Kyle Larson‘s third victory in the Sunday‘s NASCAR All-Star Race was a case of absolute dominance.
It was also a case study in strategy at revitalized North Wilkesboro Speedway, with the eventual winning move made on Lap 18 of 200.
That‘s when Larson‘s crew chief, Cliff Daniels called his driver to the pits under caution for a fresh set of tires. Even though Larson incurred a speeding penalty exiting pit road and restarted from the rear, he charged through the field on new rubber and took the lead from Daniel Suarez on Lap 55.
From that point on, it was game over.
Having won previous All-Star Races at Charlotte and Texas, Larson is the only driver to win the $1-million top prize at three different venues. Larson is tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for second most victories in the exhibition event, one behind Jimmie Johnson‘s four triumphs.
Not only that. The win gave Larson a sweep of NASCAR events at the reborn .625-mile short track. On Saturday he won the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race in NASCAR‘s return to North Wilkesboro for the first time since 1996.
“I can’t even tell you what it means,” Larson said. “This is my third All-Star win and my third different track. In a historical place like that, you guys and the crowd made this weekend so awesome. We could feel the atmosphere all weekend.
“So much fun there. That was an old-school ass whipping, for sure. We had a great car on the long run there and was just thinking for sure there was going to be a caution. I got out to a big lead, and I could see everybody’s cars were driving like crap in front of me, but I cannot thank this 5 team enough.
“We were God awful all weekend. Practice I was like the worst on 30-lap average, went backwards in a heat race yesterday. We obviously had some strategy work out there in the beginning, but we drove from dead last to the lead and checked out by 12 or 13 seconds (before the competition caution at Lap 101). Then I just could pace myself there that last run.”
Once Larson grabbed the top spot, he held it the rest of the way, except for one lap under the competition caution led by Suarez. In a race that saw three lead changes among two drivers, Larson led 145 laps to Suarez‘s 55.
Comfortably in front after a restart on Lap 111, Larson crossed the finish line 4.537 seconds ahead of runner-up Bubba Wallace, who duplicated Larson‘s Lap 18 pit stop strategy but couldn‘t match the speed of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“No, just his capability throughout the whole run, he could attack hard and then have something there at the end,” Wallace said of Larson‘s superior performance. “If this was any other race, I’d be excited, but for a million dollars to come up short and walk home with nothing…
“Tail tucked between our legs, but all in all, just continuing to ride the momentum train… Just have to keep it going. Now we show back up to home turf (for next Sunday‘s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway) and really got to keep the momentum going there and get ourselves deeper into the Playoffs.
“Excited to be where we’re at right now. Just came up one spot short.”
Tyler Reddick finished third, followed by Chase Briscoe and Chase Elliott. Ryan Blaney, Suarez, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
In an emotionally charged NASCAR All-Star Open, Josh Berry and Ty Gibbs transferred into the main event, but in Gibbs‘ case, not without bruising Michael McDowell‘s feelings.
Subbing for injured Alex Bowman, Berry beat Gibbs to the finish line in the 100-lap event by .571 seconds, as the top two drivers advanced (along with Fan Vote winner Noah Gragson). But Berry likely would not have held the lead were it not for McDowell.
On Lap 50, contact from Gibbs‘ Toyota turned McDowell‘s Ford into the Chevrolet of Justin Haley after McDowell had gained positions on the restart following a competition caution. On Lap 78 McDowell got even. As Gibbs attempted to lap the Front Row Motorsports driver, McDowell squeezed the No. 54 Toyota into the inside wall.
The contact broke Gibbs‘ momentum and allowed Berry to pass for the lead, which the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet held the rest of the way.
“I kind of understand (McDowell‘s) frustration,” Gibbs said, “but at Martinsville, we were running 18th, and they clobbered us and wrecked us, so I think it‘s honestly fair game.”
McDowell believes Gibbs has some lessons to learn.
“It‘s short-track racing to try to get into the All-Star Race, so somebody‘s going to leave with hurt feelings—I guess it‘s me,” McDowell said. “I got a great restart there, kind of worked the outside, got a couple of guys and was able to get down, and Ty just plowed into me, just knocked me into the 31 (Haley) and spun us both out…
“All that stuff comes around, man. You can get away with it a few times, but it comes around. I don‘t have the budget for the fine. Otherwise, I would not be standing here. I‘d be standing down there (confronting Gibbs on pit road).”
Unable to get to Gibbs‘ bumper in the closing laps, Aric Almirola finished third in the Open. Ryan Preece was fourth, followed by AJ Allmendinger, J.J. Yeley and Gragson.
— NASCAR Wire Service —