The Next Potential Change to the Busch Light Clash Will Be Controversial and Unnecessary
Leave it to NASCAR to try turning its most recent success story into a solution in search of a problem. The Cup Series only has one edition of the Busch Light Clash in the books but reportedly is already considering turning its season-opening exhibition into more than it needs to be.
Maybe this weekend at the Los Angeles Coliseum dissuades them of the notion. On the other hand, maybe Sunday’s action clinches the decision to launch a major change.
The Busch Light Clash moved to Los Angeles last year
Racing fans thought it was radical when NASCAR moved its Busch Light Clash from the Daytona International Speedway oval to the track’s road course in 2021, but 2022 brought about a bigger change. Looking to make the Clash a stand-alone attraction rather than just one more component of Speedweeks, NASCAR brought the race to California.
Further, NASCAR decided that an existing track just wouldn’t do. Instead, executives built a temporary quarter-mile track inside the Los Angeles Coliseum, one of the most famous stadiums in the country.
Joey Logano kicked off what proved to be a championship season by winning the first LA edition of the Clash. He’ll be one of the favorites on Sunday.
A potential Busch Light Clash change would be controversial
The 2022 Busch Light Clash was a success. The debut of the Next Gen car went smoothly, the race attracted a lot of first-time NASCAR fans, and the event came off as something special. It made this weekend’s return engagement a no-brainer.
NASCAR holds an option to return to the Los Angeles Coliseum next season, and it’s a near-certainty that the Clash will return. If so, the stakes could be much higher. The Los Angeles Times reported there is a discussion within NASCAR about making the event a points race and moving it to late February.
That might not sit well with teams or fans. If it were to be a points race, the winner would be virtually certain of advancing to the Cup Series playoffs in the fall, a substantial reward for winning on the shortest race in the series. The Bristol dirt race, another one-off niche, has generated similar concern from some corners.
Last season’s Clash saw some cautious driving because it was the first Next Gen race, and teams were still building backup cars because of the slow rollout of parts. There’s every reason to believe the 2023 edition will be a more spirited battle.
Driver Erik Jones told the paper converting the Clash to a points race would reduce the aggressiveness. “Now, you just go for it,” he said. “There’s no reason to hold anything back because even if you crash you aren’t losing anything.”
The change being discussed is unnecessary
Talk about upgrading the Busch Light Clash to a Cup Series points race has to do with major changes coming to another track. Shortly after NASCAR makes its annual visit to Fontana on Feb. 26, Auto Club Speedway begins a major overhaul. The track’s owners are converting the two-mile oval to a half-mile track, executing a plan that was in the planning stages before the pandemic began.
The drastic makeover will definitely take the track offline for 2024 and most likely for the following season as well. The premise of having the Clash temporarily replace Auto Club Speedway is that it would keep a points race in Southern California. That’s why the idea looks like a solution in search of a problem.
While NASCAR has taken pains over the years to expand its national footprint, there is no actual need to keep a points race near Los Angeles for the one or two years of the Fontana renovation. NASCAR doesn’t need to guard its territory in an area where every other imaginable sport is already available.
The Fontana project is an opportunity for NASCAR to move around to another area of the country to stir up interest. And whether the race is in the Los Angeles Coliseum or the revived North Wilkesboro on the other side of the country, it’s still going to be on TV for everyone to see.
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