The Clash at the Coliseum Was a Possible Preview of the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro…and That May Not Be a Good Thing
The second edition of the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday was quite the crashfest as drivers used their knowledge from the first year of the Next Gen car to drive as aggressively as possible in the exhibition race, which might have been a showcase of what’s in store for the All-Star Race in May.
The Coliseum race track is the shortest on the NASCAR schedule at only 0.25 miles, which is quite a shift from the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway circuit that hosted the event for the first 42 years of its existence.
The Clash and the NASCAR All-Star Race have both left their traditional homes in recent years
The Clash went from a Daytona 500 appetizer to its own standalone event on the other side of the country in 2021. Instead of the opener to Daytona Speedweeks, the Clash is now nestled into the off-week between the NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
The All-Star race is set for a similar makeover this season. The May exhibition race had long been an exclusive event for drivers who had won a race in the previous 12 months to gun for a large payout the week before what is now the Coca-Cola 600.
Aside from the 1986 event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the All-Star Race called Charlotte Motor Speedway home from 1985-2019. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced that year’s event to move to Bristol Motor Speedway so fans could be in attendance, and the race became a consolation prize for Texas Motor Speedway the past two years once NASCAR added a race at the Circuit of the Americas road course a few hours away in Austin, Texas.
The All-Star Race has lost some luster, much in the same way the Clash had at Daytona. It became basically the same race year after year despite the sanctioning body’s myriad of attempts to spice up the race format.
New locations have added intrigue back into the exhibition races
NASCAR found a way to at least add substantial notoriety to the event for 2023 when it announced in September that North Wilkesboro Speedway will host its first NASCAR race since 1996.
The 0.625-mile oval in North Carolina has come back to life after it received money through the American Rescue Plan to fund renovations and bring the speedway back to life after it had fallen into disrepair following NASCAR’s exit in the mid-1990s.
The speedway held late model races in 2022, and renovations are ongoing to get the facility in shape to hold a full weekend of racing May 19-21 that will include a Craftsman Truck Series race on May 20.
The event is not without potential problems, however. The lack of infrastructure at North Wilkesboro will likely cause some traffic headaches and accompanying issues. Still, the actual racing product also has the potential to dissolve into the circus that the Clash main event became on Sunday.
NASCAR divided the 150-lap feature race with only green-flag laps counted into two 75-lap segments with a halftime break in the middle. The first 75 laps had only four cautions, but the aggressiveness throughout the 27-car field increased dramatically, with 12 cautions in the second half.
Crashes became the norm at the Clash and could plague the All-Star Race
The second half began with four crashes within the first six laps and turned a race that lasted 57 minutes in 2022 when it had only five cautions to one hour and 43 minutes in a 2023 edition that featured 16 and lacked any sense of flow.
Sure, North Wilkesboro is more than twice the size of the Coliseum track, but some aspects of the Next Gen car are likely to transfer to the All-Star Race.
The cars are stable enough that they require a larger push from behind to get knocked out of the groove than the previous model. Drivers learned that through the course of last season and now drive much deeper into corners to move the driver ahead of them out of the way.
The aggression level will likely be similar at North Wilkesboro, as well, since it isn’t a points event. Drivers have no reason not to try to barge their way to the front because any position behind the winner doesn’t matter.
That scenario is part of the attraction for exhibition races such as the Clash and the All-Star Race, but it can also lead to situations such as the borderline ridiculous second half of Sunday’s race.
It’s also a part of these races that is unlikely to change. The Clash may now be in a more unique setting, but the aggression level was no different than the 2020 Clash, which had only six drivers finish the race and was one of the reasons officials started to look for alternative sites for the event.
North Wilkesboro will also be a special location for NASCAR to revisit, but the actual race has the potential to be just as tedious as the Clash was Sunday night.