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Next Up For Larson, Cup: An Olympian Task

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 11 2021

2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson will next lead the series to Los Angeles for the 2022 Clash. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Start the clock…because Kyle Larson will (unofficially) begin defense of his NASCAR Cup Series championship in 77 days at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

NASCAR has announced the qualifying elements and race format for the first Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, a 150-lap main event highlighting two days of racing on Saturday, Feb. 5, and Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022.

Larson, of Hendrick Motorsports, secured the 2021 Cup title with a victory in Sunday’s Championship 4 finale at Phoenix Raceway. The Clash is a non-point exhibition race. Larson, a 29-year-old native of Elk Grove, Calif., officially will launch defense of his championship in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022. 

As announced in mid-September, the L.A. Coliseum _ a tribute to all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I _ will add The Clash at the Coliseum to its lengthy list of Olympic and stick-and-ball events. The Clash at the Coliseum will be the first NASCAR race held inside the iconic stadium since it opened in 1923.

The Clash will serve as a signature event during the venue’s centennial celebration and mark the first time NASCAR’s prelude to the Daytona 500 will take place somewhere other than Daytona International Speedway in Florida. The Clash has served as NASCAR’s lead into the Daytona 500 since 1979.

“The unprecedented nature of this event, coupled with the fact that our sport will be in the spotlight in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, makes this a can’t-miss event when we get our 2022 season underway next February,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of strategy and innovation, said in a statement.

The Coliseum has been a civic treasure for generations of Angelenos, who have witnessed nine-plus decades of events including two Summer Olympics, three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls, Major League Baseball and college football.

Cup competitors will practice on Saturday, Feb. 5, prior to single-car qualifying runs to determine the starting order for four scheduled heat races. The field will be open to 40 entrants.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, on-track action will begin at 5 p.m. (ET) on FOX, with four 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Here is how the heat races will be filled out:

_ The top four fastest qualifiers from Saturday’s single vehicle qualifying session will be on-pole for each heat race, while cars that qualified fifth through eighth will make up the other half of the front row in each heat.

_The remainder of each field will be filled out using this methodology (for example, Heat 1 will be made up cars with qualifying positions of one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37).

_The top four finishers (16 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance into the Busch Light Clash (8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), with the winner of Heat 1 winning the pole and the Heat 2 winner earning the outside spot.

_Winners of Heats 3 and 4 will fill out the second row, with the remaining order of these 16 cars being determined in the same manner.

The remaining six finishing positions from each heat (24 total cars) that did not advance will continue through to one of two 50-lap Last Chance Qualifying races. Here is how the Last Chance Qualifiers will be filled out:

_ The starting order for these two events will be determined based upon finishing positions in the heat races.

_Those that did not advance from Heats 1 and 3 will make up the first Last Chance Qualifying race while the second race will be made of up those from Heats 2 and 4.

_Fifth-place finishers from Heats 1 and 2 will be on-pole in their respective Last Chance Qualifying races. Fifth-place finishers from Heats 3 and 4 will be on the outside.

_ This pattern will continue to fill out 12 cars in each event.

_Top three finishers (six total cars) from both Last Chance Qualifying races will advance to the Busch Light Clash, filling out positions 17 to 22 of the 23 available positions.

_Final spot in the Busch Light Clash is reserved for the driver who finished highest in the 2021 point standings who does not transfer via finishing position in the heat races or Last Chance Qualifying races. All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend. 

“There has already been an enormous amount of buzz around next year’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum,” Kennedy said. “We feel that this race format and the accompanying programming throughout the entire weekend will only build on that already established momentum.”

As noted, the Clash will mark the debut of NASCAR’s NextGen cars as fielded by OEM partners Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

“I’ve had the chance to drive on the track through iRacing and make some laps in the NextGen car at Bowman-Gray (Stadium) on a similar layout, and there’s no doubt that this race is going to be awesome,” said Clint Bowyer, former Cup Series driver and current FOX Sports analyst. “The different qualifying events and format for the Clash are only going to add to what will be an unforgettable weekend.”

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An increased network presence on broadcast partners FOX Sports and NBC Sports highlights the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series television schedule. Nineteen total Cup races will air on FOX and NBC throughout 2022, the first time since 2009 that more Cup point events will be carried on broadcast than cable. Ten of those races will air on FOX, including the season-opening Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 20, 2:30 p.m. ET) and eight of the next nine point events to start the season.

Bristol Dirt will air in primetime (Sunday, April 17, 7 p.m. ET) on Easter, while Talladega Superspeedway (Sunday, April 24, 3 p.m. ET) and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Sunday, May 29, 6 p.m. ET) round out the races airing on broadcast during the FOX portion of the Cup season.

“Working with the broadcast partners, tracks, teams and industry stakeholders, we will be able to deliver the best racing in the world to an even broader audience in 2022,” said Brian Herbst, NASCAR senior vice president of media and productions. “Based on data and fan feedback from the past several years, shifting afternoon start times back allows more of our fans _ whether at home or at the track _ to take in NASCAR racing on Sundays.

“In addition, airing the most Cup Series races on broadcast in more than a decade is consistent with our strategy of distributing our content to as many fans as possible during key moments in the season.”

The remaining nine broadcast races will air on NBC _ one more than 2021 _ including the kickoff of NBC Sports’ portion of the season when the Cup Series visits Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 26, at 5 p.m. ET.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Sunday, July 31, 2:30 p.m. ET) and regular season-ending event at Daytona International Speedway (Saturday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m. ET) are other regular-season races airing on the network.

The final six playoff races will air on NBC beginning with Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 2 (at 2 p.m. ET) and culminating with the crowning of a champion at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 6 (at 3 p.m. ET).

Additionally, five NASCAR Xfinity Series races will air live on broadcast in 2022. FOX will be home to the action from Talladega Superspeedway (Saturday, April 23, 4 p.m. ET). NBC will carry the Xfinity Series four times, including three playoff races _ the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Saturday, July 30, 3:30 p.m. ET); the Charlotte ROVAL (Saturday, Oct. 8, 3 p.m. ET); Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Saturday, Oct. 15, 3 p.m. ET) and Martinsville Speedway (Saturday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m. ET).

As previously announced, USA Network will become the new home for 26 NBC Sports cable races in the Cup and Xfinity series in 2022. NASCAR will debut on USA, which is available in approximately 5-million more homes than outgoing NBC Sports Network, when the Xfinity Series visits Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday, June 25 (at 3:30 p.m. ET).

The NASCAR Cup Series will make its USA Network debut on Sunday, July 3 (at 3 p.m. ET) from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

All 23 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races will air on FOX Sports 1 in 2022, 16 of them in primetime, highlighted by the Playoffs opener at new venue Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Friday, July 29 (at 9 p.m. ET) and the season-finale at Phoenix Raceway on Friday, Nov. 4 (at 8 p.m. ET).

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NBC Sports produced a number of viewership milestones for its 2021 NASCAR coverage, including year-over-year viewership increases for both the Cup and Xfinity series and the company’s most-streamed seasons for both series on record.

NBC Sports’ 2021 Cup Series viewership across NBC and NBC Sports Network produced a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 2.562-million viewers, according to Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics, slightly up vs. viewership for the comparable races on NBC and NBCSN in 2020 (2.560-million viewers), excluding weather-impacted races.

Kyle Larson’s victory and first-career Cup championship last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway produced a TAD of 3.274-million viewers (1.95 HH rating, 3.214-million TV-only), up 6 percent from last season’s championship race on NBC (3.093-million viewers) to rank as the most-watched fall Phoenix race since 2018.

Additional Cup Series viewership highlights:

_ More than half (11 of 20) of the race windows saw year-over-year viewership gains vs. 2020, including six consecutive races from Michigan (Aug. 22) to Las Vegas (Sept. 26).

_Indianapolis (Aug. 15 on NBC) and Michigan (Aug. 22 on NBCSN) were the highest-rated sports events of their respective weekends.

_ Indianapolis, Michigan, Road America (July 4 on NBC) and Daytona (Aug. 28 on NBC) made NBC/NBCSN the most-watched TV network during their window.

The 2021 Cup Series also featured the first simul-streamed races on Peacock (Texas, Martinsville and Phoenix) and delivered NBC Sports’ most-streamed NASCAR season record in terms of Average Minute Audience (30,000 viewers) and total minutes (109-million minutes). The Phoenix Cup and Xfinity series races rank as NBC Sports’ most-streamed NASCAR events on record.

Led by Knoxville, Tenn., traditional Southern markets topped the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series viewership chart on NBC and NBCSN with a 5.3 local rating. Knoxville was followed by Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. (4.6); Greensboro-High Point, N.C. (4.2); Charlotte and Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (3.3); Richmond, Va. (3-2); Louisville (3.1); Birmingham and Nashville (3.0) and Dayton, Ohio and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (2.8).

NBC Sports also saw viewership gains for its coverage of the 2021 Xfinity Series, producing a TAD of 982,000 viewers to rank as its most-watched Xfinity season since 2018, up 6 percent vs. 2020 (924,000).

Saturday night’s Xfinity championship race at Phoenix Raceway on NBCSN _ won by newly crowned champion Daniel Hemric of Joe Gibbs Racing _ produced a TAD of more than 1-million viewers (1.030- million), up 4 percent vs. last year. This season also marked NBC Sports’ most-streamed Xfinity Series year on-record in terms of AMA and total minutes.

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2022 NASCAR CUP SERIES SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern)

Sunday, Feb. 6 _ Busch Clash, L.A. Memorial Coliseum, 8 p.m., FOX Sports 1 (Non-point)

Thursday, Feb. 17 _ Duel at Daytona, 7 p.m., FS1 (Non-point)

Sunday, Feb. 20 _ Daytona International Speedway, 2:30 p.m., FOX

Sunday, Feb. 27 _ Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif., 3:30 p.m., FOX

Sunday, March 6 _ Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Sunday, March 13 _ Phoenix Raceway, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Sunday, March 20 _ Atlanta Motor Speedway, 3 p.m., FOX

Sunday, March 27 _ Circuit of The Americas, Austin, Texas 3:30 p.m., FOX

Sunday, April 3 _ Richmond Raceway, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Saturday, April 9 _ Martinsville Speedway, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Sunday, April 17 _ Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt, 7 p.m., FOX

Sunday, April 24 _Talladega Superspeedway, 3 p.m., FOX

Sunday, May 1 _ Dover International Speedway, 3 p.m., FS1

Sunday, May 8 _ Darlington Raceway, 3:30 p.m., FS1

Sunday, May 15 _ Kansas Speedway, 3 p.m., FS1

Sunday, May 22 _ NASCAR All-Star Race, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, 8 p.m., FS1 (Non-point)

Sunday, May 29 _ Charlotte Motor Speedway, 6 p.m., FOX

Sunday, June 5 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., 3:30 p.m., FS1

Sunday, June 12 _ Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, 4 p.m., FS1

Sunday, June 26 _ Nashville Superspeedway, 5 p.m., NBC

Sunday, July 3 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, July 10 _ Atlanta Motor Speedway, 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, July 17 _ New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, July 24 _ Pocono Raceway, 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, July 31 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, 2:30 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Aug. 7 _ Michigan International Speedway, 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, Aug. 14 _ Richmond Raceway, 3 p.m., USA

Sunday, Aug. 21 _ Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, 3 p.m., USA

Saturday, Aug. 27 _ Daytona International Speedway, 7 p.m., NBC

NASCAR CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern)

Sunday, Sept. 4 _ Darlington Raceway, 6 p.m., USA

Sunday, Sept. 11 _ Kansas Speedway, 3 p.m., USA

Saturday, Sept. 17 _ Bristol Motor Speedway, 7:30 p.m., USA

Sunday, Sept. 25 _ Texas Motor Speedway, 3:30 p.m., USA

Sunday, Oct. 2 _ Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Oct. 9 _ Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, 2 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Oct. 16 _ Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 2:30 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Oct. 23 _ Homestead-Miami Speedway, 2:30 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Oct. 30 _ Martinsville Speedway, 2 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Nov. 6 _ Phoenix Raceway, 3 p.m., NBC

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 11 2021
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