● It’ll be a Southern California homecoming like no other for Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), when he and his fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors kick off the 2022 season with this weekend’s exhibition Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. The recently turned 24-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, will help usher in a new era of American stock-car racing’s premier division by debuting an all-new racecar on a new track. The long-anticipated NextGen car will see its first racing action Saturday and Sunday on a purpose-built, quarter-mile, asphalt oval inside the confines of the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will be the first time the series has kicked off a season at a track other than Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway since 1981, when the schedule opened on a road course at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway, approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Riverside was demolished in 1989, the Moreno Valley Mall now standing in its place.
● The NextGen is the seventh version of the stock car NASCAR introduced in 1949. Its most notable features include a sequential shifter, 670-horsepower engines, a single center-lock wheel nut akin to Indy cars and sports cars, and car numbers just behind the front wheels, as well as carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body panels, a carbon-fiber floor that covers the entire underneath portion of the car, and a rear-end diffuser – all of which are in place to reduce dirty air. Its rack-and-pinion steering replaces the archaic recirculating ball used in its predecessors, and an independent rear suspension is a drastic upgrade from the full-floating axle first championed by 1950s-era Detroit products. Most importantly, the NextGen car is much more in line with what manufacturers sell and consumers want to see.
● Custer earned a spot in last year’s season-opening Busch Clash non-points event held for the first time on the road course at Daytona by virtue of his first career Cup Series victory at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta the previous July. If he is to race in the main event for the second time in his career this weekend, the 2020 Cup Series Rookie of the Year will need to race his way in. Here’s how it will work:
● On Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for practice prior to single-car qualifying runs to determine the starting order for four heat races. The field will be open to 40 entrants. On Sunday, on-track action will begin with four, 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how the heat races will be filled out:
● The top-four fastest qualifiers from Saturday’s single-car qualifying session will be on the 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: Heat one will be made up of 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 through to the Busch Light Clash, with the winner of heat one winning the pole and the heat two winner earning the outside pole.
● The winners of heats three and four will fill out the second row, with the remaining order of those 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 (LCQ) races. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:
● The starting order for these two events will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.
● Those who did not advance from heats one and three will make up the first LCQ race. The second race will be made of up those from heats two and four.
● The fifth-place finishers from heats one and two will be on the pole in their respective LCQ races. The fifth-place finishers from heats three and four will be on the outside pole.
● This pattern will continue to fill out 12 cars in each event.
● The top-three finishers (six total cars) from both LCQ races will advance to the Busch Light Clash, filling out positions 17-22 of the 23 available positions.
● The final spot in the Busch Light Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2021 points standings who does not transfer on finishing position in the heat races or LCQ races.
● All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend.
● The quarter-mile oval at the Coliseum is the shortest track the Cup Series will race on this year. Custer has shown flashes of brilliance on short tracks during his steady rise to the full-time Cup Series ranks in 2020. Since turning heads as a 13-year-old with a solid fourth-place finish in a June 2011 Langer’s Juice S-2 Sportsman Series race at nearby Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, Custer has scored four wins, 17 top-fives, 30 top-10s and has led 1,138 laps on short tracks.
● Returning to Custer’s No. 41 Ford Mustang for his third full-time Cup Series season is team co-owner Gene Haas’ newest holding, Haas Tooling, which was launched as a way for CNC machinists to purchase high-quality cutting tools at great prices. Haas cutting tools are sold exclusively online at HaasTooling.com and shipped directly to end users. HaasTooling.com products became available nationally in July 2020. Haas Automation, founded by Haas in 1983, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.