The Busch Clash goes green Sunday.
Well, scratch that. The Busch Light Clash goes green Sunday from Daytona International Speedway.
Hang on. Scratch that, again.
The Busch Light Clash goes green Sunday from the Los Angeles Coliseum, kicking off Speedweeks 2022 and leading into next weekend’s Daytona 500.
OK. One more try.
Yeah, a lot has changed since the checkered flag dropped at Phoenix last November.
“It’s definitely a little bit different,” said Penske driver Ryan Blaney. “A different venue, another coast, and a different race. It’s a different feel, and a very, very new racetrack. Definitely weird not having the Clash in Daytona.”
Blaney was at the center of discussion following last year’s Clash after he was wrecked by Chase Elliott as the two came to the checkered flag. And while that race was certainly different than the previous 39 Clash events — it was on Daytona’s road course, for starters — it was nothing compared to what you’ll see this weekend.
Last September NASCAR announced it was moving the Clash — the opening exhibition race of each season since 1979 — to the West Coast, putting a track inside the historic L.A. Coliseum and dropping the green flag one week before the Super Bowl.
The Clash was also moved to a weekend earlier, meaning there’s now a weekend off between the Clash and the Daytona 500.
“It’ll be a little weird racing, then watching the Super Bowl, then going down to the 500,” Blaney said. “Kinda odd, but it’s a little preseason exhibition I guess.”
In recent years, Daytona Speedweeks have been more and more condensed. Last year, the Clash was held on a Tuesday for the first time, turning an already reduced Speedweek(s) into SpeedDays.
But the Clash still served as the official kickoff event to several straight days of racing, all leading up to the Daytona 500. From the date, to the venue, to the coast — everything is different this season.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming down to Daytona for two weeks and enjoy the good weather,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won Daytona’s summer race back in 2017. “I almost would take up residence in my bus and just kind of get in the flow of being down there and being ready to go.
“I definitely enjoyed that part of it. I think the Clash is going to be a great event, the track looks spectacular. I think it’ll be good for our sport, but I will miss being down in Daytona for the period of time that we’re normally down there.”
NASCAR can stay in L.A. through 2024
Of course, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s nothing in the NASCAR world is permanent.
Last year’s schedule was the most adventurous in the sports’ modern history, with the addition of several road events and a race on the Bristol dirt.
This year, the cars are completely different with the introduction of the Next Gen car (bigger tires, one lug-nut, composite bodies), while the car numbers on the side have been moved a few feet forward to create more space for sponsors.
Everything is fluid, at least recently, in the NASCAR universe.
Last fall, Ben Kennedy — NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation — did say the Clash could one day return to Daytona, but admitted the hope is that the move will continue to generate “excitement” leading up the Daytona 500.
Earlier this week, Coliseum GM Joe Furin told NBC Sports that NASCAR’s current agreement is a three-year deal, with options on the last two years.
Following Sunday’s race, Furin added, NASCAR has 90 days to state if it wishes to return next year, meaning May 6 is the date to circle for those hoping the move to L.A. is just temporary.
“It’ll be a good, new challenge,” William Byron said of the quarter-mile Coliseum track. Byron, the fifth-year Hendrick Motorsports driver, played a small role in designing the track, using iRacing to virtually put it all together.
“I was sort of involved early on with some of the testing of the track,” he continued. “Just making sure they had the walls in the right places, things like that. The collaboration to get the track configured was pretty cool, so I’m excited for it.”
So are the fans — at least the ones out West.
Furin told NBC that a crowd of 50,000 to 60,000 is expected for Sunday’s race, which could put it near capacity. While the Coliseum seats 78,000, 14 rows of lower level seats are being blocked off for fan safety, putting capacity around the 60,000 range.
While those numbers will almost assuredly beat recent Daytona figures — the 2020 Daytona Clash (the last pre-pandemic Clash) had an estimated 25,000 fans in attendance — the true deciding factor could very well come down to TV numbers.
Over 1.5 million people tuned in to last year’s Clash, which was run on FS1 on a Tuesday. This year’s event moves back to Sunday, when NASCAR typically rates better, and will also be on the main Fox channel with three hours of lead-in coverage beginning with qualifying races at 3 p.m.
Combine that with the unique venue and those numbers should — should — see a significant bump this year.
Daytona 500 Speedweeks schedule
Meanwhile, back in Daytona, the Speedway is doing its best to fill the void left by the Clash.
There will be two 50-minute practice sessions on Tuesday, Feb. 15, to get Daytona 500 week started, followed by a Rodney Atkins concert at 8 p.m. inside the Fanzone that’s free to infield campers and $20 for everyone else.
Those two practices will kick off six straight days of racing at the Speedway. Daytona 500 front-row qualifying is set for Wednesday, followed by the two Duel races on Thursday, a truck race on Friday, an ARCA-Xfinity doubleheader Saturday and the main event on Sunday.
Despite losing the Clash, Speedway President Frank Kelleher said the mystique around Daytona 500 week is still alive and well.
“Our sales, year over year, are through the roof,” he added. “The entire industry, all the stakeholders win when Daytona starts out successful, and we are on that path.”
Just how successful the start to this NASCAR season will be remains to be seen — and there will be plenty of eyes on both coasts, starting at the Coliseum this weekend.
Regardless of where it is, though, a race is a race, Blaney said.
And when the green flag drops Sunday somewhere around the 50 yard-line (OK, that’s just a guess), that’s all that matters.
“It’s something new,” Blaney added. “And I think all of us are kind of antsy to get back racing.”
Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum TV/streaming schedule
3 p.m. Busch Light Clash qualifying heats (FOX/MRN/FOX Sports App)
4:10 p.m. (approx.) Busch Light Clash last-chance qualifiers (FOX/MRN/FOX Sports App)
6 p.m. Busch Light Clash main event (FOX/MRN/FOX Sports App)
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Busch Clash: NASCAR ditches Daytona for L.A. Coliseum for exhibition