The Clash at the Coliseum starts the season with a bang as new cars and drivers take to the track

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 05: A general view of racing during the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

For the third year in a row, NASCAR’s gladiators will battle in the Coliseum. That’s the LA Coliseum: normally a football field, but NASCAR puts a quarter-mile purpose-built oval track inside it every year. NASCAR racing is one of many great sporting events hosted at the facility, including as the current home for USC football, and it will host its third Olympics in 2028.

The Clash will start at 8 pm ET and will be broadcast live on FOX, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Odds to win via BetMGM
+900 – Martin Truex Jr.
+1000 – Kyle Larson
+1000 – Kyle Busch
+1000 – William Byron
+1000 – Denny Hamlin
+1100 – Joey Logano
+1100 – Ryan Blaney
+1300 – Christopher Bell
+1300 – Chase Elliott
+1600 – Brad Keselowski

In its two years, the Clash at the Coliseum has always produced a new winner. With a competitive grid of drivers, that looks likely to continue.

That won’t be the only new thing at this event. For the first time, the NASCAR Mexico Series will race alongside the sport’s premier series, competing on Sunday at 4:30 pm ET.

“This is an incredible honor for the NASCAR Mexico Series and its drivers,” said Jimmy Morales, President and General Manager of the NASCAR Mexico Series. “The competition in our series is always intense, but I know our drivers will want nothing more than to become the first Mexican driver to win inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This is going to be a race we will not soon forget.”

The Cup Series event features a new format this year for the teams to contend with. Like always, only green flag laps count in every race and the event must finish under green, so there’s no need for overtime.

On Saturday, the drivers will be split into three practice and qualifying groups, with speeds from the third group practice – no more single-car qualifying here – to determine the qualifying order of the heats. The 25-lap heats, starting at 8:30 pm ET, will set the field for the big race, with the top five advancing from each of the four heats.

On Sunday, two drivers who didn’t advance will get a chance for redemption in the last-chance qualifier, a 75-lap event at 6:30 pm ET. The two best finishers will be joined by the highest-scoring driver in last season’s points standings to set the 23-car field for the 150-lap main event.

Since this event is designed to introduce new fans to the sport, the event features a new halftime performance. Machine Gun Kelly will perform on lap 75 of 150 during a break.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Martin Truex has proven he can beat the bullring, taking victory in this race last season. Despite not conferring any points or an automatic Playoffs berth, the win – especially after failing to find victory lane the previous year – gave him confidence heading into the season in which he ultimately picked up three wins and the Regular Season Championship.

“It was a huge boost to start the year,” Truex acknowledged. “You always want to start the season strong, exhibition race or not. You want to go out there and win and get your confidence going.

“That just kicked things off for us and we knew we were back. We knew we could do it but, until you actually do it, you always have that question in the back of your mind. That weekend answered the question that we could still win races. It really set off our season on a good note, and we looked forward to the weekly grind after that.”

Even a driver who knows how to win isn’t safe from the challenge, and Truex said the track was “really difficult” and posed a challenge avoiding brake lockups and getting the power down.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano is the only other winner in the past two years that NASCAR has held its Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The event is also the first competitive opportunity for new cars from Ford and Toyota. The new Mustang Dark Horse and Camry XSE look very different to last year’s designs, and Chevrolet’s Camaro also saw some front-end changes during the offseason.

Though the Camry looks the most different from last year’s car, it’s the Mustang that raises the most eyebrows. Ford added raised fenders to the car, hoping to generate extra sideforce on aerodynamic-heavy tracks where the brand struggled by-and-large last season.

A quarter-mile bullring is hardly aerodynamic-heavy, though. The Clash will test each car’s short track abilities to the extreme being the shortest track on the calendar.

Like any bullring, contact is inevitable. Previous Clash at the Coliseum events have seen tempers flare as drivers make heavy use of the bumper to move competitors out of the way. And racing drivers have a good memory.

“I’ve always been under the influence of, ‘I’ll race you the way you race me,’ explained Ryan Preece.

“So if you’re going to race me with respect, I’ll do the same to try and get by you. If you’re going to stick a bumper to me, I’m probably going to put my brass knuckles on and take care of it. That’s just how I think all of us racers are, you see how you treat one another, and if the gloves come off, the gloves come off.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 BetMGM Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident as Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, pass during the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Preece led 42 laps in last year’s Clash, his first with Stewart-Haas Racing, before a mechanical issue took him out of contention. Preece credits his short-track background with helping him feel comfortable at the track.

“It certainly helped when I went into a style of racing which I grew up doing, and it’s a style I feel like some of these guys hadn’t done in quite a long time, Preece said.

“When you grow up racing quarter miles and you really figure out what you need in a racecar on how to pass, how to make speed when your car isn’t necessarily doing what it does or does not want to do, there are just a lot of tools that I have in my toolbox.”

Preece might not appear to have much ground for confidence. Despite strong runs at the Coliseum and Martinsville, his Stewart-Haas Racing team struggled massively last season. Besides Kevin Harvick, the other three drivers failed to even break the top twenty in points, and Harvick himself was eliminated early in the Playoffs.

But with Harvick gone, Chase Briscoe is now the elder statesman of the team, and he’s confident.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for a race season in my entire career,” Briscoe said. The Stewart-Haas of old isn’t necessarily going to be what the Stewart-Haas of the future is.

“For me, being the longest-tenured guy here, I think it’s extra critical for me to try to lead by example, on the racetrack how we race each other, but also off the racetrack just how we interact. I’m looking forward to that challenge and everything that comes along with it.”

Speaking of Stewart-Haas, rookie Josh Berry will be making a hotly anticipated debut at the Clash, and he’s got big shoes to fill. Last year’s super-sub has finally landed a ride of his own, and it’s in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford made famous by Kevin Harvick.

Berry hopes his short-track background will help him make a good first impression with his new team and its fans. He’s already established a rapport with the longtime crewchief of the No.4, Rodney Childers, by going late-model racing with him and picking up some solid finishes.

“My experience running Late Models on short tracks is going to be useful,” Berry said. “I think how the race will unfold will be similar to some of the bullring events I have run over the years. I think the Coliseum itself is going to be its own animal. The NextGen car is going to be a challenge, but it should be a lot of fun.”

“I think it was just a fun experience,” he added of his late model escapades with Childers. “I think it gave the two of us a chance to work together in a competitive environment and I think it put to bed any questions we had on how we communicate with each other.

“I know the Cup Series season is going to be different than what we did but, when I left there, I was 100-percent assured and confident in Rodney and what he will do to get the No. 4 team prepared each week. More than anything, I think it was just a good experience for all of us, and it was nice to race a little in the offseason.”

Noah Gragson will complete the Stewart-Haas roster after being reinstated for this season following a suspension for ‘liking’ a racially insensitive meme on social media.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 05: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Gragson’s old Legacy Motor Club team now features John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 42 car, and the team has attracted plenty of new sponsors since switching to Toyota.

Zane Smith will be in the No. 71 for Spire Motorsports in an alliance with Trackhouse while Carson Hocevar will drive the team’s No. 77 car.

Daniel Hemric will replace Justin Haley in the Kaulig No. 31 car, while Josh Williams will be driving the No. 16 car for the team which will now feature a rotating roster of part-time drivers as AJ Allmendinger returns to the Xfinity Series full-time despite a win at the Charlotte Roval last season.

Finally, the biggest shakeup might just be at Rick Ware Racing. Justin Haley has joined the team to drive the No. 51. He’ll be racing alongside Kaz Grala at the Clash, who will be spending the majority of the season behind the wheel of the No. 15 Mustang for the team.

“It’s always tough to make a big decision like switching teams, but I felt like it was something I needed to explore. Rick Ware was really open with me, he wasn’t hiding anything, and that was really appealing. When it comes down to it, we can just sit down, talk and be real with each other and I really like that,” Haley explained.

He nearly got a win at Chicago before being passed by Shane van Gisbergen, and Haley will be hoping the shock move might be his ticket to victory lane this season.

The Clash will be a proving ground for plenty of drivers, teams, and manufacturers. It will set the tone not only for their seasons but for the NASCAR season as a whole. And it’s done a very exciting job of that for the past few years.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum
The Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The Date: Sunday, February 4
The Time: 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT
The Purse: $2,210,000
TV: FOX, 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 37.5 miles (150 laps), Stage Break: Lap 75

NASCAR Mexico Series
Next Race: King Taco La Batalla en El Coliseo
The Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The Date: Sunday, February 4
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT
TV: FS1/FOX Deportes, 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 37.5 miles (150 laps), 60 Minute Time Limit

Owen Johnson