Kevin Harvick thinks it’s time for NASCAR to eliminate The Clash, its annual, pre-Daytona 500 exhibition event, and he makes a pretty compelling argument.
During Sunday’s 75-lap event at Daytona International Speedway, the first 55 laps featured relatively uneventful racing and multiple rain delays. The 20 cars on the 2.5-mile track made minimal moves and politely drove in one behind the other with Paul Menard leading the way.
But with about 20 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson got tired of running second behind Menard and made a move, shifting to the inside of the track to try and pass the No. 21 Ford. But the two made contact, and Johnson’s aggression triggered a massive wreck that took out almost the entire field.
It was a mess. Johnson escaped most of the trouble he caused and took the lead, just ahead of more rain that eventually led NASCAR to call the race early and declare the 43-year-old No. 48 Chevrolet driver the winner.
But what did Johnson win? Nothing, really — although it was the seven-time champion’s first time in Victory Lane since the 2017 season, even though it was an exhibition event.
It’s not a points event, it doesn’t relate to qualifying for the Daytona 500 — like The Duels this week do — and beyond being on a Sunday in February at the same location, it really doesn’t have anything in common with The Great American Race.
But it’s a 40-year-old tradition.
“The Clash is one of those things that I think we could probably eliminate as we go forward and look at the new schedule,” Harvick, who finished 12th in the race, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“And the reason that I say that is you’re trying to bring a lot of guys into the race. And originally when The Clash was brought about, it was about the (Daytona 500) pole winners and past winners of that particular race. They had a lot of guys that weren’t pole winners, and you have guys that were in the playoffs that were in the race.”
As The Clash expanded over the years, qualifying for it evolved. This year, drivers could also qualify for it if they won a pole or made the playoffs in the previous season, among other ways.
It’s hardly a secret that NASCAR is struggling, from TV ratings and race attendance to the sport and big-name drivers, like Johnson, losing longtime sponsors. Even the 2017 championship team had to close up shop at the end of last season because a sponsor bailed.
So beyond tradition, why does NASCAR still run The Clash, especially as it searches for reasonable ways to limit and cut costs for teams?
That’s where Harvick made his most compelling argument for ditching the exhibition event.
“As we talk about money and saving team owners money, Joe Gibbs wrecked five cars,” Harvick continued on his radio show, Happy Hours. “So you look at $300,000 a car — that adds up pretty quick. (Eliminating The Clash is) definitely something we could look at.”
Not only were all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, victims of the massive wreck in this year’s Clash, but Hamlin was also involved in a crash during practice — so was Harvick — and forced to go to a backup car for the main event.
Harvick — who didn’t have to use his backup car after ensuring it was gently removed from the grass, citing that $300,000 figure again — has a point.
For a race that means nothing in terms of the season’s competition and doesn’t count toward a driver’s race wins total, it’s become an unnecessary money pit for a little entertainment the week before the biggest race of the season. And it’s not like NASCAR or Daytona International Speedway could point to jam-packed grandstands as a reason to save it either.
So what’s the solution?
“To me, it would be good to combine with the All-Star Race,” Harvick explained about another NASCAR exhibition event in May.
“You take two positions in the All-Star Race because you’re always on the edge of, ‘Is that enough cars? Is that not enough cars?’ But take The Clash away, make it a points race or make that one of the weekends that we take off the schedule.
“And take the pole winners, and give them two spots in the All-Star Race. And you take the two highest pole winners — amount that have won the most poles in the previous year or (in the same season) up to the All-Star Race — and give them two slots from pole winners into the All-Star Race that aren’t already in the All-Star Race.”
Diehard NASCAR fans probably won’t like this idea. But if you’re looking to make the NASCAR season less expensive, a meaningless exhibition race might be the place to start.