Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas

What happened?

Ryan Blaney held off Denny Hamlin on an overtime restart to win his first career NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 22. Team Penske teammates Austin Cindric and Joey Logano finished third and fourth while All-Star Open segment winner Daniel Suarez finished fifth.

How did it happen?

In an overtime restart that should not have happened.

In the final stage that was 50 laps, Blaney cleared his Team Penske stablemate Cindric to take the lead and did not look back. Even after the caution that flew as a result of a spin from fan vote winner Erik Jones, Blaney was sailing away from the rest of the field.

With a three second lead over Hamlin, who had pitted during the mid-stage caution to take two tires, Blaney was continuously pulling away from the rest of the field on route to his first All-Star victory and a $1 million prize.

Then, 50 feet away from crossing the start/finish line to take the checkered flag, the yellow lights flashed to Blaney’s right. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who was running in the back of the field at the time, had slapped the wall.

Now, to be clear, Stenhouse did not spin out. He did not crash. He didn’t even hit anyone else. Stenhouse had made contact with the wall and slowed his speed. There seemed to be very little safety incentive to throw the yellow flag, especially when the leader is literally a second away from ending the race.

But the trigger-happy yellow banner flew, and since it was the last lap, everyone believed Blaney had won the race – everyone including Blaney himself, who then took his window net down as he believed he was going to celebrate on the frontstretch. Something that every driver has done in the history in the sport after winning a race.

In the All-Star race, however, the final stage must end under green flag condition. So, there would be one more restart attempt.

A surprised Blaney was told that there would be an overtime attempt, and indeed the race was not yet over. But his window net was already down, and while at speed, window nets are almost impossible to hook back on, meaning Blaney would have to restart without his window net secured unless he came to pit road to fix the issue.

In terms of safety, that’s bad. Very bad.

In the event of a crash, Blaney would be open to the elements, meaning any flying debris would be able to enter the cockpit through the open window, or even worse, something inside the cockpit could get out – like his arms.

So, it was in NASCAR’s safe hands to remedy the situation. Would they allow Blaney to come to pit road to get the window net hooked and regain his hard-earned position? Or would they black flag him and force him to come to pit road and restart him at the rear?

Because, after all, surely, they wouldn’t let a driver race at speed without a window net, right? Right?

But they did.

In the eventual restart, Blaney was eventually able to clear Hamlin and pull away enough to secure his first win, all while feeling the cool Texas air running straight into the left side of his face.

It was the end of a very controversial call by NASCAR officials, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Because if Blaney hadn’t won in that overtime restart, the fallout would be so much worse.

Who stood out?

He qualified second, led the most laps with 84 and won the last two stages of the race. He even held off Hamlin, who had two fresher tires, for the final 20 laps. On top of that, Blaney crossed the finish line without a secure window net to protect him. That’s pretty darn impressive.

The Penske driver certainly needed the confidence boost to motivate him too. After 13 races in 2022, he is the only driver in the Penske camp that has not won a points-paying Cup Series event. Even more recently, the North Carolinian has been in somewhat of a slump, as he has not finished in the top 10 since the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

But a win will help motivate him, surely. Plus, an extra $1 million won’t hurt either.

Among the field of 20 All-Star racers were the four additional drivers that were added after the race’s B-main – the All-Star Open. Stenhouse, Chris Buescher, and Suarez raced their way in while Jones won the fan vote award. Most drivers who race their way in or are voted into the main event run around midfield and sometimes can crack the top 10 to earn a respectable result.

But not Suarez.

Suarez, who after barely racing his way into the main event through winning the final stage in the All-Star open, had raced his way through the star-studded field to the top five before the end of stage two and even finished second in stage three. He ended the night in fifth.

Despite his teammate’s success, Suarez remains winless in his Cup Series career, but Sunday night he showed he had the speed required to run up front.

Who fell flat?

Originally, this section was going to be about Ross Chastain‘s crash into Kyle Busch after the latter had cut a tire. Don’t get it twisted, it was a cringe-worthy crash.

As Kyle Busch led during stage two of the exhibition event, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver cut a tire while leading. With nowhere to go on the tri-oval frontstretch, Busch veered to the left and in front of the hard-charging Chastain.

It was certainly the incident of the evening, and undoubtedly the preventable highlight of the race.

That was until the last caution flag occurred.

There was no mishap greater, no judgement anymore misguided, and no manipulation more blatant than that of the racing officials that threw the final caution flag.

It is simply a controversy that could have been easily avoided.

Normally, I try to play devil’s advocate when it comes to officiating calls. It certainly can’t be an easy position to take, and there is so much pressure to make the right call as any incorrect move will upset millions of race fans.

It’s the classic “couch referee” argument. It’s easy to make your own call in the safety of your own living room when there’s no pressure on you and a million dollars aren’t on the line.

But the call made to throw the caution while Blaney was merely feet from ending the race simply does not make any logical sense.

The idea of the caution flag is, and always has been, to slow the cars down to safe speed in the event of an on-track accident to prevent any further accidents. It’s a safety precaution. So, with that being said, what is the point of throwing the yellow if the race is about to end anyway?

Even further, the incident in question was not caution flag worthy, meaning the official that decided to push the caution light button jumped the gun because he or she was looking for any reason to have a late race restart. As soon as they saw the smoke on the backstretch, they pulled the yellow trigger.

At least NASCAR admitted it.

What did this race prove?

Let’s step away from the controversial overtime finish for a moment.

With NASCAR being more creative with its schedule in recent years, it’s time to reopen the idea of rotating the All-Star race – not that the idea ever went away to begin with.

Remember when the All-Star race was one of the most anticipated races of the year? Each year the annual exhibition event was a sure thing to be an action-packed wild night of racing, tempers, and rivalries for the sake of winning a million dollars.

All the way up the pace laps of the event, that anticipation was building again. No, it certainly didn’t feel as special as it has in the past years, but a million dollars is still a million dollars, and Sunday night was shaping up to be a fun break from racing for the sake of points but rather for the sake of something more rewarding instead – bragging rights.

But after two laps, everybody was reminded this was Texas, and in a race that’s supposed to focus on entertainment, you need to race at an entertaining track.

After being moved from its traditional home of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2020 to Bristol Motor Speedway and then to Texas one year later, the All-Star race became open to the ongoing debate of whether or not it should be rotated every year – especially after it was moved to Texas.

The All-Star race is meant to be the site of beating and banging as well as side-by-side, white knuckle racing. You can’t do that at a track that only has 1.5 lanes to race in. To make matters worse, narrow lanes make passing the leader of the race all the more difficult, which is probably why there were no green flag passes for the top spot except for Kyle Busch’s tire blowout while leading.

It wasn’t all terrible. The race format was simple and easy to understand. The gimmicks were kept lower than years past, the pit crew competition made a return – kind of – and in the end, there was indeed passing in the midfield. Thank you, Next Gen.

But the All-Star race shouldn’t be just mediocre. It should be perfect. It should be a race that we can be excited for, you know, like we used to be?

Texas simply does not fit those requirements. At least not now.

Paint scheme of the race

There was a time when the All-Star race featured a field full of fun alternate colored paint schemes that were often memorable to race fans. Some of them became so iconic that we remember them to this day.

Remember Kurt Busch‘s golden Miller Lite scheme in 2007? Or Dale Earnhardt’s rainbow-colored Peter Max No. 3 in 2000? Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s grey ghost paint scheme in 2008?  How about the infamous T-rex scheme ran by Jeff Gordon in 1997?

We don’t get those anymore, but at least there are a few paint schemes that are still appealing to the eye. Even if they’re not special one-off designs.

For the 2022 edition, it seemed that AJ Allmendinger‘s hot pink and yellow Andy’s Frozen Custard livery was the highlight of the field.

Better than last time?

With all of the abominable late race caution flag calls, tire issues, and lack of leaders racing? Kind of.

The stats aren’t great when you compare it to last year. The combination of the 550-horsepower package and the Texas racing surface made for an awful combination. Yet, despite this, there were still eight different leaders for 10 lead changes in 2021.

This year, there were four leaders and four lead changes. All of them were made either under caution or after the leader had crashed.

So, does that mean this year was actually worse? Not exactly. Because despite the lack of lead changes, passes were still being made in the midfield. Suarez, as mentioned earlier, started 23rd and found himself in fourth by the end of stage two. Hamlin pitted on the penultimate caution and had to restart nearly 10th. He was second with 10 laps to go.

So, the competition for the lead wasn’t better, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any passing at all.

However, in the end it’s still weighing the lesser of two evils, and only further proves the All-Star race needs a change.

What’s next?

NASCAR tackles the longest race of the season.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns home to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. Cup qualifying for the endurance race begins on Saturday, May 28 at 7:45 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. The 600-mile race will be televised live on FOX on Sunday, May 29 at 6 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

Not that great racing. Stupid ending thanks to an idiotic decision. Not worth losing sleep over for those on the east coast that had to get up for work on Monday morning.

Looks like there will be tire failures about every 30 laps with lots of aero issues making passing (especially for the lead) rare. That should make for a tedious 600.

stubbscupseriesdotcom

Considering how good the racing has been at all of the intermediates this year, we should be in for a good show. Texas is the most similar track to Charlotte but it is not at all a good gauge for what the 600 will look like because of the reconfiguration. IF the tire issues get sorted out, I figure the 600 will look like Vegas and Kansas racing-wise.

Bill B

You think the tire issues will be sorted out in the next 6 days?

janice

exactly my feeling. why start so late?? then i remember when they ran all star race at charlotte…..it was ran on saturday night, cause i’d sleep a bit and drive home and be back to ga in time for church on sunday.

whoever gets the lead is it. i’m beginning to think this new car and tire is COT 2.0.

johndawgchapman

This whole debate about the end of the race is really pretty simple. There was a basic bad decision, compounded by two other bad decisions.

#1 Why should the white flag rule be any different for this one race? My answer would be that they were trying to manufacture drama. But I don’t think the rule should be any different for this race than for all the rest.

#2 the final caution shouldn’t have been called. NASCAR to their credit, has admitted that. So there’s no debate, it’s stated fact.

#3 They left a driver on track trying to drive the car under caution, while struggling to replace the vital safety window net. Given what transpired, & that they’d already made an exception on the white flag rule. Make a second exception & allow Blaney to pit, & have the window net secured. Then resume his place at the front. This was, in my estimation their worst decision of the three.

PS, With what has become the usual tire related chaos and the passing difficulty. I thought the actual racing was probably a C – at best.

stubbscupseriesdotcom

Didn’t get to watch it because my power was out, sounds like I was better off not seeing it. The first 3 months of the season (excluding Martinsville) was everything fans love about NASCAR. Great racing, intense battles, parity, first time winners…. And then we get this. A race where the racing is stale, because, well, Texas, cars going airborne at a 1.5 mile track, confusing rules, and premature cautions. I’ve been a fan since 2013, and this is the most “let down” I’ve ever felt by my favorite sport and their governing body.

My support for this sport will never waver, but races like last night show that sometimes, the suits get in the way of the sweat, and that’s hardly ever a good thing.

JD in NC

Well, Scott Miller says it would have been unprecedented to let Blaney come down pit road, re-attach the window net, and then re-assume his position at the front of the field under caution. That would have been no more unprecedented (under current rules) that having a last lap caution not end the race. Which is what caused the situation to begin with. As for his comment about not being able to be 100% sure the net wasn’t attached coming to the restart, on TV, I could clearly see that it was attached at the front but the rod was out at the back. NASCAR forced Blaney into the situation of racing without the full protection of a vital piece of safety equipment when it could have easily let him come in, get it fixed, and go back to the lead. Big fail on their behalf.

Bill B

“Scott Miller says it would have been unprecedented to let Blaney come down pit road, re-attach the window net, and then re-assume his position at the front of the field under caution.”

So what? Since when does NASCAR care about that, especially at an all-star race? It was unprecedented when several cars wrecked on the first turn when the skies opened up and it poured rain on the first lap of the all-star race (don’t know the year). But they let several cars go to back-ups during the red flag to dry the track. Jeff Gordon won that race in a back-up car. I could name at least a few more incidents where NASCAR made unprecedented decisions because of some unexpected occurrence; one year Kyle Busch’s car was damage by a rouge tether that they used for a camera, they let him repair his car during a red flag and that was a real points race. The point being, Scott Miller is full of crap.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill B
JD in NC

Exactly what I was saying. It’s unprecedented to have a caution on the last lap not be the end of the race also. So, what the hell are they worried about precedence for. It’s not a points paying race. They should’ve let Blaney come to pit a fix the net with no penalty.

Kurt Smith

The caution call was idiotic, but it’s also distracting attention from a serious tire problem that this sport has and shouldn’t have. That two champion drivers wrecked due to tire problems in this race should be an eye opener for people.

I almost quit NASCAR (and ultimately did for years like millions of others) after attending the 2005 Charlotte fall race, where nearly every leader of the race hit the wall because of blown tires. That was a miserable piece of crap of a race and paying patrons should have gotten a refund. And we’re starting to see races like this again, where for whatever reason Goodyear isn’t up to the task of making tires that a new car design can race on.

It has dawned on me recently the same thing I thought after NASCAR introduced the disastrous “Car of Tomorrow” in 2007. Why doesn’t NASCAR try these new car designs in the Busch series first, iron out the kinks and gauge driver and fan reaction, before putting the warts on display in front of their biggest viewing audience?

Last edited 1 month ago by Kurt Smith
Mr Yeppers

I was at that same Charlotte 2005 race too. The only good thing about the evening was my ticket was one of the only free race tickets I’ve ever received in the close to 75 races I’ve attended.

DoninAjax

Maybe the NA$CAR brain trust could try putting a rear wing on this disaster?

Charlie

NASCAR needs independent officials to take over 30 minutes before the race starts. That person can work with ONE NASCAR employee. But the independent officials, who have integrity and are not in the entertainment business, make the call.
That goes for caution flags, speeding, uncontrolled tires, too many pit stalls, etch. But the folks in the pit boxes and the people controlling the race need to show up race day, no friends in the sport and NASCAR has to live with the consequences of the choices.
Picking your staff, integrity, courage, and knowledge.

Look at Major League Baseball. That group is the top of the pyramid in officiating. No reason NASCAR can’t do the same.

stubbscupseriesdotcom

“MLB is the top of the pyramid in officiating”

Ever heard of Angel Hernandez?

DoninAjax

Why is everybody talking about NA$CAR ‘rules’? Indiana Jones says it best…

“I’m making this up as I go!”

Whatever floats the boat at that time.

Shayne

NASCAR should have declared Blaney the winner after the erroneous caution flag was thrown. They did not. NASCAR allowed Blaney to continue racing with an improperly secured window net. They shouldn’t have.

NASCAR did everything wrong.

NASCAR is being run by a bunch of idiots. This type of incompetence will continue. The media shrills will continue to tell us what a great job NASCAR is doing for the sport and the fans. Not many creative writers will ask the hard questions and risk falling out of NASCAR’s good grace.

It’s a shame, but don’t expect anything different.

janice

i called it the the other day…bryson byrnes was on pit with michael waltrip. ever year at all star race. at least he wasn’t toting around the brief case with the million in it. kid did have good questions….showed old uncle mikey up.

blake shelton wanted nothing to do with driver intros. guess he wasn’t drunk enough.

if you’re being paid to sing the national anthem at an event, please KNOW THE WORDS.

DoninAjax

If Blake Lively married Blake Shelton she’d be Blake Shelton.

germancarsonly

They started the evening off on the wrong foot by having that POS Abbott wave the green flag. Somehow the night even got worse afterward.

johndawgchapman

’61 Porsche 356B T5 Roadster. That German enough for you?

germancarsonly

I’m sure that is a nice car.

gbvette

The fact that drivers are putting the window net down while still on the track is just nuts. No one should be allowed to drop the window net till they pull onto pit road, including the winner. I know the winner usually drops it in preparation for the finish line interview, but they should eliminated that too.

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