Kyle Larson claims victory in Monster Energy All-Star Race
Kyle Larson began his Saturday evening with the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he became only the third driver in NASCAR All-Star history to advance from the preliminary race to win the Monster Energy All-Star Open, following Michael Waltrip and Kasey Kahne.
“Gosh, after the year we've had, I would have not guessed that we'd get our first win at the All‑Star Race, but I think the way that the format is and how crazy the race is, it kind of helps out us,” Larson said. ”We always seem to run good this weekend. So it just feels like a big relief to finally get a win. It's been a long time since I've been to victory lane in a stock car. After being close to winning this race a couple years and allowing Joey [Logano] to get by, it feels really good to get some redemption.”
Last year’s winner, Kevin Harvick finished second after leading a race-high 33 laps, and 2017 All-Star winner Kyle Busch was third. The 2016 winner, Joey Logano, finished fourth, and another driver advancing from the open, Darrell Wallace Jr., rounded out the top-five.
“It was tons of fun, and honestly, I haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said.
After advancing from the Open, Wallace claimed his wouldn’t have a shot in the main event.
Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman provided the post-race fireworks when Bowyer approached Newman and threw punches at him as Newman remained in his car. Bowyer said Newman got into him on the cool-down lap following the race.
“Where I come from, that calls for a punch in the nose,” Bowyer said.
Newman said he made contact with power after the race to let Bowyer know he wasn’t happy with Bowyer cutting across the nose of his car late in the race.
Larson took his first and only lead in the All-Star Race when a push from Harvick propelled him by Chase Elliott, and he led the final 13 laps of the race.
“I wasn't nervous at all that last restart, and I think partly of that is just from feeling like I am prepared,” Larson said. ”And also losing close races. I just ‑‑ I feel like I've done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl. I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps, and I gave the race away. Tonight, I wasn't going to let that happen. “
Harvick took the lead on the opening lap of the race that was scheduled for 85 laps but was extended to 88 as a result of the opening 30-lap stage going into overtime because of a late-stage caution for debris on lap 27. He had one of the fastest cars throughout the race, but problems on pit road plagued him throughout the All-Star event. After two slow stops in the first 55 laps, Harvick fell off the pace because of a loose wheel just before a lap 57 caution. He restarted last in the 19-car field.
“A letdown. That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it,” Harvick said. ”You spot them the whole field and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. Rodney [Childers, crew chief] and all these guys on the team just did a great job, and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight, because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight. It was a great night for performance, just a bad night on pit road.”
Busch fell off the pace soon after the same restart and dropped to 18th in the running order, nearly going a lap down. But Busch’s drop was intentional, as the driver went into tire conservation mode with a plan to stay out during the caution prior to the final 10-lap stage of the race.
The All-Star Race was divided into four stages. Busch won the opening 30-lap stage. Harvick and Logano were up front at the end of the second and third 20-lap stages, respectively. In all, Logano led 19 laps and Busch 15. Harvick, Logano, Busch and eventual winner Larson were the only four drivers to lead a double-digit number of laps.
“All-Star racing, that’s what it’s all about,” Logano said. “It was intense and the way these cautions fall and the strategy, we were there in the lead and then what do you do? You can stay out, and that’s what I thought was our best shot to keep the clean air. If we got passed, I knew we were gonna be in big trouble, and we weren’t able to maintain the lead, there. They did a better job up top pushing and pushed by me on the bottom, and I lost the clean air and everyone with tires just drove by me. We had a caution, there, with 11 to go and pitted and went back to last but got back to fourth. It’s frustrating. Everyone wants to win the All-Star Race. It’s fun. It’s for a million dollars. There’s a lot of prestige about it to say you’ve done it. We’ve done it before, but you always want to do it again. We’ve got the Coca-Cola 600 next week, and I’d say that’s bigger than this one, so let’s make it happen there.”
Finishing sixth through 10th in the All-Star Race were Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.
Aside from Larson and Wallace, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Byron and Bowman also advanced from the Open to the All-Star Racing. Byron won the opening 20-lap stage of that race, taking the lead on the final lap of the stage. Wallace won the second stage by inches over Daniel Suarez. Larson, then, took the overall Open win, by running up front at the end of the final 10-lap stage.