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A Brief History of “The Clash”

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What’s Happening?

This weekend is the season-opening Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum. This event has been a part of the NASCAR schedule since 1979, and it has evolved much over time. This is a brief history of NASCAR’s season-opening event.

  • The Clash was introduced in 1979, and the event was held at Daytona International Speedway as a part of Speedweeks. The Clash remained at Daytona as the official kickoff to the NASCAR Speedweeks for many years.
  • Since 2022, the event has been held at the LA Coliseum in Los Angeles. It has gone from a superspeedway sprint to a multi-day short-track feature.
  • Fans love the season opener, but, it has had some lulls in its history. This is why many of the changes made to the event have happened over the years.

The Early Years: 1979-1990

The Busch Clash was the idea of Busch brand manager, Marty Roberts. The idea was simple, take the fastest qualifiers from the previous season and put them in a sprint race that will fill a 30-minute TV window. NASCAR liked the idea, and they pitched it to CBS to broadcast it. Lo and behold, CBS’ first NASCAR broadcast of Speedweeks 1979 was the very first Busch Clash, which Buddy Baker won over Darrell Waltrip.

From there, a new Speedweeks tradition was born. The race became a staple of NASCAR Speedweeks, and CBS continued to broadcast the race. When the Daytona 500 became the season opener in 1982, the Busch Clash became the first competitive race of the NASCAR season, even if it was non-points. The race was also often paired with the ARCA 200, which was also a staple of early Speedweeks.

It was a simple event. The pole winners from the previous season plus maybe an extra entry here or there depending on the year would draw for starting spots and race for 20 laps. Likely the most iconic moment from this era came in 1984, when Ricky Rudd walked away from a horrifying flip during the race.

Trial and Error: 1991-2000

The race began to stagnate a bit in the late 1980s. The introduction of restrictor plates made it difficult to pass, so, Busch had to do something to spice up the show. In 1991, the 20-lap race was split up into two 10-lap segments, and the field was inverted. This format lasted until 1997 when Jeff Gordon won the race.

In 1998, Anheuser-Busch’s other brand, Budweiser, became the namesake for the event, rechristening it the “Budweiser Shootout”. As a result, the format was changed again. Pole winners automatically qualified for the main race, which was now 25 laps, but there was a second race added, the Bud Shootout Qualifier.

The Qualifier was just like the Open for the All-Star Race. Drivers who were ineligible for the Bud Shootout could race in this event, and the winner would advance to the main race. In 2000, Dale Jarrett won both the Bud Shootout Qualifier and the main Bud Shootout.

Still, the event needed a boost. In 2001, NASCAR and Budweiser would completely change the game around the season-opening event.

2001-2012: The “Budweiser Shootout” Era

In 2001, Fox joined NASCAR as the new TV broadcaster for Speedweeks, and the Budweiser Shootout was revamped. The race was expanded to 70 laps in 2001, then, the race reached a more consistent form in 2003.

In 2003, the race was moved from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night, and a break at lap 20 was added to fine-tune the cars. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won that first Saturday night Budweiser Shootout.

The race was later expanded to 75 laps in 2009, and eligibility was also adjusted to include drivers like past event winners, past Champions, and others. The pole winner requirement was dropped late in this era.

The most iconic race of this era came in 2012. Kyle Busch had two big saves, and there were multiple multi-car incidents. In the end, Busch emerged from the smoke and sparks to beat Tony Stewart in a photo finish.

Another Decline: 2013-2021

In 2013, Sprint took over the naming rights for the race, and it was renamed “Sprint Unlimited”. The format was jumbled up a bit, but the race began to slowly decline.

In 2017, the race was renamed back to the “Clash” with Advance Auto Parts sponsoring. However, in this era, the racing product began to falter. The reason was that NASCAR had gotten rid of Preseason Thunder at Daytona, so, race teams realized that this was their best chance to fine-tune their cars for the Daytona 500.

The race became either a single-file parade or a wreck fest. It all came to a head in 2020, when Erik Jones won in a wrecked race car in front of a tiny crowd.

NASCAR tried to experiment with the race in 2021 by moving it to the Daytona Road Course on Tuesday night. The date change was because of the Super Bowl being moved one week later starting in 2021. However, NASCAR went bigger in 2022.

The Coliseum: 2022-Present

In 2022, NASCAR moved the race to the LA Coliseum. They literally built a temporary 0.25-mile short track on the USC football field. They also brought in big-name music acts such as Ice Cube to perform. The race was a massive hit.

The race also changed its date from the week before the Daytona 500 to the week before the Super Bowl. It worked perfectly for Fox as they could promote the Clash through their broadcasts of the NFL Playoffs.

This move revitalized the Clash, and it brought the event from its’ decline throughout the late 2010s. Now, the Clash has a brand, and it has a permanent place on the NASCAR schedule.

No one knows if the Clash will stay at the Coliseum beyond 2024, but, it is the current chapter of this interesting saga. What was your favorite era of the Clash?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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