Long: “Incredible day” for NASCAR has sport looking ahead

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LOS ANGELES — Less than 90 minutes after Joey Logano won the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum, crews began to remove walls along the inside portion of the track.

SAFER barriers and the catchfence were to follow, and, eventually, the paved quarter-mile track will be broken apart and replaced by grass. 

Only memories will remain at this storied stadium that it hosted such a unique event.

The impact to NASCAR, though, could stretch for years. 

Challenges remain but this has the potential to usher an era of more short tracks, lead to the All-Star Race being remade, the Cup Series racing at other stadiums and maybe an international event at a stadium one day. 

Heat races, last chance races, a Pitbull concert and a 150-lap main event with a half-time break that included a performance by Ice Cube, were held under a sunny California sky and a festive crowd.

By all indications, Sunday’s event was a success. A crowd of 50,000 – 60,000 was expected and appeared to be that size. Ben Kennedy, who spearheaded this effort to turn a stadium that has hosted the Olympics, Super Bowl and World Series into a racetrack, said he didn’t have final crowd figures after the race but he was pleased with what he saw.

Celebrities Attend NASCAR's Busch Light Clash At The Coliseum
Trackhouse Racing co-owner Pitbull performed a 45-minute show before Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

There was much for the sport to be pleased with Sunday.

The crowd came early and was eager to purchase souvenirs. One merchandise stand had a line 70-people deep and five other lines of similar length less than 30 minutes before the first heat race — which was more than 3 hours, 30 minutes before the main event. Lines were several people deep for merchandise haulers for Hendrick Motorsports and one shared by Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing.

As the races went on, the fans began to start clapping before restarts. Accidents drew cheers. Austin Cindric won a few fans when he did a doughnut to head in the right direction after an accident in his last chance qualifier. The crowd robustly celebrated his action.

NASCAR stated before the event that about 70% of the ticket buyers had not previously purchased tickets for a NASCAR race based on ticketing data. Still, there were enough NASCAR fans to be heard. Kyle Busch, as is often the case on the circuit, had among the loudest reactions during his introductions. 

“I thought it was great,” Busch said of the atmosphere. “I don’t know if it had anything to do with the stadium aspect. There’s fans (all around). … You definitely had more of a roar.”

The boos for Busch were about the only time the crowd seemed to show displeasure with anything. The racing was not the disaster some worried could happen. Fans didn’t seem to mind the halftime break filled by Ice Cube’s performance, which included him telling the fans: “Ain’t no party like an LA party because an LA party don’t stop.”

He ended his performance by telling the crowd: “Let’s get back to the Race” as the engines re-fired.

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash
Joey Logano scored his first NASCAR victory since his win on the dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway last year. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While series officials celebrate the risk they took — the Cup Series had not raced on a quarter-mile track since 1971 — the focus soon turns to how this event event might transform races.

NASCAR has the option on if the Clash returns to the Coliseum in 2023. 

Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of strategic innovation, wasn’t ready to commit to the Coliseum Sunday night, but he also wasn’t discounting what the event meant for the sport.

“The Coliseum, USC, have been tremendous partners,” Kennedy said. “That will be certainly an important part as we think about this. … If we can prove this out, a proof of concept, it does open the door to other locations in the future.”

Drivers have mentioned different venues in the U.S., provided a track can be fit inside the facilities. Most often named is AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. 

But one thing seems certain, NASCAR’s push for more short tracks didn’t lose any momentum. Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville will have a spot on the schedule at some point provided city politics clears the way. There are plans to downsize Auto Club Speedway in nearby Fontana, California, from 2 miles to half a mile but nothing is definite at this time. 

While one exhibition race doesn’t solve all the issues for the sport, Sunday provided a jolt and one competitors may have needed.

“An incredible day for the sport,” Kennedy said.

Now on to tomorrow for the sport.