As the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season quickly approaches, it’s shaping up to feature many new and unique twists than fans have seen in quite some time.
The traditional season-opening exhibition race, now called the Busch Light Clash, was held for 43 years at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Debuting in 1979, the non-points event was held on the 2.5-mile oval for the first 42 years, then moved to the Daytona road course for the 2021 edition. For this year, the event has been reimagined in a big way, moving to a purpose-built, quarter-mile, asphalt oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum kicks off the 2022 season at a track other than Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the first time since 1981, when the series opened its season on a road course at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway, approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is the defending winner of the Busch Light Clash, albeit with a thrilling, last-corner victory on the Daytona road course last February as Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney collided in front of him, allowing the Las Vegas native to slip past both drivers to bring home the checkered flag. The win was Busch’s second in the season-opening exhibition race to go with his thrilling comeback in 2012, when he inched past Tony Stewart at the line to bring home the win on the Daytona oval.
While starting the season on a purpose-built track inside the Los Angeles Coliseum qualifies as new and unique, it’s not nearly the only new thing NASCAR fans will need to get used to in 2022. The Clash also serves as the debut of the NextGen car in NASCAR’s top series.
The NextGen car is the seventh-generation stock car introduced since NASCAR began sanctioning what is now called the Cup Series in 1949. While the car has a sleek, new look more in line with the street versions of each of its manufacturers. Highlights of the NextGen car include a sequential shifter, 670-horsepower engines, single center-lock wheel nuts akin to what is used on Formula One cars, Indy cars and sports cars, and car numbers shifting forward, just behind the front wheel well.
In addition to those notables, the NextGen car also features carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body panels, a carbon-fiber floor that covers the entire underneath portion of the car, and a rear-end diffuser to reduce dirty air. Also, rack-and-pinion steering replaces the archaic recirculating ball, and an independent rear suspension is a drastic upgrade from the full floating axle.
As for the Clash race format, Busch will be one of an expected 36 entries who will vie for 23 starting spots in the 150-lap feature on the quarter-mile Coliseum oval. The race weekend starts with practice and qualifying Saturday and continues with heat races and last-chance qualifiers Sunday. The feature race begins at 3 p.m. EST and will be televised live on FOX.
So as Busch and his fellow Cup Series competitors head out West to compete in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, he’s hoping he can bring home a win with his M&M’S Camry in this “Clash” of the Titans of NASCAR’s top series in the City of Angels.