Cup Series set for its close-up in Coliseum Clash debut

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LOS ANGELES — The Busch Light Clash moved closer to another day on Saturday to draw the season-opening curtain on its Tinseltown debut. All the upcoming changes for 2022 have been prepared for a preview, from the new Next Gen car to the first official laps on the temporary surface of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Any predictions? Computer models and simulations can do little to untangle the unknown, but if on-track action in more or less cautious opening practice offers any indication, full-contact racing should be the theme. Sounds good for a venue that regularly hosts tackle football.

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“My job is to use it, not fix it,” said California native Kevin Harvick, referring to the trusty front bumper of his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “That’s the theory with which I’m going this week. Hit the wall, hit a car, and they haven’t said a word about it. So next time I’ll use it harder I guess.

The stage is set for qualifying heats and ultimately a 150-lap main event in Sunday’s Busch Light Clash (6 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the NASCAR Cup Series. The preliminaries will determine the 23-car field for the Clash feature.

Cup Series rookie Harrison Burton and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford led the first group into practice on Saturday morning, fittingly tying the sport’s oldest team to another historic first. The rest of the group sessions had their fair share of minor bumps and scrapes – something that could be unavoidable this weekend on the tight quarter-mile oval.

“I don’t remember being hit or hitting anyone,” Chase Elliott said, adding, “…yet.”

After building up heat and rubber in the fresh asphalt, drivers worked to find the groove, sometimes cutting below the white line and above the rumble strips on the entrance to the turn. Adjustments were not just limited to the track, but also to drivers getting used to the new car’s extra grip, extra cornering and improved stopping power.

Sean Gardner | Getty Images

In some cases, orientation required relying on short-track experience drawn from memory banks.

“It’s exciting. It reminds me a lot of Summer Shootout and Legend race cars, so I’m glad I went back and raced one a few years ago to knock the rust off,” said Bubba Wallace, referring to his time on the Charlotte Motor Speedway front quarter-mile. “It’s cool to see it unfold, and hats off to NASCAR and everyone here in LA for making this happen. actually produce, so I think we were expecting a lot of different things, and then we hit the track this morning for a few practice laps and it was like, ‘Okay, we can race with this. ‘ ”

Harvick is one of two current Cup Series drivers with some racing history near — but not inside — the LA Coliseum. The 2014 series champion recalled racing with Kurt Busch in the former NASCAR Southwest Tour around a temporary street course in the field outside the stadium, including all the bumps and jumps from the questionable surface there. Sunday’s race has a different allure, something that has breathed new life into the exhibition event held every year at Daytona International Speedway until now.

“Obviously it’s an iconic site and I think for me, being close to home and knowing I have a lot of friends and family who are just intrigued by the event,” Harvick said, from Bakersfield, just under two hours north. . “The event plot is truly the most valuable piece of the event, not just for what we do as teams, but for our sponsors and new fans and for the sport in general. the type of event you need to blow it out of the water at the start of the season to get eyeballs and people and you guys all showing up because it’s different.

“It’s the world we live in. We live in different times and trying new things and having the courage to do it is hard to do sometimes, but the rewards are pretty big on the other side when it works. “

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Other rewards will come with the first checkered flag on Sunday and the Clash trophy, inspired by the architecture of the Colosseum. Elliott, the fastest in Saturday’s aggregate practice sessions, is the betting favorite with Hendrick Motorsports teammate and defending Cup champion Kyle Larson not far behind in the pecking order. And Kyle Busch put his own name in the contenders hat with a fastest lap in Saturday qualifying, leading Tyler Reddick, Justin Haley and Joey Logano to the poles for Sunday’s heats.

Burton’s baptism of the track might be seen as a fun footnote in NASCAR trivia, but winning the first trophy would pave the way for history.

“I think it would be super cool to be the first person to win this race. I don’t think anybody would tell you anything different,” Elliott said. “Yeah, I think it would be a huge deal. only that, but a great way to start your year. It’s something new and exciting. I think we are all very fortunate and fortunate to be here and to be a part of this. If you stand at the top of the mountain at the end of the day for something like this, this type of place and this type of event, I think it’s special and it should be for whoever wins.

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