As about 20,000 NASCAR fans descended upon Bristol for a historic night, Chase Elliott entertained them with a win in the All-Star Race.
NASCAR enacted all kinds of new features for its annual All-Star event. The race moved to Bristol Motor Speedway after over three decades at Charlotte. Door numbers on the competing machines were shifted backward. A “choose cone” setup allowed drivers to pick their restart lane. An “underglow” lighting system beneath each of the cars gave the race an aesthetic perhaps inspired byÂ The Fast and the Furious.
But for all those changes, it was a familiar name that wound up taking the checkered flag.
Chase Elliott led the final 31 laps of the NASCAR All-Star Race, securing victory in the landmark exhibition event. He won each of the middle 35-lap stages after Ryan Blaney took home the first 55-lap portion before holding off Kyle Busch over the last 15-lap dash to set off the celebration. This the first time the event was held at a short track and only the second time in its 36-year history it was not held at NASCAR’s hub track of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“To me, this is one of those prestigious events that the Cup Series only has,” Elliott said afterward. “This is a special race on the schedule every year. There’s a lot of hype around it. The other thing about it is, you know, it’s something you have to race your way into. Luckily, we raced our way into this deal for life now. That means a lot.”
Ironically, the only other non-Charlotte All-Star event was won by Elliott’s father Bill in 1986 at Atlanta. The Elliotts, each driving a No. 9 car, are the second father-son duo to win the All-Star Race, joining the Earnhardts (Dale Sr. in 1987 and Dale Jr. in 2000).
Adding to the irony was the fact that Elliott, the back-to-back winner of the NASCAR Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver Award, won when NASCAR welcomed about 20,000 fans back to the stands. It is the most populous sporting event in America since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Elliott revealed that he snuck into the stands to take in the NASCAR All-Star Open qualifying event
“To me tonight felt like an event again.Â Â I feel like we’ve been missing that piece for a couple of months. It just felt really good to get NASCAR back,” Elliott said. “NASCAR is built on the fans. Once the race starts, it’s hard to engage with them because you can’t hear them.Â Before a race, the atmosphere was energetic again.Â I felt like the vibe was back. I felt like that fire and intensity in me was back even more so than it has been, a piece that had been missing.Â Â I think that’s driven by the people, the cars pulling in, the prerace parties, and everything that you see.”
Busch came home in the runner-up spot, while Kevin Harvick moved up to third after opting for fresher tires before the aforementioned 15-lap stage. Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five, while Blaney finished sixth after running the last 85 laps on older tires.
The Cup Series’ regular season resumes this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway with Sunday afternoon’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
- With the win, Elliott earns automatic entry to the All-Star Race for as long as he races on a full-time basis. A Cup Series title is the other way to earn a permanent invitation. Drivers can also earn a spot by winning any points race from the prior season or the current campaign prior to the All-Star event.
- Elliott’s win in the No. 9 Chevrolet is the All-Star-best ninth victory for Hendrick Motorsports. The team last won in 2013, the last of Jimmie Johnson’s record four victories in the No. 48. Johnson, set to retire from full-time racing after this season, finished 17th in his final All-Star Race.
- Aric Almirola (9th), William Byron (12th), and Matt DiBenedetto (13th) each raced their way into the event by winning the three stages of the NASCAR All-Star Open. Clint Bowyer (15th) was also able to partake by winning the fan vote.
- Tensions ran high in the open, as polesitter Michael McDowell got into the back of Bubba Wallace, sending the latter’s No. 43 Chevrolet into the wall. An incensed Wallace later left a piece of his wrecked car at McDowell’s hauler. McDowell’s No. 34 later made contact with the No. 37 of Ryan Preece, who spun out with the former’s teammate, John Hunter Nemechek.
- New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara waved the green flag to open the main event. Kamara partook in 2015’s “Battle at Bristol”, when the track hosted a football game between Kamara’s University of Tennessee Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies. Kamara scored a touchdown in Tennessee’s 45-24 victory.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags