NASCAR Clash weekend is underway at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum

Alex Bowman (48) and Martin Truex Jr. (19) practice on the L.A. Coliseum track Saturday morning ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. Photo by David Barks

By Elliott Stern, [email protected]

LOS ANGELES – The 2022 NASCAR season got underway Saturday, Feb. 5, inside the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“It’s an iconic site,” said Bakersfield native Kevin Harvick, driver of the No.. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang. “It’s close to home. I have a lot of friends and family who’ll be here. This is the type of event you need to blow this thing out of the water.”

It is also the most unusual venue on the NASCAR calendar.

The quarter-mile paperclip shaped track was built almost overnight, barely six weeks from groundbreaking to completion in the home of USC Football.

“It’s awesome,” said 2021 NASCAR Cup series champion Kyle Larson. “This place has a grass roots feel to it. It’s a little bit of a throwback to our K&N (Series racing) days. The only thing that surprised me was how much grip we had here.”

“The track does change a bit. The grip gets better the longer you run on it,” said 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. It’s amazing how quickly everything came together. Everything seems super nice, well done.”

The official groundbreaking ceremony was held on Dec. 21, 2021. Just over a month later, the track was in, safety barriers were installed and it was ready for racing.

From Left, Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen, NASCAR Design and Development President Derrick Muldowney, L.A. Memorial Coliseum Assistant General Manager Kevin Daly and two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip scoop the first shovels of dirt for the base of the Clash at the Coliseum track on Dec. 21, 2021. Photo by David Barks

The Clash is an exhibition race. Only bragging rights are on the line as NASCAR officially debuts its new Next Gen racecar.

The format is a throwback to the local races run on hometown tracks across the country.

Saturday night featured single-car qualifying.

Times from that will be used to set the lineups for the four 25-lap heat races that will kick off The Clash on Sunday morning.

The top four finishers automatically qualify for the main event.

The rest of the field will be split in two, each to run a 50-lap last chance qualifier with the top three from each moving on.

The final spot in the 23 car field goes to the driver with the highest points total from the 2021 season who has not already qualified for the field.

The top four qualifiers each won the pole for one of the four Sunday heat races.

Kyle Busch turned the fastest lap, covering the quarter-mile in 13.745 seconds. Busch was followed by Tyler Reddick (13.761), Justin Hayley (13.891) and Joey Logano (13.949).

“It’s pretty cool to win the pole. We hope we’re set up good for tomorrow,” said Busch. “Being on the pole for the first heat race is good. I feel good but now I’ve got to back that up in the heat race tomorrow.”

Kyle Busch heads down the back stretch Saturday night during single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum. Busch turned the fastest lap to lead qualifiers into Sunday’s heat races that will lead up to The Clash. Photo by David Barks.

The Clash runs 150 laps with a six-minute break midway when the drivers will be able to leave the stadium (all pits are outside the building) for adjustments and repairs as needed and then it’s back to the track for the final run to victory.

NASCAR returns to California in three weeks when the drivers will move from the Coliseum’s quarter-mile track to the Auto Club Speedway’s two-mile oval in Fontana on Feb. 26-27.

— Elliott Stern can be reached by email at [email protected]

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