By Tim Packman
LOS ANGELES – When NASCAR announced in September the Busch Light Clash would be held at the famed LA Coliseum on Feb. 6, the responses were all over the track.
Crazy, stupid, genius, awesome, holy cow, heck yeah and WTF were fairly common responses. And, one can’t blame fans, industry insiders and teams to have those reactions.
The facility is known for Olympics, Super Bowls, an Evel Knievel jump and home of the USC Trojans football team. But racing, specifically a NASCAR race? No way.
But, here were are with the coliseum sporting black top down, pit walls up, Safer Barriers around the outside and white lane lines on the inside. For the first time in NASCAR history, the unofficial official season kick-off race of the now-called Busch Light Clash will NOT be held at Daytona International Speedway.
This historic event could be a smash hit, or a lot of hits with cars smashing into each other. Speaking of hits, a Pitbull pre-race concert, Ice Cube race break show and a DJ spinning tunes during cautions guarantees hits in a musical sense.
With 36 entries vying for the 22 starting spots, on a very tight quarter-mile track with just 2.5 degrees of banking all the way around, with brand-new Cup cars they’ve only tested before…one can anticipate some mechanized mayhem.
“It’s going to be wild and interesting, that’s for sure,” said Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. “NASCAR really went outside of the box with this one, and from an entertainment standpoint, I think it should be great for fans.
“It’s a tight track to fit the cars on, so racing-wise you’ll see quite a bit of beating and banging. NASCAR and Fox are both doing a good job creating excitement and adding to the racing with concerts and DJ’s enhanced television coverage.
“It’s a bold experiment for our sport and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
With the Next Gen cars, talk is early parts of the season will be an equalizer for more-established teams past non-winning ones racing on the same level.
“The Clash is set to be one of the biggest events in NASCAR’s history,” said Corey LaJoie, driver of the No. 7 CamaroZL1 for Spire Motorsports. “There are so many unknowns going into this race being the first race of the Next Gen car, which gives me a lot of confidence.
“I’m a short track guy at heart with a win in the K&N series at Bowman Gray Stadium, so I can’t wait to get my elbows up at one of the country’s most iconic venues.”
Chase Elliott is a Cup champion who also has short-track success on his resume. He’s looking at the fun aspect while wheeling the No. 9 Camaro around the track.
“The Coliseum is a great venue and I think it’s going to be a fun event,” Elliott said. “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.”
Joey Logano is a NASCAR champion who has small, tight-track Legends Car racing on his pre-Cup driver resume. In the “What’s Next” Category, he’s looking beyond this weekend’s race to what future Clash events could be like.
“I haven’t put much thought into it yet,” said the No. 22 Ford driver. “But, if it does work, shoot, pick up the walls and set them down somewhere else – keep going. Go from one stadium to the next.
“I think it’s awesome that if this does work, it gives us the ability to race downtown. It gives us the ability to race in the middle of cities where the stadiums are placed.
“If we can do that, I think it brings our sport to a whole different level. If this works, this gives us the ability to go downtown anywhere and that’s a whole different fanbase that I don’t think we’ve reached our full potential in yet.
“I’m saying “if” because we haven’t done it yet. It’s definitely changing the game, so we’ll kind of see how it works.”
New Car already a game changer
After years of development, changes and alterations, the much-heralded Next Gen car hits the track in a race. Sure, it’s a non-points race, but NASCAR and teams are hoping the cars make a point as to why the changes.
Here’s a list of a few of the changes drivers and teams are racing with now, in no particular order.
* Hood air extractors to improve performance
*Shortened deck lid and widened track width to make it look more like a coupe
*Lower greenhouse area from (front to back windshield area)
*Independent rear suspension with rack and pinion steering.
*Wheels are now 18 inches, as opposed to 15 inches in the past, and made of aluminum.
*A transaxle combing the transmission and rear gears into one package.
*A rear diffuser and sealed underwing to improve aerodynamics.
*Chassis has new front and rear bumpers designed to absorb more impact.
Practice and Qualifying takes place on Saturday, heats, last-chance qualifier and 150-lap Clash events take place Sunday on Fox-TV and MRN Radio.