The Headline(s): Kyle Larson is a million dollars richer. The California native won the Monster Energy Open, then raced his way up from 18th to win the Monster Energy All-Star Race on Saturday night (May 18) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He became just the fourth driver all-time to win the All-Star Race after transferring from the Open. The others were Michael Waltrip (1996), Ryan Newman (2002) and Kasey Kahne (2008). The win could serve as a giant boost for Larson’s team, which faced various forms of bad luck through the opening 12 races of 2019. It also marked the first two times the No. 42 has seen victory lane since Richmond Raceway in 2017. Unfortunately for Larson, the Open and All-Star Race are non-points races and he’s not locked into the playoffs, even though he was asking that he be in the media center afterward.
How It Happened: Kevin Harvick had arguably the fastest car in the field Saturday night, with Kyle Busch being the only one with speed in the same zip code. Harvick led 33 of the opening 53 laps while Busch led for 15.
Harvick lost the lead during the caution after stage two when his pit crew had a slow stop. To make matters worse, when the race went back to green, Harvick noticed one of the wheels was loose. He slowed the No. 4 Ford and was about to pit, but was saved by the caution flag for the wreck between Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Busch. Still, the track position was lost by the No. 4 team, and Harvick spent the rest of the 26 laps of the race working his way through the field, making it all the way to second.
Harvick was not happy with his pit crew after.
“The guys did a great job preparing a race car, and we just weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight,” Harvick said. “No, they just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year, and tonight wasn’t great, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, Larson, who was the last driver to race their way into the All-Star Race, diligently worked his way through the field of the short race. He didn’t take the lead until the restart with 13 laps to go when Harvick gave him a push that got him around Busch and Chase Elliott.
From there, it was all defense, as Larson held off charges from Busch until the No. 18 smacked the wall with six laps to go. Harvick then took second from Busch and tried to make a charge at the No. 42, but Larson kept switching lanes to block Harvick’s line and stall out the No. 4 en route to the win.
Should You Care? Absolutely. This was the most entertaining All-Star Race in recent memory. There were plenty of comers and goers and action throughout the field, with cars even going four-wide through the frontstretch at one point.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 19, 2019
There was drama from the end of stage one in the Open until the drivers were back in their motor homes after the All-Star Race.
This was big for the event and Charlotte, which had come under a lot of fire in recent years. Many wanted to see the race moved to a different track, while some wanted it gone completely. That race should silence All-Star haters for the time being.
It was also an important race for NASCAR, as the cars were running what could potentially be used for the 2020 racing package. It seemed to provide excellent action on restarts and created more racing lanes, but when the cars spread out, passing seemed unlikely. In a race like the All-Star Race, where the longest segment is 30 laps, this flaw doesn’t get exposed as much. But if this package was used next week in the Coca-Cola 600, then it might not provide as much excitement.
Harvick and Busch were certainly critical of the package after the race.
“Once [the cars] get single file, as soon as they drive in your lane, they push up a groove. You got to go where they aren’t,” Harvick said. “[Larson] was fast enough to run the bottom, and that’s where I needed to run to really make time. Everybody was wide open.”
Busch wasn’t as subtle in his critique.
“Yep, fought aero problems,” Busch said. “No, it’s aero problems. We can’t freaking fix this sh*#, and it’s annoying as hell.”
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
In the All-Star Race, winning is the only thing that really matters, meaning Larson is essentially the only driver to accomplish anything worthwhile. Racing his way in through the Open makes it that much more of an accomplishment.
In fact, all four drivers who transferred from the Open had incredible runs in the All-Star Race — all four had top 10s. William Byron showed aggression for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. His aggressive move and spectacular car control allowed him to beat Bubba Wallace to the line in the Open’s first stage. In the All-Star Race, Byron worked his way up to the top five before settling for ninth. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman got into the All-Star Race via the Fan Vote, and he didn’t let those fans down, finishing eighth.
But the feel-good story of the night was Wallace, who, amid turmoil at Richard Petty Motorsports and mentally, held off Daniel Suarez to win stage 2 of the Open. The emotions ran wild for Wallace, whose eyes filled with tears after an embrace from best friend and fellow driver Ryan Blaney.
“I need a new body, but we’re in… F&$k yeah!” – @BubbaWallace
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) May 18, 2019
Wallace followed up the feat with a solid run in the All-Star Race, working his way up to as high as fourth before finishing fifth. For a team with financial issues like RPM, the difference in the paycheck of placing top five in the Open vs. a top five in the All-Star Race is substantial.
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
The three drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing not named Kyle Busch had a rough night. Martin Truex Jr. was the highest finisher of the trio in 10th, but he wasn’t a major player in the race like we’ve come to expect weekly from the 2017 MENCS champion.
Denny Hamlin and Jones occupied the bottom two spots of the scoring pylon, as both crashed out of the race. Hamlin received damage when Blaney ran him over on lap 75, sending him into the outside wall. Jones was involved in two incidents on the night. First, he was an innocent bystander when Austin Dillon‘s tire went down and the No. 3 shot up the track. Then, Jones lost a tire of his own late in the race.
But even before those incidents, Hamlin and Jones didn’t have cars that could win the race. They and Truex seemed off on a night where winning is everything.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News
At one point in the All-Star Race, Ryan Newman went spinning through the frontstretch “grass” after contact with Wallace. Back when there was real grass there, Newman’s splitter would have dug in and it would have ripped the whole nose off of the car. The No. 6 would have left on a wreck.
But last year, Charlotte switched to artificial turf on the frontstretch, which allowed for Newman to glide over and receive hardly any damage. Newman was able to finish the race because of this change.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 19, 2019
The funny thing to me about this situation is now it will pressure other racetracks to switch to artificial turf on their frontstretches as well. But the much cheaper alternative would be to just take the splitters off the cars, which would make many fans and drivers alike happy.
But NASCAR loves themselves some splitters. And as a result, these tracks will have to spend money to change their grass. Then, after all the tracks have switched over, I bet NASCAR will release a Gen 7 car that is splitter-free, making the money spent by the tracks a complete waste.
Situations like this are so dumb and so avoidable that no one could possibly make them up.
Best Paint Scheme: Harvick
When Harvick lost the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last fall, he also lost a bet. As a result, Busch beer designed a millennial paint scheme for this weekend. The result was a “lit” pink race car that couldn’t be missed on the track. Busch outdid themselves on this one, and I’m sure the company got their money’s worth in publicity.
There’s a Fight
After the race, Newman wasn’t happy with Clint Bowyer and spun the No. 14 into the wall on the cool-down lap. As soon as they parked on pit road, Bowyer jumped out of his car and sprinted to the No. 6, throwing a melee of punches at Newman, who was still in his car.
Clint Bowyer showed Ryan Newman his fists of fury. pic.twitter.com/x2AeNS6ngV
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 19, 2019
While he shouldn’t have left his helmet on for a fight, Bowyer’s reaction was just. You don’t hit people on a cool-down lap, as they could have removed their safety belts by then.
The best part about the entire situation: Newman and Bowyer have an appearance together at a Bass Pro Shops later this week. It should make for an awkward autograph session.
Where It Rated: I’ve seen better races, but it was great for All-Star standards. At least NASCAR has an all-star event where the athletes actually try. I’m looking at you, NFL and NBA.
What’s the Point(s): No points this week. Just old school racing where you don’t need a calculator to figure out who came out on top.
Next Up: The Cup Series stays in Charlotte next weekend for the 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race. Coverage for the event begins at 6 p.m. ET on FOX.