The Cross Flags Column is a new (late) midweek summary of the news, with a hint of analysis mixed in.
“ˌembləˈmadik”– it’s the formal pronunciation of a word to describe the relationship this weekend may have with the future of NASCAR.
This weekend’s L.A. Busch Light Clash is the debut of NASCAR’s long-awaited Next Gen car set in front of an abundance of new viewers at a new, downtown L.A. stadium short track.
Ever since the mid-1990s, NASCAR has been chasing a broader audience and the ever-elusive “casual fan”. The original approach employed then was to build a venue near a major city where 100,000-plus fans could marvel at speedy modern engineering marvels turned out by teams rapidly developing their aero and engine programs every passing race and dollar spent.
Now, with many of those venues either losing dates or being taken off the schedule altogether, the death knell has been sounded upon the original approach – in favor of praises for the new approach that could soon be sung at stadiums across the U.S. and around the world.
The new approach is bringing NASCAR to a major city venue where fans can easily access the sport’s short track and road course racing as the sport takes on a more cost-effective and parity-friendly approach.
The L.A. Clash is the first test of that new approach and if it is a success, a Sports Business Journal report indicates NASCAR could hold stadium races in several large cities/markets – including New York City, the Pacific Northwest, Denver, London and Tokyo – in addition to considering possible street course races in places such as Chicago.
Fans are entertained by what will bring instant and tangible excitement in any environment. While there is nothing like the rush of a fast stock car speeding by at 190+ MPH, short track and road course racing do better at bringing desired excitement in any environment.
These most directly-accessible types of racing are also lauded as some of the most entertaining racing in the sport without having to sacrifice the human element of the sport. New viewers will be met where they are with what the sport does best, to where the sport has its best chance, maybe ever, of bringing in and keeping new eyeballs on the sport.
SRX, which was built on a similar approach, unveiled its 2022 schedule this week. Stafford and Nashville are the only tracks returning to the schedule, while Knoxville, Eldora, IRP and Slinger are all out – in favor of Five Flags, South Boston, I-55 and Sharon Speedway.
While the departures are disappointing, especially Slinger where the Nationals winner earned an SRX spot, the new tracks expand upon what made SRX a success in 2021.
I-55 and Sharon Speedways will get to make their primetime, national debut much like Stafford and Slinger did in 2021 – while beloved tracks Five Flags and South Boston will get to conjure nostalgia and a deeply-rooted love that IRP sparked.
For South Boston, especially it is the resurrection of a track that once appeared to be in dire straits – for Five Flags, the weight of the Snowball Derby’s prestige will elevate the SRX race there just as the Slinger Nationals’ prestige elevated Luke Fenhaus who raced the SRX race at Slinger after winning the Nationals.
As new tracks are brought into the fold in SRX, new cryptocurrency-focused sponsors are being brought into the fold in NASCAR.
This week, Hex.com announced a deal to enter the sport with MBM Motorsports, while veteran sponsor MoneyLion announced a more crypto-focused approach to their sponsorship.
MoneyLion is also transitioning from Team Penske to 23XI Racing, where they say they will be able to spend more marketing dollars since Penske’s inventory is full.
Similarly, Kohler Generators also announced an expansion of its Roush-Fenway Keselowski Racing deal from 8 races to 14 in 2022.
Like the L.A. Clash, MoneyLion and Kohler’s moves may be emblematic of NASCAR’s future where companies up their investment as more exposure and a greater ROI is created from them getting to have their logo(s) in a more prominent place of the car in more races than before.
Kaz Grala, who Austin Dillon described as a “businessman racecar driver,” will be getting more exposure this year than before following a big week of announcements.
Grala announced Tuesday he will attempt the Daytona 500 and select NASCAR Cup Series with Floyd Mayweather’s The Money Team; two days later, he announced a deal with Young’s Motorsports to return for 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.
Between this week’s pair of deals and a NASCAR XFINITY Series deal – announced Jan. 24 – with Alpha Prime Racing for four races and to serve as a reserve driver, Grala now has a ride in NASCAR’s top three national series.
For Grala, the deals are a comeback and a step forward for the 23-year-old driver. Kaz Grala had a week that highlighted how 2022 will be a comeback year and a step forward.
After finishing Top 10 at Talladega in the NASCAR Cup Series for Kaulig Racing in April 2021 and receiving high marks from the team in June, Grala was snubbed from the team’s lineup in 2022.
Now, Grala is mounting a comeback with a deal to run the Daytona 500 – and possibly 10 or more NASCAR Cup Series races – for Floyd Mayweather’s The Money Team.
Last year, Grala ran two NXS races for Jordan Anderson Racing and three NCWTS races for Young’s Motorsports. He posted solid-to-strong results – even coming close to posting an NCWTS victory at COTA.
Now, Grala is taking a step forward with deals to run four NXS races for Alpha Prime Racing as their reserve driver and 11 NCWTS races for Young’s.
Grala’s results are solid, even impressive in some cases. He earned a 7th-place finish in his Cup debut filling in for Austin Dillon at the Daytona road course, of all places.
He also led 11 laps and finished 2nd in his near-victory at COTA and posted strong results while driving for Richard Childress Racing in years past,
It is no wonder, then The Money Team’s general manager told SiriusXM his schedule will be road course-focused.
Grala’s team, The Money Team, joins a trend in NASCAR of celebrity owners in the sport.
Floyd Mayweather joins Michael Jordan (23XI), Pitbull (Trackhouse) and even Lebron James (Fenway Sports Group; RFKR) on the list of NASCAR-invested celebrities who are bringing more than just star power to the sport.
The celebrity owners are using their star power to leverage deals for drivers, such as Grala and Daniel Suárez, who can hinge their respective fates more on their talent than the sponsorship they bring.
The owners’ presence is also helping welcome a more diverse, broader audience to the sport – even creating a new NASCAR hub in Nashville in the case of Trackhouse – in a manner that is also emblematic of NASCAR’s new approach to stamping its place in the mainstream while being true to the sport’s soul.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
Christian Eckes will run the NCWTS full-time for Thorsport Racing in 2022. Teammate Johnny Sauter is expected to run part-time for Thorsport, while also running up to 13 NCWTS races for the Tim Viens-owned GTG Racing.
Pit stops will also be returning to NASCAR All-Star Race qualifying, as indicated in an All-Star Race weekend schedule released by Texas Motor Speedway. All-Star Race drivers will qualify for three laps with a mandatory pit stop during the qualifying run.
The anticipated All-Star Race Open format are stages of 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps, while the All-Star Race format is anticipated to be stages of 15 laps, 15 laps, 15 laps, 15 laps, 30 laps and 10 laps.
Coverage of the L.A. Clash goes live on FOX at 2 p.m. ET:
The Clash! Where to 👀 all of the action from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on 📺. pic.twitter.com/lHireUUOzK
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 2, 2022