NASCAR’s Clash in L.A. exceeds expectations

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 06: A view of the flyover during the national anthem prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Well, NASCAR pulled it off. After years of behind the scenes talking, planning and preparation, Sunday NASCAR’s newest racecars made their competitive debut on the shortest track the sport has raced on in many, many years.

And everything went according to plan; in many ways even exceeding expectations.

Of course, there was little doubt it would be successful, especially when the weekend itself arrived. On Saturday, cars finally took practice laps on the asphalt covering a football field.  Afterwards veteran driver Kevin Harvick said that he was confident that NASCAR’s grand experiment would succeed.

“I don’t think you can screw it up at this point; The event is here,” Harvick said.

Even a day before the race, Harvick already bet that NASCAR’s event would not implode after having gone this far, that no matter what no one can screw it up now.

“You can’t, I am telling you,” he said. “The race doesn’t even matter.”

So if the walls get knocked down?

“Knock ‘em down,” Harvick said. “We will make them stronger next time. You already have everything in here and had practice and everything. You cannot screw it up at this point. You can’t.”

And he was proven right on Sunday. During the four heat races and two last chance qualifiers the crowd continued to fill the stands. After a prerace concert by Grammy award winner (and NASCAR team co-owner) Pitbull, the 23-car field took the green with the L.A. skyline, the iconic Hollywood sign, and a snow-covered mountain range in the background.

The nearly full stands saw great racing with only a few mechanical issues from the new cars and without the chaos that some predicted.

“It was an awesome experience all around,” Kyle Larson said. “First race with the new car. This event was really neat. It seemed like a great atmosphere. I’m not able to ever sit in the stands and watch other races. I got to watch a Heat Race and the Last Chance Qualifiers. It seemed like a blast, and I hope we can do more of this.”

The race also featured several oddities seen nowhere else. With no real “garage” team haulers were staged in the parking lot of an adjunct soccer stadium.  Cars were brought into the stadium via a tunnel after traversing several blocked off city streets.  And with no real pit lane, Sunday’s race featured no pit stops, instead allowing a six-minute break so crews could work on the cars, while rapper Ice Cube entertained the crowd.

Being L.A. celebrity sightings were numerous including Ashton Kutcher, who waved the green flag for one of the heat races and actor Danny Trejo, who was simply there to be there.

Most importantly the drivers all seem to enjoy the event whether they won or lost.

“It was one of the coolest events I’ve ever been a part of,” Cole Custer who finished seventh said. “To walk down those steps into the Coliseum and see the big names performing.  It was a fun track to race around.  Hat’s off to NASCAR.  The deserve a great pat on the back for what they’ve done here.  I’d love to come back.”

Will NASCAR come back?

“I think coming out of today we’re going to go back, do a pretty in-depth postmortem on this event,” NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategic innovation, Ben Kennedy said. “Certainly, there are a lot of new things that came along with this event, from Pitbull, Ice Cube, DJ Skee. Everything along with the format, the entire event really.

“I think we’ll go back to that, then really think about what the future might look like both for being here at the L.A. Coliseum and the type of venue in general, too. I think there were a lot of questions coming in as to what the racing product might look like on track. I think between the format that we had with the heat races, last chance race, all the way through the main, at least from a fan perspective, a lot of energy in the bowl, hopefully those tuning in on TV enjoyed it as well.”

As for Kevin Harvick, who finished 10th:

“I thought it was a great event,” Harvick said. “I think for the way that everything went I don’t think you could have asked for it to go any better as far as the event goes.”