Three Big Stories: The Clash

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What a kickoff to a new season of NASCAR!

Joey Logano took the checkered flag of a much hyped Busch Light Clash, Sunday, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It re-energized an exhibition event that grew stale for the last few years in Daytona. It also made an excellent case for introducing heats and last-chance qualifiers to select, tedious regular season races. Alas, it highlighted the ongoing decline in quality with FOX Sports.

Without further adieu, let’s dive into the Three Big Stories of the Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum.

Three Big Stories: The Clash

Reigniting a stale event

LOS ANGELES – FEBRUARY 6: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, and Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022, in Los Angeles. Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Many of the NASCAR writers on-site, this weekend, took note of the atmosphere, Sunday, and came to this conclusion.

Granted, optimism and positivity permeated the banquet in December. Even for the start of a season, however, where hope springs eternal, I can’t recall this much surrounding it.

I can’t tell you how many NASCAR Cup Series races I’ve worked where everyone was just the most miserable collection of jaded, cynical curmudgeons. Hell, I was usually one of them. And it wasn’t always towards the end of a season. There were weekends where many of us just collectively groaned at the thought of that weekend’s race happening.

Sunday, however, wasn’t the case.

Yes, it wasn’t a sellout, but would you rather see a demolition derby at Daytona with roughly 5000 fans, at best?

As much as I love Daytona International Speedway, the Clash grew stale. More often than not, the start to Speedweeks turned into a wreckfest with some of the dumbest racing we’d see (even by NASCAR standards). Really, it was more a race for the hardcore fans to get everyone primed for a new season.

It didn’t help that a race originally meant for pole winners grew into a convoluted format where everybody and their mother started it.

While it’s probably not the start of something new, the Clash was a byproduct of a movement in NASCAR towards trying new things. COVID compounded the matter by reducing the number of qualifying sessions to just 13 over a two-year span. So an already watered-down event would’ve been even more watered down, had it remained as is in Daytona.

On a side note, just about everything I’ve said applies to the All-Star Race, too. Hopefully, the NextGen car reinvigorates both it and the racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Los Angeles, this weekend. So anything I say here would be second-hand knowledge. But it’ll be interesting to see if this optimism carries over to the Daytona 500.

No, I’ve not drunk the NASCAR Kool-Aid, and won’t ever (unless the league hires me to write for it). I’m usually the last person to give NASCAR praise, but I’ll do so when it deserves some. If I don’t, then I’m not being objective.

NASCAR knocked this ball out of the park so hard, it’s coming in for a landing at LAX.

Three Big Stories: The Clash

Bring heats and LCQ’s to some regular season events

LOS ANGELES, – FEBRUARY 6: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Harrison Burton, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, race in qualifying heat for the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022, in Los Angeles. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Maybe it was a result of quick laps, but I wasn’t bored for a second during any of the heats, last chance qualifiers or the main event, itself.

So maybe I’m jumping the gun on a good thing, but let’s bring heats and LCQ’s to some regular season races. Especially to some of the longer, more monotonous races in the middle of the season.

Take Texas Motor Speedway, for example. As I’ve said on Twitter, previously, I’m not amongst those that want Texas demolished, but the racing there as of late has been awful. If the NextGen car isn’t the fix, maybe heats and LCQ’s are. It breaks up a tedious 501-mile race into more manageable, bite-sized pieces.

Of course, the charters present an obstacle to that plan. Particularly the part where a team is guaranteed to start every race. Furthermore, the lack of eliminations killed a similar attempt in the XFINITY Series in 2016, before it took off.

I should know. I was at Bristol Motor Speedway when it first happened, with a migraine from hell, too.

Time will tell if this in the regular season is in the cards.

Three Big Stories: The Clash

FOX’s declining quality

LOS ANGELES – FEBRUARY 6: Ty Dillon, driver of the #42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet, leads the field during the last chance qualifying race prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022, in Los Angeles. Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

With two laps remaining in LCQ No. 2, Ty Dillon took the lead and won. Except…he didn’t. Race control reviewed the restart (which it announced it was doing, before the checkered flag flew). Race director Jusan Hamilton announced that Dillon jumped the restart and disqualified him.

Anyone listening to the officials channel on NASCAR.com or NASCAR’s official Discord channel heard this. Anyone following along on Twitter saw this, as it happened.

FOX Sports, however, didn’t.

Instead, just as race control announced the penalty, FOX cut to commercial. When it came back, it showed a Pitbull concert. Then cut to commercial, again. Finally, it came back and announced Dillon’s penalty.

Roughly 20 minutes AFTER it happened!

No graphic with the news or interruption of Pitbull’s concert. If you just followed by TV, you were out of the loop for up to a third of an hour.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Week after week, race after race, FOX misses multiple on-track incidents, makes baffling decisions with its cinematography and fails to update the audience on in-race happenings.

Look, I get that with live sports, you won’t catch everything. Some things slip through the cracks. It happens. I get it. Aside from a wise crack on Twitter, I try not to harp on missed events, unless it’s repeated or ridiculously egregious.

But at a quarter-mile track in a football stadium, how did FOX miss Ryan Blaney chucking his HANS device at Erik Jones‘ car? Especially when pit reporter Jamie Little saw it happen!

FOX Sports has major quality issues. It’s festered for years and grows more noticeable with every race. It’s a huge talking point every year, at the end of FOX’s portion of the NASCAR schedule, on Twitter. NASCAR writers like me and Nick Bromberg have pointed out multiple missteps by FOX for the last six years, but nothing changes.

Actions speak louder than words. So I ask.

Does FOX care, anymore? Does NASCAR not have a problem with the declining quality of one of its broadcast partners?

If the bigwigs in Daytona are oblivious to the matter, then I don’t know what more I can say.

TOP IMAGE: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images