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.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.