Clash at the Coliseum: Round 2
What is it?
Last season, with the debut of the Next Gen car, NASCAR decided to run the annual exhibition race at the L.A. Coliseum instead of the traditional Daytona. Yes, the same coliseum that has held two Summer Olympic games and is scheduled to do it a record breaking third time in 2028. The same Coliseum where the Raiders and Rams used to play, and the USC Trojans still play to this day. NASCAR went into the Coliseum and built a 1/4 mile track inside the stadium. The venue is so small that the pits were outside in a parking lot and drivers had to drive up and down the street to get in and out.
The Clash is a race to get everybody excited for the new season. There are no points at stake. Just pride, trophies, and cold hard cash. With moving the race to the Coliseum there literally wasn’t enough room to have all the eligible cars on the track at one time. Their solution was getting back to grassroots racing and running heats. They ran four heats with the top 4 from each heat advancing to the feature. After the four heats, they ran two last chance qualifiers, and took the top 3 from each to fill out the feature with 22 drivers.
Round 1 Summary
Last year we saw some pretty good racing. Drivers were a lot more aggressive than expected and the drivers were figuring out things with the Next Gen car faster than expected. There were wrecks, spin outs, and lots of rubbing to get around such a small track. While we did see some mechanical failures, all in all the Next Gen car impressed that day. Tyler Reddick seemed like the clear winner before having an engine failure in the feature, but Joey Logano ended up with the win at the end of the day.
The on-track action was better than expected and NASCAR even tried to make it more of an event rather than just a race. They promoted everything very well. I can’t even think of a day where I didn’t see at least four commercials for The Clash. For driver intros they had the drivers walk down the steps through the crowd. There was a pre-race concert with NASCAR part team owner Pitbul and a mid-race concert with Ice Cube. The crowd seemed very into it and the stands always seemed full. I would say that round 1 of The Clash was a success.
Round 2 Thoughts
I believe that this year the event will be successful, but not as much as last season. There was the unknown aura around the Next Gen car and a new event that had never been attempted before. They answered both those questions last season. Which leaves the real question for this season, can they do better?
They have made one good move for this season to improve by announcing that Wiz Khalifa will perform at the mid-point of the race. Thus, showing a great effort to attempt to reach a younger audience. No offence to Ice Cube, but that was a pure pandering to the L.A. crowd. With the new generation of race fans, he is known more for his acting than his music. The only question I have about their choice is how much they will try to censor Wiz for tv? I don’t have any issues with whatever he wants to do in his spare time. However, traditionally NASCAR fans aren’t exactly known for being open minded, but NASCAR has made it clear that their sport is for everyone. I think this will be a great addition to the event and hopefully brings younger viewers to the sport.
To honor the history of the Coliseum, NASCAR is doing medals for the top 3 finishers this year. I really like this idea. First, I think the medals are just a cool idea. What I think is even better is that they are going to recognize the top 3 places. While winning should always be celebrated more, finishing in the top 3 should be a bigger deal than it is. When people want to talk about stats and how drivers perform at certain tracks, they love to bring up top 5s, runner-up finishes, and talk about how great of a performance it was. So, if it was such a great performance, why do we not recognize it in the moment?
With 36 charters in the Cup series, just with all those cars showing up you only have an 8.33% chance of finishing in the top 3 solely based on number of cars. That doesn’t account for any open cars that show up, performance of your own car, or any other outside factors during the race. By only celebrating winners it sets the mentality that finishing less than first is sub-par.
Round 2 On-Track
With a year under their belts in the Next Gen car, the racing should be even more competitive this time around. A few drivers I would look out for would be new teammates Martin Truex, Jr. and Ty Gibbs, and Kyle Busch. Truex is coming off a very disappointing season of no wins and missing the playoffs. Something within that team just seemed off last season. There were rumors that Truex was going to retire before last season with how vocal he was about his dislike of the Next Gen car. He is coming back for this season and I 100% believe that even if this were to be the last season for him, he wants to go out a winner.
Kyle Busch must have the biggest chip on his shoulder coming into this season. He lost his main sponsor, had to leave a powerhouse team in the series after they couldn’t reach a contract agreement, and then had sign with RCR, a team that in all honesty is a mid-field team now. The #8 team that he is joining had 3 wins with Tyler Reddick last season, but if Reddick wasn’t their driver, I doubt they would have had any of those wins. Good thing for them they get to replace him with Busch.
He is easily the greatest driver of his generation in NASCAR. Anybody who tries to tell you any different is lying. In my first blog I already talked about my expectations for Busch this season. However, at the Clash with the same team that brought the best car last season, he will be looking to win that race to make a statement.
With how many races Ty Gibbs ran last season it’s odd to think that this will be considered his rookie season. Gibbs filled in for the injured Kurt Busch last season for 23XI Racing. While his results may not have looked super impressive from a statistical point of view, but just watching him compete against crafty veterans while also switching between the Cup and Xfinity series I was highly impressed. During his races in the cup series, it seemed like he wanted to run as well as possible, but was more concentrated on learning for this coming season.
Now, the way he ran in the Xfinity series was totally different. This kid had a Rick Bobby approach to racing most of the season. He even ran over his own teammate for a win. With the experience he gained last year, he will be bringing that aggression to the Cup series. With his aggressive racing style and being some of the best equipment taking over for Kyle Busch at JGR he will be very difficult to deal with.
The Clash at the Coliseum this year should be entertaining, but not as overall successful as last year. There are going to be too many expectations on NASCAR to improve. The on-track action should be more competitive with drivers having more experience with the Next Gen car. We’ll just have to wait and see.