NASCAR successfully waved the checkered flag on its opening event of the year just before the heavy rains began to drench Los Angeles.
That NASCAR crammed the two-day Clash at the Coliseum into a compelling one-day show capped a frenzied week in global motorsports. So many crazy things happened in a one-week span that Lewis Hamilton's shocking decision to leave Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025 was just one of a frenzy of headlines as February arrived.
The week all started with a dead dog and a 24-hour IMSA sports car race that wasn’t exactly 24 hours. It ended seven days later with NASCAR — aware a life-threatening storm was headed toward Southern California — tore up the schedule and rushed its way through two races in one night.
Even then it wasn't over: Monday, energy drink giant Red Bull said it has launched an internal investigation into Formula One team principal Christian Horner over allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a team employee.
This was all after two other big developments in F1: The series finally confirmed it does not want Michael Andretti on the grid. Its sharp rejection of Andretti's application all but called Andretti and General Motors idiots incapable of possibly understanding the highbrow world of the European series.
Then came Hamilton's seismic decision to exercise a clause in his recently signed contract extension to leave Mercedes for Ferrari. The bombshell announcement was a gift to F1, muting the fan backlash over the Andretti decision, though the week closed with Andretti Cadillac saying they were unaware they'd been invited to a Dec. 12 meeting with F1; the invitation turned up in a spam email folder. The sender was not F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and there was no follow-up from F1.
ROLEX 24 DRAMA
It began with the IMSA race that opened the American racing season on Jan. 27-28. A pace car filled with guests at Daytona International Speedway crashed hours before the race, injuring at least two passengers. Word was also spreading that Devlin de Francesco’s golden retriever puppy was struck and killed in the driver/owner motorhome lot by team owner Chip Ganassi.
De Francesco was distraught just as a 24-hour race was to begin. Thus began four days of bickering between the Ganassi and de Francesco camps that resulted in Ganassi making a ”generous donation to the Indianapolis Humane Society."
Team Penske won the race for the first time since 1969 and 86-year-old Roger Penske, on the timing stand, “was crying, I swear. For like 10 minutes, too,” said an incredulous Josef Newgarden, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
But wait! The race wasn’t really 24 hours. IMSA later acknowledged a timing error and the race fell short of completion by 1 minute, 35.277 seconds. Tom Blomqvist, seeking his third consecutive Rolex, probably wasn’t going to catch Felipe Nasr in the Porsche even given one more lap , but stranger things have happened.
FORMULA ONE FUROR
F1 has been wild three weeks before preseason testing even begins.
The rejection letter to Michael Andretti reeked of elitism and looked down at the American effort from not only one of the most iconic family names in motorsports, but also General Motors, one of the largest automakers in the world.
F1, among other things, said it did not believe Andretti would be a competitive team; that the Andretti name does not bring the value to the series that Michael Andretti believes it will; and that getting on the grid in the next two years would be a challenge Andretti has never faced before.
It was condescending and Andretti Cadillac is taking its time to consider its next steps. Legal action has not been ruled out.
Then came Hamilton's decision to inform Mercedes over breakfast at team principal Toto Wolff's house that the seven-time champion was in his final season and that Ferrari was his next stop. Pass the scones, Toto?
Hamilton won six of his championships with Mercedes, but clearly doesn't believe a record-breaking eighth can be captured with the Silver Arrows. He will be 40 when he steps into his Ferrari ride on a “multiyear deal" and perhaps views Ferrari as the only competitor capable of challenging Red Bull in the near future.
Red Bull has its own distraction now, though Horner will be allowed to work during the investigation.
NASCAR took its exhibition Clash back to Los Angeles for the third consecutive year. It was bad luck that a dangerous storm was headed directly for Southern California, and NASCAR adapted unlike anything done in its 75-year history.
It turned a two-day event into one day in which both the Cup Series and NASCAR Mexico Series raced Saturday, the day NASCAR had at first decided wouldn't include fans before reversing itself. Those who showed Saturday got in for free to see the entire event, with Denny Hamlin winning the Clash for the fourth time and Daniel Suarez winning the Mexico Series race.
Hamlin now goes to Daytona International Speedway in search of a fourth Daytona 500 victory in the Feb. 18 season-opening race.
“This thing was just going to snowball," Hamlin said of the hurried race date change. "This was the only option to get this thing in, and I’m happy that NASCAR made unprecedented changes to make sure that the fans at least saw a race.”
NASCAR showed it can be nimble on the fly but the Clash's future in Los Angeles is unclear. With a remodeling job at California Speedway on pause and the novelty of racing in the Coliseum wearing off, NASCAR could end up not racing at all in Southern California next season.
“The experiment was a great success, and we proved that we can do it anywhere,” driver Joey Logano said. "Now that we’ve raced at one of the most historic stadiums in the world, it’s pretty cool, but I think you can pick this up and place it somewhere else if you needed to or something completely different.
"We’ve done crazier things at this point. There’s dirt races. There’s little small tracks like this, street races. You name it, we can do it.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing