Ladies and gentlemen… I present to you the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
This multi-purpose stadium has served as the home of two Summer Olympics, the Los Angeles Dodgers and USC Trojans football, among many other sports or events. This weekend, it’ll turn into a racetrack as NASCAR tries one of their crazier experiments in recent history.
Early reviews are impressive, from the Olympic torch burning on the east end to 13,700 square feet of asphalt turning this place from college football’s California mecca into a quarter-mile short track capable of transforming the Cup Series schedule for years to come.
For the first time that I can remember, the sport seems to have rolled the dice on an experiment where there's nothing to lose. After a successful practice, a dramatic unveiling, and the social buzz surrounding this event… it feels like they've already won.
The transformation from grass field to cutting-edge track took place over just six weeks, putting a stock car racing exhibition smack in the middle of the second-largest city in America. As people stream in for the Super Bowl the following week, plenty of racing fans are there for the taking as a carnival-like curiosity surrounds the whole thing.
Compare that to the years NASCAR fought a losing battle to get a racetrack built on New York City's Staten Island. They bought property to build a ¾-mile oval in the mid-2000s only to sell it after neighbors complained about potential noise and never bought in.
The sport has been a ghost in urban areas ever since; now-dormant "Chicagoland Speedway" was over an hour from the Windy City and Pocono Raceway is almost two hours from the Manhattan market where NASCAR would still love to break in.
But you know how you find your way into a city? Hold exhibitions at outdoor and indoor stadiums where you don't need to own the land. Build exciting, ¼-mile short tracks with forward-thinking rules that get fans revved up about the competition.
Sunday could still find its way into the disaster zone; limited banking (just 2.5 degrees) will make it tough to pass. That could lead to either single-file racing or so much bumping we’ve got a Demolition Derby on our hands. The cars also are running significantly slower, a speed difference that could make for a hockey-like translation to television where you just have to be there to feel the magic.
But anything in between could open the door to a myriad of possibilities all over the country. Suddenly, NASCAR wouldn’t be limited to a multi-million-dollar renovation of an oval track that otherwise sits dormant for 10, 11 months out of the year. New venues could pop up on the docket almost at will.
What a great idea capable of revolutionizing the sport's future. Will the cars and drivers be able to deliver the goods?
Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum
Date: Sunday, Feb. 6
Time: 6 p.m. ET
Track: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Heat Races: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, FOX
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
How does it work?
Qualifying on Saturday night will set the lineup for Sunday's heat races. A total of nine drivers apiece will be split into those four sprints, with the top four from each heat moving onto the main event.
The remaining 20 drivers will be placed into a last-chance qualifier; the top six finishers from that race will move on to the main race. The 23rd and final spot in the feature is reserved for the highest finisher in the 2021 driver point standings who hasn't yet earned a spot in the field.
Who's been fast so far?
Chase Elliott led the field in final practice, putting down a lap of 13.455 seconds (66.890 mph) to edge out rival Kevin Harvick. By comparison, those drivers run between 95 and 100 mph on average at Martinsville Speedway, the sport's smallest, slowest permanent oval on the schedule at .533 miles in length.
One surprise in the top 5 is Justin Haley, moving up from the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing as they attempt their first full-time season at the sport's top level. Haley's not known as a short tracker and had just two career top-5 finishes in 16 NXS starts at tracks less than a mile in length.
Bubba Wallace wound up dead last in final practice, behind even small-money independent B.J. McLeod of Live Fast Motorsports. He was running six-tenths off the pace of Elliott which, at a track this small, could put him a lap down in about five minutes.
The Next Gen. NASCAR's new car, delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally makes its long-awaited debut. The first visual change fans will see are the numbers, pushed more toward the front of the car (by the front tires) with this new chassis.
Inside, it's like a whole new animal, from 18" aluminum wheels with just a single, center-locking lug nut to larger brakes combined with rack and pinion steering. The majority of parts are also coming from the same suppliers, a move the sport hopes limits spending and opens the door for more teams to compete (and more manufacturers to jump in down the line).
New drivers in new places. Among the 2022 driver/team combinations making their debut…
- Brad Keselowski in the No. 6 as a new driver/owner for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing
- NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric moving up to Cup to replace Keselowski at Team Penske’s No. 2
- Former Cup driver Jeff Burton’s son, Harrison, also moving up to Cup to run the Wood Brothers No. 21 in place of Matt DiBenedetto
- Kurt Busch moving to a new second team at 23XI Racing (No. 45), teaming up with Bubba Wallace
- Ty Dillon returning to Cup full-time as a teammate to Erik Jones with newly-formed Petty GMS Motorsports (No. 42)
What Vegas Thinks
According to vegasinsider.com, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin lead the way with +600 odds for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. Chase Elliott is right behind them at +650 with Joey Logano and defending NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson sitting at +750.
Looking for a longshot? Justin Haley sits at +10000 to win despite running fourth in practice.
What I Think
I’ll go the easy route with the sport's Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott, backing up early speed in L.A. with a win to kick-start his 2022. But about half the field wouldn't surprise me in what is truly shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable races in NASCAR history.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.