As this weekend’s preseason Busch Light Clash race weekend drew closer, it became clear the Los Angeles area was set to be hit beginning on Sunday with torrential rain and likely flooding which could linger for days and task local resources.
By early Saturday afternoon, NASCAR decided to attempt to move up the race rather than wait out lengthy delays. Barring the start of rain, Sunday’s Busch Light Clash will now begin at 8 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Gone are the heat races and last chance qualifying race. The drivers with 22 fastest speeds posted in practice will advance to the race with one final position going to the team highest in owner points not already qualified.
Once again, outside forces have prompted NASCAR to venture into unfamiliar territory.
“As the weather forecast continued to worsen, the public safety concerns, a lot of things that were going around, there’s a lot of different events going on in the community as well, we started to review Saturday options,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer.
“We’re really glad the Coliseum agreed to even make this a possibility. It’s the best of what is really a tough situation for the fans and this racing community, but we felt this was the best option to keep everybody safe and get both events in.”
This year’s Clash also features an invitational, exhibition race from the NASCAR Mexico Series and that will take place after the conclusion of the Clash, weather permitting.
O’Donnell said the teams encouraged NASCAR to explore every option.
“When you look at logistics, going to Daytona, what’s the best thing for teams, certainly if we could race Saturday, that’s helpful for them,” he said. “It’s an inconvenience certainly for those who had tickets and were really looking forward to this.
“We’re going to be reaching out to every single fan to make it good on their end, but this was our best option for us to at least see some racing and get people tuning in.”
Public safety is paramount
Should inclement weather interfere with the plans to conduct the races Saturday night, O’Donnell said NASCAR would go back to evaluating the “wait-it-out” options.
“We’re going to keep public safety in mind first and foremost to make sure we have what is necessary here at the coliseum to get folks in and out safely and then in the surrounding area and certainly monitor the weather,” he said.
While O’Donnell said he did not want to speculate on whether the Clash could be canceled, he said when you look at when it was possible to race with an extended (poor) forecast, “that’s certainly something we would look at.”
Drivers praise NASCAR’s decision
Cup Series drivers for the most part seemed pleased with NASCAR’s decision to try to move the race up a day, while at the same time lamenting the inconvenience for fans, who bought tickets for a Sunday event.
“I think the move is really progressive,” said William Byron, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. “I think it’s a good start, too. We’ve all been though events where we stay until Wednesday.
“It’s not fun for anyone and I don’t think it’s productive, either, or for (TV) ratings or the excitement on track and the build up to it. I hope we can get in the system of getting to flex during the week, kind of like the NFL does.
“I think if we could flex a race forward, we could get some people tuned in. I think it’s definitely better than waiting out a long rain delay, for sure.”