promised to bring the aggression, the same as the last lap of the Daytona 500.
The typical odds for the race aren’t entirely applicable. Sure, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick lead all drivers with wins in the Clash, but all their respective three wins came on the high banks of Daytona. Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in short track wins with sixteen, with brother Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin trailing in second with ten each. Still though, most of Kyle’s wins come at Bristol or Richmond, and the flat Martinsville – where Denny Hamlin has the most victories of active drivers at five – provides the closest parallel. BetMGM places highest 6-1 odds on defending champion Kyle Larson, as well as on Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. One thing’s for certain: the race will be competitive, and the winner will be a surprise.
While many longtime NASCAR fans are unhappy with moving the Clash out of Daytona and shortening the speedweeks, as the sport competes for television viewers with the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics at the beginning of the season, a highly publicized race in a big new market has the potential to draw in new fans while still providing entertaining racing for current fans.
Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president for strategy and innovation, said: “As we demonstrated last year, we are committed to creating the most dynamic schedule for our fans, long term.” As a non-points race, it’s a good time to try. “
Most interesting in regard to the rest of the season is debut of the Next Gen car. After two years of development, this will be the car’s first test after the most development of any car in the sport’s history. For the first time, a Cup car will feature a five-speed sequential shifter and single-lug wheels.
Notable improvements on the cars for the Clash (and the other short tracks on the schedule) include independent rear suspension, advanced rack-and-pinion steering, the short-track-designed bigger brakes. Truex said since he first tested the car on track, “the brakes have gotten so much better,” and more than make up for the increased weight of the car.
NASCAR has spent most of its effort NASCAR has spent most of its effort testing the Next Gen on intermediates and superspeedways, so this short track debut is a key test to see how the car will perform this year.
After two years of development, this will be the car’s first test after the most development of any car in the sport’s history. For the first time, a Cup car will feature a five-speed sequential shifter and single-lug wheels. Notable improvements for the Clash include independent rear suspension, advanced rack-and-pinion steering, the short-track-designed bigger brakes. Truex said since he first tested the car on track, “the brakes have gotten so much better,” and more than make up for the increased weight of the car.
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