Speedweeks 2020 is in full swing. On Sunday (Feb. 9), qualifying for the 62nd Daytona 500 was run as the 42nd edition of the Busch Clash. The Busch Clash, as it is now referred to after an array of name changes over the last 30 years, was the first taste of racing in 2020… if you could call it that. The race featured 18 cars made up of 2019 pole sitters, 2019 playoff drivers and past winners of the event.
At the end of the event, only a couple of the 18 cars remained on track and even fewer with no damage. Several big wrecks took place that made the race feel more like a demolition derby than an actual stock car race. Eventual-winner Erik Jones was caught up in a wreck and had his front nose mashed in but was able to get a push from teammate Denny Hamlin that led him to victory.
The race has been a ‘wreckfest’ for the last 10 or so years. Former Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski even called out his teammate Joey Logano for “stupid racing” and for blocking when it wasn’t necessary. Keselowski even suggested that the safety built into the 2020 racecars gives the drivers a false sense of invincibility.
Still, there’s no question that many fans, drivers, media members and certainly car owners did not like what they saw on Sunday. That raises the question: Is it time to change Speedweeks? Even Thursday’s qualifying races, which feature just two cars trying to race their way in in two 150-mile events, are questionable at this point. Does it make sense to keep both the Busch Clash and The Duel 150-mile qualifying races for Speedweeks 2021? Our writers debate.
Keep the Clash, Don’t Ditch the Duels
Speedweeks has been a staple of the lead-up to Daytona ever since I can remember. After I really, really got back into NASCAR at the start of 2011, I’ve seen pretty much every Speedweeks race from 2012 through the present day, including Sunday’s Busch Clash.
Or was it the Busch Crash? NASCAR Twitter lit up when the first of four major crashes happened on Sunday, and continued to churn as each progressive accident claimed more and more cars until only six remained on track.
The carnage on Feb. 9 led many to question the need for the event, as well as the economics of it all – 12 cars crashed out of competition Sunday, and the six that finished had quite a bit of damage. Erik Jones’ winning car featured a punched-in nose and countless layers of tape holding down the hood.
Why get rid of the Clash, though? Having an event where 15-20 of the sport’s best go at it on the circuit’s most iconic track states the need for racing and prepares all of us for a full week, almost, of on-track action.
The Clash then remains in our minds on the following Monday, giving everyone only a day of fading memory before racing enters the discussion again – what with media day on Wednesday and the qualifying Duels Thursday night, followed by the main events for all three major series over the next three days.
As racing fans, our off-season isn’t terribly long when compared to other sports, but it hits hard when those Sundays full of roaring engines cease for almost three months in winter. The sport is about excitement, and these races leading up to the crown jewel of them all, the Daytona 500, add to that anticipation.
Is it a superfluous and ultimately meaningless race that has zero impact on the season? Yes, absolutely. I won’t deny the impact on teams’ wallets or the fact that Sunday’s race quickly turned into a farce, and that it was one of the most chaotic races I’ve ever seen. What about the All-Star Race, though? Besides the million-dollar prize at the end of the night and Charlotte’s oval not taking the form of a superspeedway, there’s not a ton of difference between the two – crashes can still happen in a race that really doesn’t matter, and I don’t hear anyone calling for its cancellation.
Pole qualifying for the Great American Race, which occurred prior to the Clash, is certainly exciting and leads to unexpected moments (case in point, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earning the top spot for Sunday), but that’s not all some want from the main event before the 500.
On the same note, the Duels at Daytona are also a part of this discussion – the twin 150-mile events held the Thursday before the Daytona 500 set the starting order for everyone but the front row, sending some teams home while others make the field. They are a staple of Daytona 500 qualifications and should also remain on tap every year. They’ve made for some wild moments (see Clint Bowyer’s flip and perfect landing in 2014) but there’s also stakes and a lot on the line for smaller teams not locked into Sunday’s event. They make for one of the most entertaining and enthralling parts of Speedweeks.
It’s a full week – eight days, really – of excitement, and I doubt I or any other NASCAR fans would trade it for the world. The hype for Speedweeks builds from late November all the way to February, and by the time the second month of the year rolls around, hearing the deafening roar of engines and seeing the cars on track is a presence that beckons us – a promise that a brand-new racing season is right around the corner. – Adam Cheek
When Tradition Devolves into Inventory Liquidation…
Sunday’s Busch Clash was touted as a throwback of sorts. Most notably, being called The Busch Clash again, after being rebranded the Budweiser or Bud Shootout and the Sprint Unlimited over the years. While the original format was simply a 20-lap dash for cash – the perfect appetizer for the Great American Race a week later – in recent years it has devolved into a violent exercise of inventory reduction. Sunday did not disappoint, as the purge of Gen6 superspeedway equipment became so aggressive there were only four cars left on the lead lap on the deciding green-white-checkered restart.
As Joe Gibbs said afterward following Erik Jones’ win – in a car whose front end you could frame a pole barn with – “I think we spent a million bucks today to win a trophy.”
Not sure what the return on investment (ROI) is on that, but guessing it’s not the cornerstone of a sustainable long-term business plan.
Thursday’s Duel races have also drawn scrutiny in recent years. While field size for Cup Series races have been whittled down to 40 cars in recent years, the number of cars attempting to qualify has also declined. This year 42 cars took time on Sunday in qualifying. Back in 2015 when 43 cars were still allowed to start a race, there is be no real benefit to risking your car on Thursday. Unless you’re a car outside the top 30 in points, or not really that fast in qualifying, the risk to actually racing for real on Thursday seems to outweigh the benefit of keeping everything in one piece until the green flag drops on Sunday.
Given the continued financial challenges teams are facing in NASCAR and efforts to save money where possible, it might be time to do away with one of these Speedweeks events – if not both.
Thursday’s Duel 150 races in the current era of speedway racing and reduced car counts seem to be a bit redundant. It wasn’t always that way of course. From 1959–1971 the qualifying races actually counted points towards the championship. It was also a way to race into the 500 if a driver didn’t have the best qualifying effort. For new teams, it was also a perilous exercise and a good way to miss the first race of the season if you were a new team without owner’s points from the year before.
There were also some dramatic moments during the qualifying races – although few were able to enjoy them because the races were run Thursday afternoon when most people were at work. Some of the more poignant moments that come to mind were in 2011, watching Brad Keselowski dropping back through the field to pick up his brother Brian Keselowski. He then pushed his brother’s unsponsored Dodge to a fifth-place finish, ensuring Brian and the family ran operation a spot in the Daytona 500. Another great story was Max Papis making the field in 2010. Who could forget him hugging anybody within arms length of on pit road? The Danica Patrick/Denny Hamlin confrontation on pit road in 2015 – complete with 80’s tough guy shirt grab and dual judo chops from DP– was a highlight for sure.
But is it worth tearing up 15 cars in a qualifying race – i.e. qualifying after qualifying – just to reshuffle a handful of cars? In this day and age with a totally new car due next year, is it time to re-evaluate where we’re spending money? Superspeedway cars have never been inexpensive, and being it’s the biggest and first race of the year, that can put a real crimp in the plans of some of the smaller teams who are then behind the 8-ball for a month after tearing up a car and possibly a backup, for exhibition racing that has grown frivolous in recent years.
Some will scowl and ball the fists in anger at such a suggestion. “How dare you mess with tradition?!” Oh yeah? Well, where was the righteous indignation over moving the start from the July Daytona race from 10:30am to 6:00pm over Fourth of July weekend? The move forcing millions to choose between family outings on the lake watching fireworks or watching a race. God forbid it’s delayed by rain – or red flagged for half an hour to clean up after multiple ‘Big Ones.’
We used to freak out over a fender wrinkle damaging the aerodynamic integrity of these missiles. Now they just plow into each other with the winning car having more duct tape than sheet metal. Not every race has to have cars that look like they just did the 12 Hours of Martinsville – or Bowman-Gray. And that’s what it’s starting to feel like: less like a primer for the biggest race of the season, but more field eliminating smash ‘em ups to appeal to the (grabbing a 20qt waste bin to capture the contents that once was dinner) casual fan – or iRacing newb, hoping they’ll tune in on Sunday for the 500. Given the projected costs of the 2021 car, which according to Kyle Busch’s comments during media availability on Wednesday are, by his estimates, to cost four times more what the current speedway car checks in at ($200,000), perhaps we will see one of the cornerstones of Speedweeks fade into the ether at some point.
While it’s not something I necessarily want to see happen, it may need to if we’re going to continue to wipe out entire fields simply for show. – Vito Pugliese
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