By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Since its inception in 1979, the Busch Light Clash has undergone a number of changes, but for the 2022 running, the season-opening exhibition race is readying for its biggest change yet.
After being held at Daytona International Speedway as the opening salvo to Speedweeks throughout its existence, the race moves away from the birthplace of NASCAR out to the West Coast, as the confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a purpose-built quarter-mile track await.
Along with the unknown a new venue brings, the race will also mark the competition debut of the Next Gen car. The car has been through a number of tests over the past several months, but has yet to be run in real-world race conditions. That all changes this weekend in L.A.
Some 40 cars will enter the weekend looking for a chance to race in the main event, with single car qualifying on Saturday setting the starting lineup for four scheduled heat races the following day, which starts the process of whittling the field down to the 23 drivers who will take the green flag in the Clash.
The top-four drivers from each of the four 25-lap heat races will automatically advance on to the main event later in the night, while the remaining seven drivers will have to rest their fate in a pair of 50-lap last chance qualifiers. The top-three finishers from each of the LCQ races will then take their place in the starting grid for the Clash.
With the heat races and LCQ races complete, the 23rd and final starter for the main event will be whichever driver finished highest in the 2021 points standings, but was unable to advance through in any of the preliminary races.
The Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum will consist of 150-laps, broken down into two 75-lap segments. With the tight confines of the stadium preventing live pit stops from happening, a half-time break between the segments will allow the teams to work on their cars.
“Los Angeles is synonymous with major sports and entertainment events, so we seized an innovative opportunity to showcase NASCAR at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of strategy and innovation, said when the move to L.A. was announced last September.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to take center stage in this market as we get our 2022 season underway.”
By the Numbers
What: Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, NASCAR Cup Series Exhibition Race
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, California
TV/Radio: FOX, 6:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: Quarter-mile purpose-built oval
Race Length: 150 laps (Two segments: 75 laps each)
2021 Race Winner (Daytona Road): Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 16th, one lap led)
From the Driver’s Seat
Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I’m excited to get the season going. The Coliseum is a great venue, and I think it’s going to be a fun event. That’s what it was intended to be, a fun and exciting event to kick off our season, and I think it’s going to do exactly that. If you’re going to try something, the Clash is a good race to go and try it because there’s no points involved. This event has a lot of potential to be a home run for our sport. Hopefully it’s entertaining and people have fun watching at home on TV or from the stands.”
Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota: “Thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve raced a stock car on a track this small, and obviously we’ve never raced the Next Gen car so it’s going to be interesting. The cool thing is it’s going to be a lot of fun to do something fun and there is a lot of excitement around it as well. I think everybody is anxious to get out there – get on track – and see what we can do and hopefully it turns into a fun event for the drivers. I’ll enjoy it, and usually when I enjoy it, we run well. I’m excited about it, and it should be good.”
Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford: “I think it’s cool that we’re doing different things. I’ve been saying this all along, it’s not the Next Gen car, it’s Next Gen NASCAR. Everything is going to change with it. Obviously, you guys know all the details that go along with that now, that it’s not just the car is different.
“It’s different tracks, it’s different formats, there’s different weekend formats, you name it, so a lot of different things go along with this and I think there’s a lot of good things like going back to like you said to some of the short tracks and roots of our sport is great.
“I don’t know about quarter-mile racing yet. The last time I was on a quarter-mile I was driving a Legends car and I was nine, so I think this is going to be pretty different. It’s a full-sized car out there. I don’t know what we’re going to have for room, but it’ll be interesting and we’ll learn. Either way, we’re going to know whether we want to do this again or not.”
Last Year’s Results
Even though it’s just an exhibition race, drivers still want to win just as much as any other race and in last year’s running of the Clash on the Daytona road course, that was more than evident.
Reminiscent of the 2018 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, the two leaders on the last lap looked to settle the race amongst themselves, but took each other out in the final chicane, handing the win to the third-place driver.
This time around it was longtime friends Ryan Blaney and reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott battling it out around Daytona’s 3.61-mile road course layout, with Kyle Busch waiting in the wings behind them, hoping some fireworks would transpire.
Blaney, who had fresher tires as the laps wound down, passed Elliott with a lap and a half to go, but the reigning champion was not to be denied as he hounded Blaney for the remainder of the race. Heading into the final chicane, Elliott dove in deep, making contact with Blaney and sending the No. 12 Ford for a spin.
With Elliott off the pace after his contact with Blaney, Busch was able to sneak past him and score the victory — just as Blaney had done at Charlotte two years prior.
“A race is a race,” Blaney said afterwards. “I don’t care if it’s an exhibition race or a normal points race. I don’t care about that. It’s racing, but I was upset about it, for sure. Chase and I know each other well. I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but sending it off in there hard like anybody would do it’s just a shame we both got taken out or neither one of us won the race. If you’re gonna make a move like that make sure you either win the race, don’t let the third-place guy do it.”
“I feel like you’ve got to go for it here in an event like this in any situation,” Elliott added. “I can’t be sorry about going for the win, but I certainly didn’t mean to wreck him. I drove in there and, just that corner gets so tight and I didn’t want to just completely jump the curb to the right. But I feel like I tried to get over there as far as I could. And at that point we were coming together at the same time. I hate it.”
Meanwhile, Busch was happy to end the night in Victory Lane, even though it came at the expense of two of his fellow competitors.
“I was gaining. I wasn’t going to get there,” Busch said. “But obviously they got together there in that final corner. I wasn’t sure if Chase was going to push the issue and push back on Blaney and knock him through the turn and make him miss the exit or what was going to happen. The both of them had to make the turtles, if you will. They just got together and started crashing.
“When that started happening, I was hoping they were going to wreck long enough that I could get up in there and get by them, we could win the thing. It’s never over till it’s over at these types of places, especially when you have those last-corner, last-ditch-effort chicanes like here and the Roval.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, February 5
- Busch Light Clash Practice (12: 30 pm to 2:30 pm – FOX Sports 2)
- Busch Light Clash Qualifying (8:30 pm to 9:30 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, February 6
- Busch Light Clash Heat Races (Four races – 3:00 pm – FOX)
- Busch Light Clash Last-Chance Qualifiers (Two Races – 4:10 pm approx. – FOX)
- Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum (6:00 pm – 150 laps – FOX)