Colossal Crash Fest at L.A. Coliseum
After a rainy morning in Los Angeles, the Clash at the Coliseum was able to start on time. The first four qualifying heats were very intense. The tires had issues warming up making just about everybody loose for the short 25 lap heat races. Most of the top drivers were able to advance through the heats as they took the top 5 drivers from each to the feature race. However, due to the formatting we were able to see some top names race their way in with the last chance qualifier heats. Ty Gibbs, A.J. Allmendinger, Christopher Bell, and Chase Elliott were all expected to get out of their heats, but had to go to the last chance qualifier to get in, giving everyone a good show.
Before the feature race, NASCAR had Cypress Hill perform a concert to try and get the crowd hyped up. Cypress Hill put on a good performance, but the crowd just didn’t seem into it on the tv. The Wiz Khalifa mid-race concert however got a much better response. Every time they switched to a different camera, you could see people dancing and mouthing along to the words. Having Wiz perform was a great idea.
The feature race had very good on track racing once it got dark and tire pressures went up to racing temperatures. Some drivers were able to make moves and get positions with patience and good moves. Others however, thought they had a bulldozer on the front end of their car. Due to the aggressive pushing on the track, there were 16 cautions in the feature race alone. That brings the average laps ran under 10 in between each caution since the race was only 150 laps. After some close racing in the final laps, Martin Truex, Jr. was able to pull away from Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch to secure the win.
The most important takeaway is the drivers seemed to be having a good time. Well, maybe not Bubba Wallace after he got dumped from the front of the field in the feature race. During the heat races there were a few camera cutaways to drivers in the infield laughing and joking watching the other cars race. When they camera panned the seats before the first heat, I was concerned it was going to be a low turnout, but by the end of the night, it ended up being pretty good turnout. The performance throughout the field was still more even than I expected. Teams like Legacy Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports looked very competitive, which give us hope that we may still see some good unexpected finishes from those teams.
They were exciting, but not because of the racing. The racing was not very good. The entire time we were all just waiting to see who was going to get wrecked next. The cars that were fast were able to drive away from the cluster of demolition derby cars behind them after a couple of laps, but the outside line was not working at all. Drivers had about 1-2 laps after each restart to get into the bottom line or risk getting shuffled all the way back to 5th or worse.
If NASCAR wanted to have a demolition derby there are a lot cheaper and more exciting ways to do that. I’m all for the short track style of bump and run racing, but there is a difference between bumping someone and just flat out running them over. Most of the cars were able to continue racing after being spun out and getting little to no damage. The way that they were allowing the drivers to just run over each other is not good for the sport.
Some drivers did put on some good racing without having to run over anybody though. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. had a great battle for the lead for a couple of laps in their heat race. They were able to get off the corner good to get a run, get inside the other person, then that person would cross over going down the straightaway. It was a great showing of technical ability by both drivers that we need to see more often. Aggression is a great thing, but drivers running over people is not the way to do it.
The feature race was just a wreck fest. 16 cautions and averaging less than 10 laps on a ¼-mile track is ridiculous. It made the race take way longer than it should have and was just irritating. Just as soon as the cars would come in and we thought we were going to get some good racing, somebody in the back would get too impatient and run over someone bringing out a caution.
Now I know what somebody is going to say, “it’s only 150 laps, they just have to go.” While it is a short race, being methodically patient is a skill that will improve a driver’s ability at any track, not just short tracks. If there are only 15 or 20 laps left in a race then that level of aggression is understandable, but to be that aggressive on lap 5 just ridiculous.
If a second line had developed around the track faster than it did, then it would have stifled most of the over aggressiveness. You could see the drivers frustrations throughout the heat races and into the feature race feeling like the only option they had was to run over people. With this track being built new each year, NASCAR needs to give them more practice time to get more rubber into the track, so it doesn’t take as long to develop.
There was one team in particular that had a very bad showing. This pains me to say, but Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (RFK) looked terrible. Buescher looked like he was going to have a decent day, but completely fell off around lap 8. Keselowski was up and down throughout the race, spending most of the time scuffling with Daniel Suarez. Both drivers finished next to last in their heat and didn’t fare any better in the last chance qualifier. The only reason Keselowski improved by 1 spot is because him and Buescher both competed in the same qualifier.
They did just as bad in the Clash last season and went on to sweep the Duels at Daytona, so I don’t want to read too far into this, but with the way RFK finished last season, I expected them to have a better showing. The most surprising part of it was Keselowski looked like he was getting flat out bullied in his heat. Keselowski is usually one of the most, if not THE most aggressive driver on the track. I don’t know if he was just that uncomfortable in the car, but he did not look like himself. Hopefully, this is not a sign of things to come for them this season.
The other big surprise was Trackhouse Racing. With all the raw speed they seemed to have last season, it wasn’t there last night. Suarez barely got out of his heat finishing 5th and Chastain finished 3rd in his but was not close to running down Hamlin for the win. Chastain finished inside the top 10 in the feature, but at no point did they look like a threat to win. We’ll see if the “sophomore slump” is kicking in for these two teammates with this being only their second year together, but its early and a race that’s just an exhibition so we’ll have to see.
The racing this year was more competitive than last year. With the experience the drivers have with this car, they were more comfortable in the car and aware of its limitations. There were some disappointments, but the top tier teams flexed their muscles out on track and showed how good they are going to be this season. The event wasn’t the spectacle that it was last year, but it was still good. The track is too small and it’s just becoming a wreck fest. If they find a way to build a bigger track and give drivers more time to work in a second line for the race, it would be a better race.
They made great stride bringing in Wiz Khalifa this year but missed the mark with Cypress Hill. The L.A. crowd seemed to enjoy the event and by the time Wiz came on stage the Coliseum looked well seated. It filled slow but steadily and for trying to reach a new audience, it was a respectable showing. Hopefully they find a way to make the on-track racing better and not have drivers just running over each other.