April 15, 2024

What Drivers Think of NASCAR Reportedly Targeting Long Beach as a ‘Venue of Interest’


  • Any NASCAR move to race on the streets of Long Beach, California, would give the series the Southern California presence it desires.
  • A half-mile track proposed near the razed Auto Club Speedway at Fontana seems like it’s not going to happen.
  • Another preseason exhibition in the L.A. Coliseum seems iffy at best.

If the much-rumored NASCAR bid to acquire a 50% stake in the Long Beach Grand Prix ever happens, most Cup Series drivers will approach a street race in Southern California as they did last year’s inaugural street race in Chicago.

Which is to say, with equal parts nonchalance and guarded anticipation. Most of the half-dozen drivers questioned at Richmond Raceway last weekend doubt a NASCAR race at Long Beach will ever happen, but don’t especially care about it one way or the other.

“We race everywhere and anywhere, so they just tell us where to be and when to be there, and we’re there,” said reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney of Team Penske. “It is what it is, and it’s the same for everybody. Do we need another street race or another road race? I don’t know; that’s above my pay grade.”

long beach indycar

Penske Entertainment/Joe Skibinski

Long Beach would serve NASCAR’s objective of a major presence in Southern California.

On the other hand…

“But it would be good to get back to the Southern California market,” he added. “They need to figure out how to make that happen, but maybe not with another street race or road race.”

Some of the idle chatter at the Toyota Owners 400—other than the weather and busted NCAA Tournament basketball brackets—centered on NASCAR maybe courting Long Beach as its new Southern California presence. The half-mile track proposed near the razed Auto Club Speedway at Fontana seems DOA, and another preseason exhibition in the L.A. Coliseum seems iffy at best.

Which may be one reason why Long Beach has recently become a “venue of interest” for NASCAR. The roughly 2.0-mile course along the city’s picturesque waterside has been a mainstay of open-wheel racing for decades. It evolved from a Formula 5000 event in 1975 to a coveted spot on the F1 schedule in 1976-1983. It’s been a mainstay on the IndyCar schedule for the last 40 years, that organization’s most successful and best-known race other than the Indy 500.

Not surprisingly, NASCAR wants something more glamorous than the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile. While company executive Ben Kennedy won’t speak of Long Beach specifically or the takeover bid first reported by RACER, he’s called it “extremely important” to be in the market and said his people have explored “several options.” It’s unlikely NASCAR would attempt to replace Long Beach’s beloved IndyCar race, but it’s also unlikely an IndyCar-NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader could be arranged.

long beach indycar

Penske Entertainment/Chris Jones

Indy cars have raced at Long Beach since 1984.

Whatever happens, several NASCAR champions and race winners said they’d be happy to return to Southern California, but not necessarily on another street course.

“I like the (oval-road course) balance we have now,” said Denny Hamlin, winner of the 400-lap, 300-mile race at Richmond for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I don’t know the infrastructure costs of building at Chicago, surely it was a lot. It almost seems you could build a short track about anywhere as well—just temporary asphalt and walls, things like we have at the (Coliseum exhibition) Clash. I’d like for us to stick to what we are versus going to too many road courses.”

Kyle Larson, the 2021 series champion for Hendrick Motorsports, is from Northern California. With the prospect of stock cars at Long Beach very much in doubt, he didn’t seem to care either way. “I haven’t really put too much thought into it,” he said before finishing third at Richmond. “It doesn’t matter to me (but) I don’t really mind it. Long Beach would be cool because it’s a nice area. So, yeah, I’d be OK with it.”

“I think our schedule is fine the way it is.”

William Byron, this year’s Daytona 500 and COTA winner for Hendrick Motorsports, worries about too many road races, about getting away from what stock car racing has always been about. “I’ll go wherever they tell me to, but I like the balance of what the schedule is right now,” he said. “We can’t oversaturate it, but I like that we have four or five road courses. I think our schedule is fine the way it is; this year’s is probably the most traditional it’s been with having so many short tracks, kind of back to the roots.”

Chase Elliott, the circuit’s most successful active road racer (six victories) and 2020 champion with Hendrick Motorsports, took much the same stance. “It’s like everywhere else we go,” he said. “They tell us where to go and when to be there, and we go there and race. Really, I’m good with it either way; I don’t have much of a preference.

“At first, road racing was unique and different and a fresh part of the schedule, especially when it was only Sonoma and Watkins Glen. You know, something twice a year other than ovals, something unusual. Well, we’ve been running five or six or seven here lately (a high of seven in 2021; six in 2022 and 2023; five this year) and that’s a lot more than two. I kind of like the idea of less being better, but I’ll go wherever the schedule says to go.”

auto mar 17 nascar cup series food city 500

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

NASCAR Cup veteran Kyle Busch would not like to see Long Beach replace a current oval on the Cup Series schedule.

Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch would be happy with Long Beach, but not at the expense of an oval. “I’d be fine if they replaced it with another street or road race, but not if they replaced an oval with Long Beach,” said the Chevrolet driver for Richard Childress Racing. “Long Beach would be cool, a fun place to race, a neat venue. And we definitely need to be in Southern California. But don’t take away an oval just for another street race.”

Ford driver Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports has won a Daytona 500 and a Cup race on the since-abandoned NASCAR road course at Indy. He acknowledges his fondness for left- and right-turn tracks, but also acknowledges his fondness for going into new markets and new venues to help grow stock car racing.

“Long Beach is an amazing venue and an awesome track,” he said, “and I like the idea of going to new places. We have the handling package now to out on a good show at those kinds of venues. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if we were still racing the previous car. We wouldn’t have been able to make some of the turns, but this Next Gen car makes all that a possibility.

“Of course, from what we hear we may never have to worry about it.”

Lettermark

Unemployed after three years as an Army officer and Vietnam vet, Al Pearce shamelessly lied his way onto a small newspaper’s sports staff in Virginia in 1969. He inherited motorsports, a strange and unfamiliar beat which quickly became an obsession. 

In 53 years – 48 ongoing with Autoweek – there have been thousands of NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and APBA assignments on weekend tracks and major venues like Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, LeMans, and Watkins Glen. The job – and accompanying benefits – has taken him to all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.  

He’s been fortunate enough to attract interest from several publishers, thus his 13 motorsports-related books. He can change a tire on his Hyundai, but that’s about it.



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