Clash at the Coliseum Preview: NASCAR's 2022 Kickoff

Clash at the Coliseum Preview: NASCAR's 2022 Kickoff

This article is part of our NASCAR DFS series.

The 2022 NASCAR season will kick off with the annual exhibition race at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this NASCAR exhibition event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with many daily fantasy racing games and racing pools that form specifically for this race and its unique format.  

The Busch Clash has historically been held at Daytona International Speedway since its inception in 1979. This season, NASCAR is breaking with tradition and moving the event to a purpose-built small oval in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The facility constructed a quarter-mile asphalt oval in the historic venue. The competition is open to all NASCAR Cup Series teams, and the entry list shows 36 drivers for this historic exhibition event.

The racing will be broken into qualifying heat races and then a main event. Drivers will qualify Saturday for Sunday's four heats, which will consist of 10 cars each racing 25 laps. The top four finishers from each heat race will qualify for the Clash. 

The remaining six drivers from each heat will compete in one of two 50-lap qualifying races with the top-three finishers from each race advancing to the Clash. 

The final spot in the Clash will go to the highest finisher in the 2021 points standings among the remaining drivers.

This exhibition race will be unlike any other preseason exhibition race due to the change in venue and unique competition format for the race weekend. The teams that show up with fast race cars right off the hauler and capable short-track drivers will be the ones to beat. For our statistical analysis, we've looked back at the last two seasons of short track racing to get a feel for our top contenders this week. Below are the statistics for the last 10 Cup Series events on tracks less than one-mile in length.  These include Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond.    

DriverWins Top 5'sTop 10'sLaps LedAvg Finish
Chase Elliott1568269.9
Joey Logano0573647.7
Martin Truex Jr.3674828.7
Denny Hamlin0341,06712.5
Brad Keselowski25643211.2
Kyle Busch0383089.0
Kevin Harvick12533810.6
Alex Bowman2362012.7
Ryan Blaney03433212.3
William Byron036914.8
Kurt Busch0144214.6
Austin Dillon0136114.5
Aric Almirola0152014.6
Christopher Bell0242015.5
Erik Jones024014.8
Tyler Reddick012016.4
Kyle Larson1232608.8
Bubba Wallace0012320.5
Chris Buescher002020.0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.000022.7

This race is different than any Busch Light Clash before it due to the extremely short track wrinkle and multiple qualifying heat race format.  From the recent stats above we get a very clear picture of who has become the leaders in this style of racing the last two seasons.  Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. have dominated these facilities dating back to 2020.  Those two drivers will be the focus of our attention this week.  There are some outside contenders in the mix, and we'll visit those as well.  Short track racing can get pretty wild at times, and this ovals newness and uncertainty will add to that mix.  We have to keep that possibility in mind as we examine the field.

This exhibition race is unlike any of the normal Cup Series events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well.  We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in the Busch Light Clash main event of 150 laps.  That field will consistent of 23 drivers who advance from the earlier rounds, and these are the ones who we see as the top threats to win the first race of 2022 and take the big purse in this Sunday evening spectacle.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex is one of the more successful short-track drivers of the last two seasons.  He's scooped up three victories and six Top-5 finishes on ovals less than a mile in length since 2020.  Two of those three victories have come on the flat oval of Martinsville Speedway, which bears a lot of similarities to our small oval in the L.A. Coliseum.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota typically leads laps in these events and cracks the Top 5 even when he doesn't hoist the trophy at the end of the day.  That makes Truex a very dangerous competitor in this first-time exhibition race.  Certainly, before we even see a lap of practice at the new track this week, Truex would be our early-favorite before the haulers are even unloaded.   

Chase Elliott – For what Elliott lacks in victories, compared to Truex Jr., he makes up for in consistency.  The Hendrick Motorsports star does boast a 2020 Martinsville win, but his five Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes on small ovals the last two years works out to a strong 9.9 average finish.  Additionally, Elliott's 826 laps led on these tracks ranks second among all drivers, and second only to Denny Hamlin.  The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet's last start at Martinsville netted a whopping 289 laps led, but bad luck would saddle him with a subpar 16th-place finish last October.  Elliott will be hungry to make a big impression to kick off the 2022 season.  This exhibition race in Los Angeles may just be the thing that sets Elliott up for a big start to the campaign.         

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is used to dominating the Clash, but that's typically at Daytona.  He's a three-time winner of this pre-season exhibition event.  Although we're changing gears and moving to a short track this year, that shouldn't deter Hamlin's chances of taking a win before the races start counting towards points.  Last season alone, the Joe Gibbs Racing star racked up three Top-3 finishes between the ovals of Richmond and Martinsville.  Speaking of Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin is a five-time winner on that flat, half-mile oval.  That bodes well for his chances on this similar quarter-mile cousin.  Hamlin has always been a strong performer on the short tracks.  It speaks to his background and upbringing in racing before he arrived in NASCAR.  Hamlin will be eager to get out on the new LA oval this weekend.

Kyle Larson – Larson doesn't have the lengthy, short track racing resume that some of the veteran drivers in this ranking boast.  However, the 2022 champion made it incredibly clear in last season's performance that he has the short tracks zeroed in and targeted.  Larson grabbed a Bristol victory last season, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on ovals less than one-mile in length.  While the defending champion has not been the guy to beat on these short tracks, he has made his presence felt in the outcomes.  Larson led 77 laps at Martinsville last October before fading late to finish 14th-place.  So in some ways, it will likely come down to timing for the No. 5 Chevrolet team.  If Larson can time his surge correctly, he could win the purse and hoist the trophy at the L.A. Coliseum this Sunday evening. 

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing star is probably more of the head of the tier B of contenders this weekend.  Logano has had a good two-year run on the small ovals, but it has been a winless run.  His five Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes (7.7 average finish) coupled with 350+ laps led still command a lot of respect.  Those stats place him among the elite performers on the short tracks the last two seasons.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford is a one-time winner at the flat Martinsville Speedway and he's led close to 1,100-career laps at that oval.  The L.A. Coliseum short track sets up pretty well for Logano.  This track and all its unknowns, play to a lot of Logano's strengths as a driver. 

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski will be competing for a new race team in 2022, the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team.  What better way to kick off the new relationship than to grab a win in the prime time exhibition race at the L.A. Coliseum?  Keselowski's odds may be higher than some other drivers in this listing, but he's not to be overlooked.  The driver of the No. 6 Ford has racked up two wins and six Top-10 finishes over the last two seasons on ovals under one-mile in length.  Keselowski is a two-time Martinsville winner (both since 2017) and he finished a strong third-place there last October.  The veteran driver brings the gift of short track racing to his new team.  Don't underestimate Keselowski's chances to win this race.    

Kyle Busch – While Busch is winless the last two seasons on short tracks, he's shown remarkable consistency on these ovals during the last two campaigns.  His eight Top-10 finishes in the 10 events leads all drivers and his 9.0 average finish ranks third among all drivers.  The COVID era of NASCAR racing hit Busch pretty hard.  The loss of practice and qualifying largely kept Busch out of victory lane quite a bit the last two seasons.  That changes in 2022.  The return of practice and qualifying will be welcomed greatly by Busch and his crew chief, Ben Beshore.  Busch and the No. 18 team's last time out at Martinsville Speedway last October netted a brilliant runner-up finish.  This driver and team will be looking to make a statement Sunday in the L.A. Coliseum.    

Alex Bowman – The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has typically been more of an intermediate oval performer most of his career, but Bowman really stepped it up last season on the circuit's short tracks.  He nabbed two victories and three Top-5 finishes just last season alone on small ovals.  Bowman visited Martinsville Speedway last October and captured his first-career win at that track with a surprising performance.  The veteran driver surged at the right time and held off Kyle Busch to capture the win that Fall afternoon.  Bowman's excellence on the short track circuit should continue well into the 2022 season.  The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum should be an exhibition race for Bowman to display his skills.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire.
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Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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