Joey Logano emerged as the winner in NASCAR’s big Los Angeles experiment on Sunday night.
Logano held off Kyle Busch over the Busch Light Clash’s final 20 laps to win on the quarter-mile purpose-built track at the L.A. Coliseum. The race was moved up a week and from Daytona International Speedway to the historic stadium in an attempt to spark excitement for the 2022 season and attract sports fans looking for something to watch on the Sunday before the Super Bowl.
The exhibition was marketed as an event more than a race. It featured concerts from Pitbull and Ice Cube, and a DJ who played during caution flags. The TV broadcast of the Ice Cube concert that happened at the scheduled halftime break incessantly showed young 20-somethings dancing to the music.
Those 20-somethings are the demographic NASCAR wants to attract. The series has one of the oldest fan bases in sports and NASCAR has been constantly searching for ways to find new viewers as longtime fans have left the sport in droves over the past 15 years.
Hosting a short track race at a football stadium with multiple musical acts was an attempt to get those new fans NASCAR desperately wants and needs. While the event was immediately hailed as a success by those invested in it — and it was a fun departure from NASCAR’s normal — its impact won’t be known until the television viewership numbers are released.
Approximately 2.5 million people watched the exhibition Busch Clash in 2020 when it was held at Daytona on its normal weekend before the Daytona 500 timeslot. With the Pro Bowl complete by the time the main event began Sunday night, NASCAR was aiming for an audience significantly larger than what it got two years ago. And, ideally for NASCAR, that audience watching at home was younger too.
Can we learn anything from this race?
It’s nearly impossible to glean anything about the 2022 season from the event other than the inevitability of mechanical hiccups as teams get used to the new cars they’re racing.
The 2022 cars are largely comprised of parts from exclusive vendors, a stark departure from previous iterations of cars where teams made and developed their own components. The goal of the new car is to make racing in the Cup Series cheaper for everyone involved. As fans have stopped watching, sponsors have stopped spending. But costs have not stopped rising. That combination of rising costs and a decreasing audience is a bad one when sponsorship revenue is the lifeblood of the series.
Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe all had to quit the main event because their cars had mechanical failures. Those failures were to be expected. Since these cars hadn’t been run outside of a test session, gremlins were bound to pop up during the race. More will inevitably appear over the first few weekends of the season.
The racing didn’t give much of a clue as to what we could see when the 2022 season gets going for real on Feb. 20 in the Daytona 500. The track at the Coliseum was slower, shorter and flatter than any other track the Cup Series races at. You can’t jump to any meaningful conclusion, other than Logano, Busch and 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson are still very good race car drivers.
Drivers who missed the race
All 36 charter teams from the Cup Series participated in the race weekend but just 23 of those teams raced in the main event on Sunday night. The field was whittled by 13 on Sunday afternoon through four heat races and two last-chance qualifiers.
Drivers who missed out on the main event included Brad Keselowski in his first race for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola. The top four drivers from each of the four heat races made the field while the top three drivers from the two last-chance qualifiers also qualified. Martin Truex Jr. took the provisional given to the highest driver in the points who hadn’t qualified via a heat race after Larson secured his spot in the Clash.
1. Joey Logano
2. Kyle Busch
3. Austin Dillon
4. Erik Jones
5. Kyle Larson
6. William Byron
7. Cole Custer
8. Christopher Bell
9. AJ Allmendinger
10. Kevin Harvick
11. Chase Elliott
12. Harrison Burton
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Daniel Suarez
15. Martin Truex Jr.
16. Michael McDowell
17. Ryan Blaney
18. Bubba Wallace
19. Justin Haley
20. Ryan Preece
21. Tyler Reddick
22. Chase Briscoe
23. Denny Hamlin