NASCAR: Kyle Larson keeps rolling, wins All-Star Race at Texas

An unconventional format and a hard push from Brad Keselowski weren’t enough to stop Kyle Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series takeover.

The NASCAR Cup Series’ All-Star break was no sanctuary for the continued domination of Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports.

HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet continued its take over of the premier racing circuit, taking home the million-dollar prize at the annual NASCAR All-Star Race, which was held at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. Rather than points, Larson’s team takes home the seven-digit money prize traditionally bestowed to the winner. He would hold off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski over a ten-lap shootout to secure the victory, with HMS teammate Chase Elliott rounding out the top three. Larson is now one of eight drivers to win multiple All-Star Races, winning the last one he participated in (2019) as well. Each of the other seven drivers who have done so is a Cup champion, with another HMS legend, Jimmie Johnson, pacing the way with four.

“I think I felt him try to maybe take the air off my rear end to (turn) one once I got a little bit light getting into (the turn),” Larson said of his battle with Keselowski. “I could tell he was going to have to get desperate to do something and get a run on me, but thankfully our car was fast enough, he just couldn’t get those extra few feet.”

“Chase Elliott to me, is the most aggressive and best restarter, or one of the best restarters, especially from the front row, so that was, that was really cool (to beat him,” Larson added of the opening to the final decalogue before cheekily adding “To win a lot of money is awesome too.”

Larson has headlined a resurgence for the legendary HMS team, which has won each of the last four points races en route to passing Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises for the most all-time. The No. 5 has triumphed in the last two and now takes home HMS’ record 10th victory in the All-Star exhibition. Elliott, the defending series champion, took home last year’s event at Bristol.

Sunday marked the All-Star Race’s first visit to Texas. The event was held annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1987 but moved to Bristol Motor Speedway last season. NASCAR has not confirmed whether the All-Star event will continue to tour in 2022 and beyond. With his victory, Larson becomes the first driver to win the All-Star Race at two different tracks.

A unique format was used for the maiden voyage in Fort Worth, as the 100-lap event was broken down into six stages. Each of the first four segments lasted 15 laps apiece and the latter three featured inversions that shifted the field and created more opportunities for passing. The penultimate stage lasted 30 laps, with each participant required to make a green-flag pit stop prior to the 20th circuit. Elliott’s No. 9 crew earned the fastest stop, netting a $100,000 bonus. Starting position for the fifth round was determined via an accumulation of results over the first four segments.

“I actually kind of enjoyed it,” Larson said of the format. “I don’t know if this is a format that will work at every track, but I feel like for Texas it worked. I think the mandatory green-flag stop at the end was kind of cool.”

As the final stage loomed, it appeared that the exhibition would once again come down to an HMS civil war between Larson and Elliott. But Keselowski, the last driver to make his mandatory stop, held on to the lead when a caution flag (accounting for the spinning car of Ross Chastain) flew shortly after his service, his No. 2 Team Penske Ford serving as an invader to the monopoly. Though Elliott faded late, Larson held to secure the victory.

The NASCAR Cup Series resumes its season on Sunday afternoon, as the circuit will debut at Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Chastain, who finished 18th, advanced to the main All-Star event by winning the first of three stages at the All-Star Open held shortly beforehand. He was joined by Tyler Reddick (16th) and Aric Almirola (8th), as well as Matt DiBenedetto (17th), who won the fate vote to earn the last invitation.

 

  • Keselowski’s teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Alex Bowman’s Underrated Season

Alex Bowman, NASCAR

Alex Bowman took over for one of the most famous drivers in Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Alex Bowman had the opportunity to earn the job when Earnhardt has struggled with head issues. In that time, Bowman was able to prove himself well enough to earn a full-time ride in succession of Earnhardt Jr.

Bowman struggled early in his career, but towards the back half of last season, he truly broke through. At Chicagoland, after being the bridesmaid quite a few times, he was finally the bride when he won the Camping World 400. Bowman has since established himself as a much stronger force in the Cup Series.

Bowman’s Success This Season

Prior to the return of NASCAR, Bowman stood as one of the only winners from the season. After taking home the checkered flag at Auto Club Speedway, he returned in impactful fashion as well. In one of the first races back Bowman was runner up at Darlington and nearly pulled off a win. Since then, at Martinsville, Pocono 2, and Talladega, Bowman had three top 10 finishes. Bowman has been able to put up very successful runs this year that have been cut short. He also sits in the top half of the points standings currently as well. He’s flown under the radar for the most part despite all of this.

The fact is, Bowman is still just 27. Although most of NASCAR pinpoints Chase Elliot as the lead driver of the future for Hendrick Motorsports, at the least, Bowman is growing into a formidable number two. Alex Bowman has continued to grow as a racer and I expect him to make some noise come the playoffs.

NASCAR: Chase Elliott welcomes back fans with a win in the All-Star Race

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 by 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.  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. Before a race, the atmosphere was energetic again. 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.  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).

Race Notes

  • 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

NASCAR: NJ native Martin Truex Jr. on turning 40 and year two with Joe Gibbs

Martin Truex Jr. had a chance to reflect before he leads the field to green at NASCAR’s All-Star showcase at Bristol on Wednesday.

Martin Truex Jr. turned 40 on June 29. Prior to a runner-up finish in Kentucky Speedway’s Quaker State 400 on Sunday, Truex insisted that he wasn’t “feeling” 40. The Mayetta, New Jersey native might have contradicted himself, however, when pressed about the “underglow” lighting NASCAR plans to use for its All-Star Race on Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FS1).

“I’m not a huge fan of it. I don’t know, I think it’s kind of ridiculous looking,” Truex said with a smirk, perhaps aware his comments against the Fast and Furious-style enhancements were dating him. “It’s really up to what everybody wants and what the fans like. It’s not like we get to vote on it or anything. I found out just a few days ago. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, as well as its competitors, will look different in more ways than one during the annual exhibition. In addition to the underglow, the cars’ side numbers have been pushed back. The race will also feature NASCAR’s first instance of the “choose cone” mandates, where drivers will be allowed to pick their lane on restarts, potentially sacrificing positions to draw their preferred lane.

This will also be the first time the All-Star race is held away from Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1986.

It’ll be Truex’s redesign that leads the field to green in the main event, having drawn pole position in the weekly lineup sweepstakes. Truex has a de facto lifetime pass to the event as one of eight active drivers who have taken home a NASCAR Cup Series title. Other invitees include prior All-Star Race winners and winners from any points race from the prior season or ongoing season up to that point (Rookie Cole Custer held off Truex at Kentucky to earn his spot). Three drivers can race their way in by winning any tier of the NASCAR All-Star Open beforehand and one more will enter via a fan vote.

Truex, however, doesn’t have to worry about his entry with the 2017 Cup Series title under his belt. He appeared to be a bit more focused on the stakes the remaining 19 points races have instead.

This marks Truex second season in Gibbs’ stable, joining the team after his single-car operation at Denver-based Furniture Row Racing shut down. It was in Furniture Row’s No. 78 that Truex earned his Cup title and he has posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in the standings, including last year in the No. 19 (in which he won a circuit-best seven races). After his second-place posting at Kentucky, Truex sits in seventh place in the current ledger. He won June’s 500-lap event at Martinsville Speedway and his nine finishes in the top ten are tied for fourth-best on the circuit. This modern success has been accomplished under the supervision of new crew chief James Small, who previously worked with Truex on the engineering side of things at both FRM and JGR.

Truex made two remarks in his Sunday availability that should inspire some fear into his competition: he feels his No. 19 team hasn’t hit its full potential yet in this new era of no practice or qualifying. That, and the fact he mentioned that he’s showing no inclinations toward retirement despite reaching his fourth decade.

“I don’t know we’re where we want to be right now,” Truex admitted. “I think last year, one of the things we struggled with was unloading off the trailer and being where we wanted to be. I felt like we always had to make a lot of gains throughout the weekends. This year, since coming back without having practice, I feel like it’s hurt us a lot. We’ve had some inconsistencies here and there and we’ve just had some bad races. It’s really not typical for us. I definitely would say we’re not where we want to be from that standpoint.”

“We really just have been missing practice a bit there. Our strength always as a team was figuring out how to get the car better between practice and the race. That was really something we really excelled at and we’ve missed out on that I feel like.”

As for retirement, Truex made it quite clear that he views his 40th birthday in a completely different light from that of his father’s.

“I’m glad to be 40, I’m glad to make it another year,” he remarked. “It’s funny, when I got reminded that it was coming up, I remembered back to when my Dad turned 40 and me thinking how old he was. Getting up there for sure, but I don’t feel 40 so I guess that’s a good thing.”

“I really hadn’t thought much about (how many years I have left) to be honest…I think I just kind of take it as the contracts come along and think about where I’m at, how things are going. Right now, I’m loving what I’m doing, I love my team and I’ve got a lot of great partners that have made it all possible. I think as long as we keep having success, we’ll just keep rolling.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags