In a weekend full of festivities, racing, and drama, the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway was anything but a normal race. There was a new format, new qualifying, and the new car to tie it all together.
Beginning on Saturday, the 16 “open” cars trying to race their way into the feature took to the speedway for a quick practice session. It was the 8 of Tyler Reddick in front with the 43 of Erik Jones in his rear view. The rest of the top-five included the 99 of Daniel Suárez, the 47 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and the 31 of Justin Haley. Shortly after the open cars left the track, it was the “locked in” cars’ turn. In their practice session, the 11 of Denny Hamlin took the top spot with the 5 of Kyle Larson in tow. This session’s top-five was rounded out by the 18 of Kyle Busch, 12 of Ryan Blaney, and 19 of Martin Truex Jr.
Qualifying for the Open was quite simple. In reverse order of 2022 owner points, each open car made a single qualifying lap. This put the 8 of Tyler Reddick on the pole with Suárez, Stenhouse Jr., and Jones behind. Qualifying for the feature was a much different story.
Qualifying for those already locked in consisted of two rounds. In the first round, the Open format was used. Based on those times, the top-eight qualifiers advanced to a second round. This round involved a pit stop competition where two drivers went head-to-head in a pit stop and one lap around the track. Whichever car crossed the start-finish line first won their round and advanced to the next.
Round one saw the 24 of William Byron take out the 10 of Aric Almirola who got a slow start to his pit stop. After them, it was the 12 of Ryan Blaney who took down the 1 of Ross Chastain. The 5 of Kyle Larson wiped out the 45 of Kurt Busch, and the 18 of Kyle Busch closed out round one by defeating the 19 of teammate Martin Truex Jr.
In round two, Ryan Blaney earned a spot on the front row by taking down William Byron. After their battle, Kyle Busch easily defeated reigning winner Kyle Larson who had trouble getting started before his pit stop. In the final round, it was Kyle Busch just barely grabbing the pole from Blaney. This set the top-eight: Ky. Busch, Blaney, Byron, Larson, Ku. Busch, Chastain, Truex Jr., Almirola.
After the lineup was set for those locked into the race, Saturday’s festivities came to a close and preparations began for Sunday’s feature. It all began with the drop of the green flag for the three-stage Open race. With Daniel Suárez and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the front row after the 8 of Reddick was sent to the rear, the quest began for a spot in the feature. There were three stages, and the winners of each stage locked themselves into the feature.
The 47 of Stenhouse Jr. took an early lead and never looked back. Texas has always been notorious for its inability to pass, and Stenhouse proved that that was still the case even with the new cars. After the end of the stage, all cars except the 7 of Corey LaJoie pitted for tires. The 31 of Justin Haley not only had a slow stop, but was also penalized for an uncontrolled tire and sent to the rear for the second time in the race.
With LaJoie inheriting the lead by staying out, he held on for six laps before his teammate, Landon Cassill in the 77, took a spin and brought out the caution. With Suárez and LaJoie battling hard after the restart, the 7 got loose which allowed the 17 of Chris Buescher to take the lead and earn a spot in the feature. Six cars pitted at the break with the 41 of Cole Custer being penalized for an uncontrolled tire.
The restart saw Suárez and Reddick on the front row with the 99 taking the early lead. In a tight battle for the lead, the 8 took a spin and crashed into the wall hard, collecting the 21 of Harrison Burton. At the restart, it was Suárez and the 43 of Erik Jones on the front row. Suárez held onto his lead for the remaining seven laps and earned the last transfer spot into the feature. The 43 of Jones won the fan vote and also earned a spot in the race.
One infield concert later, it was time for the feature to start. With the 18 of Kyle Busch and the 12 of Ryan Blaney on the front row, the green flag was waved and the quest for $1 million had begun. Busch took an early lead, but not without a fight from Blaney. Closing the gap to 0.2 seconds, Blaney fought hard but was unable to take the lead from Busch who would go on to win stage one. All but eight cars pitted at the break with the 4 of Harvick’s crew having to go under the hood.
It was once again Blaney and Busch on the front row for the restart. One lap into the stage, the 23 of Bubba Wallace was forced to pit with a loose tire which put him far back in the field. The first incident caution of the race came out on lap 36 when the 5 of Kyle Larson lost a tire and smacked the wall. Five cars pitted at the break, this time with Busch and the 1 of Ross Chastain on the front row.
Another caution came out on lap 48 when the 18 of Busch also lost a tire, and Chastain was unable to avoid him. Chastain hit Busch from behind and narrowly avoided flipping over. Unable to control his car, he collected the 9 of Chase Elliott and all three involved were taken out of the race. The red flag was then flown to clean up the wreck.
In an attempt at overtime, the 2 of Austin Cindric and 12 of Blaney made up the front row. Cindric earned the stage win and all teams came down pit road for a required four tire pit stop. The team with the fastest stop would earn a $100,000 bonus, and that team was the 22 of Joey Logano. The 45 of Kurt Busch was penalized during his stop for driving through too many boxes.
At the restart, it was the 24 of William Byron and 12 of Blaney up front. Three laps into the stage, Blaney took the lead and held on. At lap 71, the 47 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pitted from ninth with a flat rear tire. Four laps later, the 20 of Christopher Bell also lost a tire and crashed into the wall from second. Only four cars stayed out, including all of Team Penske. In another overtime finish, the 12 of Blaney took the green-white checkered flag.
It was an all-Penske front row for the final stage with Blaney and Cindric leading the field. Blaney took the lead as the 23 of Wallace pitted yet again for more tire issues. On lap 105, the caution came out again for the 43 of Erik Jones who spun into the wall. The leaders stayed out, so the front row was the same for what many thought was the final caution. Blaney took the early lead and held on for the final laps.
Just seconds before Blaney took the checkered flag, the caution was waved for the 47 of Stenhouse Jr. who wrecked into the wall. In any normal race, this would have been the end and Blaney would have been the winner. However, this was not a normal race and NASCAR declared there would be an attempt at overtime. Thinking the race was over, Blaney took down his window net. He quickly realized the race was not over and struggled to reattach it.
For the final restart, it was Blaney (sans window net) and the 11 of Denny Hamlin on the front row. With his teammate in the 2 behind him, Blaney got a big push and was able to hold on to win the All-Star Race (for the second time that night) and $1 million. In a night filled with drama, many were relieved that the “correct” driver won. NASCAR has a lot to learn after this (what many consider to be) failure of a race. This is clearly evidenced by Jeff Gluck’s weekly “Was X a good race?” poll which currently sits at a whopping 90% “No” for Texas.
Second place finisher Denny Hamlin was visibly frustrated with the call (as were many others). He stated that Blaney should have been black flagged for his window net. While many saw this as Hamlin just whining about finishing second, he made it clear that NASCAR’s decision to force an overtime finish was wrong and Blaney should have won the first time. He later stated that “They make up the rules. This is nothing new.”
The Cup Series hopes to redeem itself at Charlotte Motor Speedway next weekend at the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600. The race will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 29th.
Featured image from @NASCAR on Twitter.