Instead of a guaranteed playoff berth, Sunday’s “Clash” winner takes home an impressive cash prize. Ask 2017 winner Joey Logano, who missed the 2017 playoffs, which he’d prefer. John Raoux AP
Instead of a guaranteed playoff berth, Sunday’s “Clash” winner takes home an impressive cash prize. Ask 2017 winner Joey Logano, who missed the 2017 playoffs, which he’d prefer. John Raoux AP

NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR is back ... sort of. Here’s why ‘The Clash’ leaves me feeling punked.

February 08, 2018 06:59 AM

ThatsRacin stories fall into two basic categories: in-season and offseason. The in-season NASCAR stories typically predict the coming week’s race or deal with an ongoing issue, while the offseason stories likely are end-of-season reviews and projections for the following season.

Except this week. This week, I am, admittedly, a bit perplexed.

Technically, there is a race this week: The Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday at 3 p.m. But “The Clash,” as it’s more commonly known, isn’t a race in the traditional NASCAR sense.

It doesn’t count towards the playoffs or the Cup Series standings. The whole field doesn’t race; just a select few who meet specific guidelines, or about 20 drivers this season. It’s only 75 laps, far shorter than any other race. And instead of a guaranteed playoff berth, the winner takes home an impressive cash prize.

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Ask 2017 winner Joey Logano, who missed the 2017 playoffs, which he’d prefer.

Take all that together, and it’s obvious “The Clash” is less entrée, more appetizer. The cash prize makes it an appealing endeavor for drivers, regardless, but how should fans feel?

Again, two schools of thought present themselves.

The first is that of the rabid, race-hungry fan who will jump at the first sign of life on the track. That’s the equivalent of the football and basketball fans who spend their offseasons combing over mock drafts – anything to scratch the itch. Those who are so dedicated will appreciate the high stakes, the atmosphere at Daytona, and above all, the fact that cars are racing again.

Not to mention “The Clash” has a serious history. First run in 1979, advertisers marketed it as the “fastest race of the year,” considering it was made up of the prior season’s top drivers. It’s been run ever since, serving as the introductory race for Speedweeks. Again, the first school of thought will place a premium on that tradition and value “The Clash” as such.

In Sunday’s clash, high-profile drivers such as Chase Elliott, above, reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson will run, but exciting rookies such as William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. won’t.
Stephen M. Dowell TNS

Then there’s the second school of thought – the one that finds the whole thing (as I do) a bit confusing. Any real NASCAR fan will be attracted to the idea of racing taking place sooner rather than later, but in this a lite version? Rather than envisioning “The Clash” as the fastest race of the year, to me it seems like a glorified warmup. There’s no strategy over the long haul because ... there is no long haul. The first section of the race is only 25 laps long – get stuck in a concession line and you’ll miss it.

Also, only half the field actually competes. Of course, we get the majority of the high-profile drivers, such as Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson, but we’ll be missing exciting rookies such as William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. That may not bother every fan, but it’s worth mentioning.

Those two categories are, of course, crude, but if I had to side with one camp, it would be the latter. That’s not to say “The Clash” still shouldn’t happen, but as the first race of the NASCAR season?

Stick with the Daytona 500 – “The Clash” can wait until All-Star weekend.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks