NASCAR Cup Series
Inside the Most Unique Opening Day in NASCAR History
Feb 5, 2022
As far as Kevin Harvick is concerned, no matter what happens the rest of the weekend, the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is going to be a rousing success.
The venue looks objectively incredible, the cars look capable of producing an exciting race on Sunday and at least 50,000 fans are expected to show up to watch.
"I don't think you can screw it up at this point, personally," Harvick said. "The event is here. The race track didn’t fly up. Practice went good. The cars all made the corners. People were passing each other and as our good friend Jim Hunter would say, 'You have to have cars that pass, Kevin' to make a good race.
"When you look at everything that has happened, the amount of tickets and media passes and all the things -- you can’t screw it up at this point. That is my opinion."
Whatever concerns there were about the Coliseum Clash may have been alleviated during practice on Saturday morning as drivers took to the quarter mile and delivered one of the most entertaining non-race sessions imaginable.
Drivers were stuck in traffic, bumping each other out of the way and generally having a good time on the shortest Cup Series track utilized since 1971 at Bowman Gray Stadium.
"I think it’s awesome; everything about it," said defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson. "Staging outside, driving through the tunnel, getting out there -- it all kind of has that grassroots feel to it a little bit. I feel like NASCAR did an amazing job with the race track and, so far, I don’t really have any comments of concern."
Chase Elliott was fastest with a 13.455-second lap at 66.89 mph against a top-five that included Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley and Kyle Busch. Most remarkable was the parity throughout the field with two Rick Ware Racing cars inside the top-15 and several usual contenders at the bottom of the charts.
Much was made about the slow speeds compared to the product on larger tracks, but Elliott had a response to that.
"I think top speed is somewhere from 70-75 mph; somewhere in there," Elliott said. "Probably top speed averaging probably 65 or something like that. Probably as slow as 40 or 35. I don’t know; pretty slow. But you don’t have to go fast to put on good racing either."
There is only one fast way around the track, on the bottom in the corners, and there is probably only one way by someone on Sunday.
"I don’t think you’re going around anyone on the outside," Elliott said with a laugh. "In my opinion, but maybe."
Brad Keselowski came away with an extremely positive first impression, too.
"I think the sport has a lot to be proud of," Keselowski said. "I won’t go so far as to say we can’t screw it up, but we are certainly off to a great start. I am proud of our sport and proud of the stakeholders for getting us this far."
For years, Harvick had compelled the industry to create more events that transcended racing. He advocated for major schedule shake-ups and going to venues that had more of a party atmosphere. With that said, he never would have thought something like this was possible until he saw the finished product with his own eyes.
"This is the type of event that you need to blow it out of the water at the start of the season to get the eyeballs and the people and you guys to all show up because it’s different," Harvick said. "That is the world that we live in. We live in different and trying new things and having the guts to do it is sometimes hard, but the rewards are pretty big on the other side when it works."
Several comparisons have been made to Supercross this week and how the sport of motocross, which usually competes on purpose built relatively obscure tracks, has cultivated a massive following by performing on the biggest stages during the winter months.
They race on the likes of Anaheim Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium and other Major League Baseball and NFL venues.
Elliott says he's always admired the Supercross model.
"I’ve always felt like they've attracted a different fan base because of it, because it’s in a big city and it’s easy to get to," Elliott said. "Just a little different vibe and I’ve always thought that was a really nice feel for a motorsport event to go to towards for the future.
"I wish four-wheel racing could do more of that."
He also conceded it's not realistic to do it all the time, but also because they have a compelling product on traditional tracks as well.
"We have a great product elsewhere, too," Elliott said. "We have a product that we can massage and make really good and successful for a long time. This is different and maybe we can do it again."
Harvick says the race doesn’t even matter at this point. He thinks this is going to be a success based on everything he’s seen from local interest, media attention and national enthusiasm.
"You can’t mess this up," Harvick said. "I am telling you. The race doesn’t even matter."
Famous last words?
"If we knock the walls down, we'll make ‘em stronger next time. You've already had practice and everything in here is working."