● History was made last February when the NASCAR Cup Series competed for the first time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum was a bold way to unofficially kick off the start of the NASCAR season. On a temporary paved oval at a quarter-mile in length on top of what is typically the running track around the football field the Trojans of the University of Southern California call home, NASCAR thundered into America’s second-largest media market. The location was strategic, as was the event’s timing – held on the off-weekend between the NFL division championship games and the almighty Super Bowl. For all the unknowns beforehand, the event proved to be an absolute success. The buzz was palpable throughout the weekend as more than 70 percent of ticket buyers were first-time NASCAR attendees. Those not onsite were watching on TV, as 4.3 million people tuned in to the live broadcast on FOX. That rating was 168 percent higher than the year before when the Busch Light Clash was held at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and broadcast on FS1, and it was the Clash’s best rating since 2016 when it was on FOX. On Twitter, NASCAR was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States during the race, besting the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which was held the same day. Said Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, “I thought it was a great event. I don’t think you could’ve asked for it to go any better.” It’s why NASCAR is back at the Coliseum Feb. 4-5.
● While NASCAR certainly made history last year at the L.A. Coliseum, it’s appropriate to say auto racing history was remade. As World War II wound down, racing open-wheel midget cars around the Coliseum cranked up. Beginning in 1945, the United Racing Association (URA) ran on a quarter-mile track that was paved right over top of the athletic track. Racing continued through 1948, but under the auspices of the Automobile Association of America (AAA). But with more permanent racetracks populating Southern California, racing at the Coliseum fell by the wayside. That is until 1979 when Mickey Thompson packaged off-road racing into his innovative stadium series, with the Coliseum serving as his first event of many. Broadcast on ESPN and TNN, it was where an up-and-coming off-road racer with NASCAR ambitions first started making a name for himself. You might’ve heard of him – seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
● NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023 and for years the sanctioning body began its annual campaign at Daytona. Starting the year in California isn’t a break from tradition, necessarily. In fact, you could argue it's a return to a previous tradition. Last year’s Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum marked the first time since 1981 that NASCAR didn’t start its season at Daytona. But starting the year off in California was not new. In 1965 and again from 1970 to 1981, the NASCAR Cup Series’ season-opening race took place at Riverside International Raceway, a road course approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Riverside is long gone, the site now home to the Moreno Valley Mall, but the L.A. Coliseum was at 311 Figueroa Street 34 years before Riverside opened its doors in 1957 and it’s still there today. It’s a juxtaposition of old and new, a microcosm of NASCAR’s brave new world.
● In true L.A. fashion, almost any NASCAR Cup Series team can show up at the Coliseum, but not everyone is getting past the velvet ropes to participate in the 150-lap main event. Because the track at the L.A. Coliseum is only a quarter-mile in length – the shortest track the NASCAR Cup Series will compete on in 2023 – only 27 cars can compete in the feature. Getting to the main event is much more arduous than walking the red carpet and slipping the bouncer a $100 bill. Here's how it works...
● On Saturday, Feb. 4, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for practice prior to single-car qualifying to determine the starting order for four heat races. On Sunday, Feb. 5, on-track action will begin with four, 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how the heat races will be filled out:
● The top-four fastest qualifiers from Saturday’s single-car qualifying session will be on the pole for each heat race, while cars that qualified fifth through eighth will make up the other half of the front row in each heat.
● The remainder of each field will be filled using this methodology: Heat one will be made up of cars with qualifying positions of one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37.
● The top-five finishers (20 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance to the Busch Light Clash, with the winner of heat one winning the pole and the winner of heat two earning the outside pole.
● The winners of heats three and four will fill out the second row, with the remaining order being determined in the same manner.
● The remaining finishing positions from each heat that did not advance will continue to one of two 50-lap Last Chance Qualifying (LCQ) races. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:
● The starting order for these two events will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.
● Those who did not advance from heats one and three will make up the first LCQ race. The second race will be made up of those from heats two and four.
● The sixth-place finishers from heats one and two will be on the pole in their respective LCQ races. The sixth-place finishers from heats three and four will be on the outside pole.
● This pattern will continue to fill out the remaining cars in each LCQ.
● The top-three finishers (six total cars) from both LCQ races will advance to the Busch Light Clash, filling out positions 21-26 of the 27 available positions.
● The final spot in the Busch Light Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2022 points standings who does not transfer on finishing position in their heat race or in their LCQ race.
● All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend.
● Go fast and turn left puts all of the above in more succinct terms, something Harvick has proven particularly adept at in his 22 previous years of NASCAR Cup Series competition. The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang has 60 career Cup Series wins and is tied with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time win list. Not included in that total are Harvick’s wins in non-points races. He has two victories in the NASCAR All-Star Race (2007 and 2018), two wins in the Duel at Daytona qualifying race (2013 and 2019) and three wins in the Budweiser Shootout/Busch Clash (2009, 2010 and 2013), the precursor to the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum.
● The quarter-mile oval at the L.A. Coliseum is the shortest of short tracks. That suits Harvick just fine. Harvick has totaled 121 wins across the NASCAR Cup Series (60), NASCAR Xfinity Series (47) and NASCAR Truck Series (14). Twenty-nine of those victories have come on short tracks, with eight Cup victories, 17 Xfinity wins and four Truck triumphs.