NASCAR scores win with successful ‘Clash’ inside LA Coliseum

The Cup Series debuted the series’ Next Gen can in the annual exhibition race

Bubba Wallace, left, and Chase Briscoe compete during a heat race Busch Light Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES — Joey Logano won the exhibition Busch Light Clash on a temporary quarter-mile track built inside Memorial Coliseum for a made-for-TV spectacular intended to hype the NASCAR Cup Series’ upcoming season.

NASCAR moved the Clash to Los Angeles from Daytona International Speedway, its only home since its 1979 inception, as part of a focused effort to break from its dated traditions via innovative big ideas.

The Clash was a success before a single racecar drove through the Southern California football team’s tunnel and onto the smooth, black asphalt that covered the Trojans’ field. Ice Cube performed a six-minute set from the Peristyle during a brief “halftime,” and Pitbull with backup dancers outfitted in a checkered-flag theme used the same stage for his prerace concert.

A handful of Los Angeles sporting greats served as the grand marshals, and Jeff Gordon lit the cauldron built for the 1932 Summer Olympics before the race began. Celebrities walked a red carpet, the USC student section filled in early, and the crowd booed pole-sitter Kyle Busch like a bunch of old pros during driver introductions.

The name of the race was the same, but everything else about the 44th running of The Clash was different.

The field was determined by heat races held earlier Sunday and a pair of last chance qualifiers to give drivers one final chance to make the 23-car starting grid. The format made for spirited racing in the final “LCQ” as rookie Austin Cindric bounced and banged his way through traffic trying to transfer into the main event.

Cindric fell short but was in good company: NASCAR champions Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch were among the drivers who didn’t make it out of the heats.

“We’re supposed to be in the A-Main, and we’re not,” Busch lamented after he was crashed out of his heat.

His younger brother, Kyle, started on the pole for the 150-lap feature that included a planned stop on Lap 75 for Ice Cube’s set. Busch dominated the first half but was eventually caught by Logano, who never gave Busch a chance to move him out of the way for the win.

Logano won the Clash for the second time in his career. It was the fifth win for Team Penske, which has won three of the last six runnings of what had traditionally been a warmup for the Daytona 500.

Nothing learned in Los Angeles will transfer into the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500, but the race was the first for NASCAR’s new car. The Next Gen was a long-planned project that was delayed a season by the pandemic.

The car is designed to cut costs to teams, even competition throughout the field and produce a better racing product. The Next Gen didn’t disappoint in its debut on the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule.