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The Tumultuous Crossroads of NASCAR’s Los Angeles Experiment

NASCAR in Los Angeles

Saturday’s Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles was a landmark moment for NASCAR after moving the main event a day early (Photo Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

LOS ANGELES — Mother nature can be cruel to the sport of NASCAR and this past weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was no exception. Perhaps such cruelty may have increased the rumblings of the sport’s future in the grand market.

In a tough but necessary decision, NASCAR moved the main event up one day early in order for both the main attraction and the NASCAR Mexico Series race to commence. Severe flood warnings for Sunday pushed the sanctioning body to take action and move both races up at the last minute. If not, the sport would have been at an urgent crossroads: move the race to an earlier time and take a huge financial hit or terminate the event altogether.

NASCAR went with the former, much to the chagrin of social media and patrons, who had spent their hard-earned money only for Sunday’s activities not to happen. Even for those who only came to see Machine Gun Kelly, they didn’t get a performance as the halftime show was axed due to the unforeseen weather issues. When it came down to it, there was no spark to the 2024 Clash from an entertainment standpoint outside of the racing action of course.

Although I applaud the sanctioning body for getting the race in on such short notice, the elephant in the room loomed large. Is the third installment of the Clash in LA the final act of what kickstarted the sport’s interest in pursuing major markets?

Not long after the announcement of running the main event on Saturday was made, several drivers shared various sentiments. It ranged from being pleased with NASCAR making right on a double-edged sword scenario, while others sensed the experiment in Southern California might have ran its course.

In light of the challenging circumstances surrounding the decision to make this landmark double-header happen, Kyle Busch praised NASCAR. Had the main event stuck with its originally scheduled date, the likelihood of the race happening would have been slim. Even if it were to be postponed, Wednesday looked to be the most weather friendly day of the week.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. battling Todd Gilliland for position (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

“(It’s an) unprecedented mark in our sport and one that I think all of us will applaud NASCAR, FOX and everybody on for giving us the chance to get a race in,” said Busch. “I don’t know that we would have been able to do it before Wednesday and would we have even been here on Wednesday. So this was the best chance that we had. I feel like it was definitely a very good move.”

No stranger to the single-day racing madness, both Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell shared the same sentiment of running the race earlier than expected.

Bell explained that there was not a chance any on-track action would have unfolded Sunday and the elimination of heat races and last chance qualifying did not affect his approach to the Busch Light Clash. The greatest concern was running the race, period.

“It doesn’t really change anything from my standpoint. I think NASCAR made a genius call to try to get this race in,” said Bell. “Everybody was nervous on what was going to happen if we didn’t race – which we weren’t even planning on racing (Saturday) – that’s awesome, and I’m happy we get to race.”

Larson, despite commending the decision, also saw it as a financial detriment for NASCAR and the Coliseum, as fans were able to attend Saturday’s activities for free. Even with the sudden change, the amount of empty seats was largely apparent compared to the first two years when money was being made.

“I just applaud NASCAR for making the decision and doing it,” said Larson. “I’m sure they are taking a huge hit financially because today was free to the public. It’s just nice to see them make a big move like that.”

NASCAR in Los Angeles

The 23-car field storming around the Coliseum in front of a crowed who attended for free (Photo Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Former Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who is looking to get back to victory lane following his first winless season since 2017, also agreed with NASCAR’s game plan. In his eyes, running on a Saturday night is a much better fit.

“I think it’s one of the most logical decisions we’ve made as an industry, potentially ever. I appreciate it,” said Elliott. “I know a lot of the industry personnel really appreciate the willingness to make a change like that. To be honest with you, doing an event like this on a Saturday night is a better fit for it anyway. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

As for William Byron, not only was he another racer who commended NASCAR’s short notice actions, he also hoped a new scheduling system can be implemented in the future. For those who follow the NFL, they have a format known as a “schedule flex.” This format allows the league to move certain games around based on the matchup’s significance and what will draw strong ratings, especially primetime games.

“I think it’s really progressive. I think it’s a good start,” said Byron. “I hope we can do that in the future too because we’ve all been through the events where we’ve stayed until Wednesday. I don’t think it’s fun for anyone, but I don’t think it’s productive either for ratings, the excitement on track and the build up to it.”

“Obviously I hope we can get into a system of maybe having a chance to flex during the week, kind of like the NFL does. I think if we’re able to flex the race forward sooner, we could get some people tuned in. But I think it’ll be better than waiting out a rain delay, for sure.”

Time will tell the fate of Los Angeles being a part of the NASCAR calendar, however rumors suggesting the Clash could go international are spreading. The rampant speculation is the possibility of having the Clash in Mexico or Canada, while others suggest it should continue the marketing plan of competing in major markets to draw new folks into the sport.

Fans alike have felt the purpose of the race has been ran into the ground. Several have voiced the opinion that the best route for NASCAR is to take the grassroots approach by running in major short tracks across the country such as Slinger, New Smyrna and the Nashville Fairgrounds. Then of course, there are the folks who want the Clash back at the Daytona International Speedway — either configuration.

The Busch Light Clash ran at Daytona from 1979-2021, with all but one being held at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (Photo Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

For now, the legacy of the Clash in LA is seen by folks as an overall net gain rather than a net loss. It sparked new interest in the sport, as well as the ambitious possibilities of running temporary courses in the country’s biggest markets and even going back to its local short-track roots.

No matter how people look at this year’s Clash, NASCAR benefitted from racing a day early. One man in particular shed light on the outcome and the sport’s impact in SoCal. The eventual race winner, Denny Hamlin, felt that Los Angeles provided a tremendously diverse audience, as well as a peaked interest in the NASCAR Mexico Series.

“I think it was a success,” said Hamlin. “Certainly you can’t argue it from a viewership standpoint. I certainly think that it’s got merit in going different places, but I think LA was very good to us, and I think we were good for this community, as well. If you look around at the stands, it’s more diverse than what you’ll see at most racetracks.”

When the dust settled, a hard-fought race unfolded and those who made it out to the Clash, with some making the long drive to LA last minute, saw a solid show. Of course, a solid show led to drama on and off the temporary quarter-mile oval. More importantly, Saturday did not endure any rain until the conclusion of the Mexico Series race.

“If it didn’t happen (on Saturday), I just didn’t think it was going to happen at all. While there would be some people that were upset about not being able to use their ticket, they weren’t going to use it Monday, either, and Tuesday I’m not sure was an option,” Hamlin explained.

“This thing was just going to snowball into a really — strange the teams, all the people here at the Coliseum that have to get this thing converted back over. Tonight was the only option to get this thing in, and I’m happy that NASCAR made unprecedented changes to make sure that the fans at least saw a race.”

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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