Coming into Saturday evening’s Monster Energy All-Star Race, Kyle Busch had zero wins in the Cup Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway. When the checkered flag flew, he left with with a “1” in the win column and a hearty $1 million check in his name.
ROWDY’S BIG PAYDAY
It was the final restart where eventual race winner Kyle Busch shined brightest under the lights. He blasted past Brad Keselowski, who stayed out on old tires, and never looked back. The margin of victory was 1.2 seconds. Kyle Larson might have caught him if the stage was 20 laps, but Rowdy was happy with the length of the stage and the money in his pocket.
“I won the All-Star Race. I won a million bucks. There’s reason to celebrate and reason to celebrate big,” Busch told FS1 after winning for the first time in a Cup car at Charlotte. “I can’t say enough about this team. I can’t say enough about (crew chief) Adam Stevens and these guys on the pit box. You can rely on them all day long. I had to do that tonight.
“We weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes when it mattered most. We made the right moves when it mattered most. We got the most out of our night tonight and got here to Victory Lane. Just so relieved, elated, proud and excited—all at the same time.”
Kyle Larson came up one position short of winning the million dollars. He had the best average finish through the first three 20-lap stages and entered pit road for the final stage in first. But a slow stop dropped him back to fifth, and Larson couldn’t fully recover.
“My pit crew has been awesome all year, and I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Larson told FS1 post-race. “We came down pit road the leader, and three people passed us. That was pretty much the difference there. But in 10 laps, track position is huge. We just didn’t have it there at the end. We had the best car out there, for sure.”
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five with Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin capping the top ten finishers. Some other notable finishers included Martin Truex Jr. in 12th, Kasey Kahne in 16th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 18th after slapping the wall late in the 70-lap event.
Per usual, the youngins and those who had to scratch and claw their way to even have a shot to compete in the All-Star Race put on the best show of the evening.
Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney won the first two 20-lap stages to automatically advance to the race mere hours later, and Daniel Suarez was victorious in the third and final stage. Suarez, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones had quite the battle for the lead with three laps remaining. As the No. 19 and No. 24 were side-by-side coming off turn four, Jones’ No. 77 came rocketing from the top to the bottom along the frontstretch and clipped the grass in the restart zone.
The incident punctured a tire for Jones, and thus, his chances at $1 million went out the window. The maneuver is being called the second coming of Dale Earnhardt’s famous “Pass in the Grass” (that wasn’t really a pass) at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in the 1987 race.
Elliott earned the fan vote over Danica Patrick, Matt DiBenedetto, Landon Cassill and others to transfer into the All-Star Race. Blaney finished 11th in the evening finale, with Bowyer coming home 13th and Suarez ending up in 15th place when the checkered flag flew.
SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE
This subheading could also be titled “Clean Air ≠ Enthralling Racing,” because it’s the truth.
Whenever the race leader got to the lead, they were gone. They stretched their lead out to two, three, sometimes even four seconds at some points, which is almost an eternity in racing. Nobody could come close to catching them—which is a problem. A MAJOR problem.
The “clean air” that the race leader has can also be described as nothing in front of them. The air is clean and uninterrupted, whereas everybody behind the leader is in the car in front of them’s wake and the 3,500-pound stock cars make the air “dirty,” hence, the car not being able to handle as well, hence, the car not being able to go as fast as the leader.
How does NASCAR fix this issue? Well, that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks. But they’re trying. This new lower downforce package is a step in the right direction, and so is the stage racing. Incentivizing hard racing with playoff points, having the margins for error so close (sometimes too close, though), etc. These are all helping—but results leave some to be desired.
Heck, even the special option tires didn’t make much of a difference. That was the one wrinkle that had the most hubbub around it entering the race weekend, but didn’t end up having much impact.
This was honestly one of the worst races in recent memory. It was just flat out not good. NASCAR seriously needs to consider how to improve this marquee event.
This starts with with changing the location. That will be one of the many steps they must go through to make what is called the best All-Star event in all of sports live up to its name.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will remain at home (for almost all teams … looking at you, Furniture Row Racing) for this weekend as the Coca-Cola 600 will close out Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ”10 Days of Thunder” on Sunday night from the 1.5-mile asphalt quad-oval.
The green flag for the longest race of the season, with a newly added fourth stage, is scheduled to fly at 6:16 p.m. ET with television coverage on FOX. Martin Truex Jr. is the defending winner.