NASCAR’s inaugural Clash at the Coliseum promises to be a spectacle.
How 23 drivers piloting new Next Gen cars will react to the cozy confines of the $1 million, quarter-mile track tucked inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is yet to be determined.
Will drivers like defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, who grew up racing on a similar-length California dirt track, have an advantage on superspeedway masters such as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano?
Maybe, but Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Martin Truex Jr. have bump-and-run experience and dominated the circuit’s short-track events the past three seasons.
They could prove to be three drivers to watch during the Feb. 6 exhibition.
Kyle Busch refined short-track racing skills with three ARCA Midwest Tour wins
Busch, a two-time premier series champion, has made short-track racing his specialty. In 97 career starts at tracks under a mile, he has collected 16 wins and 49 top-five finishes, leading 5,549 laps.
Since the start of the 2019 season, the 18-year Cup veteran’s average short-track finish is 7.63.
Busch refined his skill by participating in past ARCA Midwest Tour events. He earned a checkered flag at the quarter-mile Wisconsin International Speedway (2007) and two at The Milwaukee Mile (2008 and 2013). In a 2020 interview with midwesttour.racing.com, Busch reflected on competing against former series champions Ty Majeski and Casey Johnson. Busch credits them for helping him sharpen his quick-turn style for the Cup competition.
For Busch, it’s developed into a sentimental journey.
“It’s always cool to go back to Wisconsin International Raceway because that’s where we got our very first Super Late Model win as Kyle Busch Motorsports back in 2007,” he said.
Will Busch feel the same way after leaving the LA Coliseum?
Brad Keselowski enters his first season after the loss of his father and mentor
Entering his first season as part-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, Keselowski’s debut with a new team and new Next Gen car could be in his comfort zone.
The Clash may fit his driving style.
Capping a 12-year run with Team Penske, Keselowski qualified for the 2021 Round of 8 race and placed sixth in the final drivers’ standings. His work on short tracks has been a foundation of the 2012 Cup champ’s career.
In 71 career outings, Keselowski, who lost his father and mentor last December, has collected seven wins and 24 top-five finishes. Over the past three seasons, he has an average finish of 9.25, highlighted by three wins and nine top-fives.
In 2020, Keselowski claimed wins at the .533-mile Briston Motor Speedway and .75-mile Richmond Raceway. He paced the series in short-track efficiency with four top-five finishes.
With time and space promising to be limited during the Clash, Keselowski and company will have to discover a new approach at the new track.
Martin Truex Jr.’s short-track U-turn comes after enduring an 0-for-80 skid
Truex has topped all premier series drivers since 2019 with six short-track wins and nine top-five finishes.
Truex’s average finish over the past 16 events is 8.50, buoyed by 1,293 laps led.
His short-track U-turn has proved to be an interesting ingredient to the 2017 drivers’ champion’s career path. After failing to earn a checkered flag in his first 80 Cup short-track races, Truex finally snapped the skid during the 2019 spring race at Richmond. The victory started a string of three wins over a five-event span at the site.
Truex will look to transfer his short-track edge to California with a strong qualifying run and then withstand all the bump-and-runs he’ll experience.
How the drivers handle it is yet to be determined, but it promises to be a spectacle.