Kyle Larson’s hot streak continued Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The winner of the two most recent NASCAR Cup Series points-paying races was victorious in the six-stage, 100-lap NASCAR All-Star Race in the exhibition event’s first visit to TMS.
“Honestly, I can’t believe it,” Larson said. “That second run, there, we were really bad, and I was like, ‘Man, we’re in trouble’. I went backwards that round, so I was like, ‘We’ve got an uphill battle.’ I did not imagine seeing myself winning this race today. Cliff [Daniels, crew chief] and everybody works so hard on this thing and made some good adjustments throughout the first, second and third rounds and got us in position.”
With the win came a $1 million prize, one of two bonuses for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday. The #9 team of reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott garnered a $100,000 reward for the fastest pit stop in the 30-lap stage five.
Elliott finished the All-Star Race in the third position by Brad Keselowski, who finished second for the third time in the event.
“It feels like running second to the Hendrick cars right now is an accomplishment,” Keselowski said. “They are just stupid fast. I had him [Larson] off turn four, but they just have so much speed. He just motored right back by me, like damn! It feels like a first-in-class day with the Discount Tires Ford. The team did a great job of executing and getting us in position; we just didn’t have enough speed to make the most of it. It was good execution day, though, and I am proud of that.”
Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske took the top-five positions in the finishing order of the 21-car race, with Keselowski’s Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
After four 15-lap stages, drivers’ cumulative finishes from the first four stages set the starting order for stage five, the only stage longer than 15 laps. Three Hendrick teammates — William Byron, Larson and Elliott — started in the top-four. The stage included a mandatory green-flag pit stop by the 20th lap of the stage, or lap 80. Keselowski was last to make his stop, waiting until near the 20-lap deadline. The move paid off when the yellow flag waved for a Ross Chastain spin came on lap 79 as Keselowski was still on pit road. As a result, he restarted with the lead.
Unlike in the first two stages of the preliminary All-Star Open, caution laps didn’t count in the main event, but Chastain’s caution was the second of only two on-track incidents in the All-Star Race. The first was a Christopher Bell spin on lap one.
Elliott took the lead from Keselowski on lap 80, with 10 laps remaining in stage five, for the stage win. Keselowski retook the lead early in the final 10-lap stage, but on lap 93, Larson took his race-winning lead.
“That last restart worked out exactly how I needed it to,” Larson said. “I wanted Chase to not get a good run down the back. Thankfully, I think the #12 [Blaney] got to his inside. I just shoved him down the back, and he probably thought I was going to just follow him. I thought there had to be enough grip above where we’d been running for one corner. It was a little slick up there, but I was able to get it and hold him off from there. I can’t believe it.”
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, also including Alex Bowman, were stage winners. Larson won the first of four 15-lap stages after starting on the pole. Kyle Busch took the lead on the opening lap, but Larson reclaimed the position on lap seven.
A random draw between the first two stages called for an inversion of the top-12 finishers of the opening stage, shuffling Larson to 12th and Blaney to the lead for the start of stage two. Blaney and Keselowski traded the lead back-and-forth early in the second stage before Blaney took command of the position and drove on to the stage two win.
A full-field invert but Aric Almirola ip front and Blaney in the back for the third stage. Almirola didn’t stay up front, though. Instead, Matt DiBenedetto took the lead at the start of the stage, losing the position to Bowman on lap 37. Bowman, then, pulled away for the stage-three win at lap 45.
Another inversion draw after stage three resulted in the inversion of the top-nine, the final inversion of the race, to start stage four. After finishing stage thee in the ninth position, Byron was the leader to start the fourth and final 15-lap stage. Byron led the entire stage and was joined up front by teammate Larson early in the stage and the two ran first and second the remainder of the 15-lap run.
Bowman and Byron finished the race sixth and seventh, respectively. Almirola was eighth, Kyle Busch ninth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-10.
Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Almirola and DiBenedetto advanced to the All-Star Race after competing in the preliminary 50-lap All-Star Open. Chastain, Reddick and Almirola advanced by virtue of Open stage wins, and DiBenedetto took the final All-Star Race starting position through an online fan vote.
“That is really cool. It means a lot to get the votes from the fans,” DiBenedetto said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that and the opportunity to get into the All-Star race.”
Chastain won the first 20-lap stage of the Open after starting the race in the back and seeing his crew chief ejected for an issue with his car’s aero duct openings discovered in pre-race inspection. He took the lead from Reddick on a lap-19 restart. Reddick had led the entire stage, to that point, that was run mostly under caution. The yellow flag waved three times in the first 20 laps of the Open on laps four, nine and 14.
“ I get to race with my heroes. It’s really cool,” Chastain said. “It’s been a good weekend on-track, but off-track has, obviously, been really tough. It just fired me up more, though. This McDonald’s Chevy was, obviously, really good to come from the back like that and race with guys like Reddick and those guys. I thought I was getting turned on the backstretch, there, when he drove in the left rear. It’s a dream come true. I’m living my dream as a farmer, and now, I get to go NASCAR racing in the All-Star Race with my heroes. It’s amazing.”
Reddick’s turn to advance to the main event came in stage two of the Open. After falling a couple of laps shy of leading the entire opening stage, he ran up front for the full distance of the caution-free second 20-lap stage for a stage win and All-Star advancement.
Almirola, who was second to Reddick at the end of stage two of the Open, held off DiBenedetto throughout the stage-three 10-lap sprint to the finish to claim the final Open stage win available to advance.
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