Kyle Larson is a million dollars richer after holding off Kevin Harvick in the final 15-lap stage of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, an event that ended with Larson in Victory Lane and Clint Bowyer tangoing with Ryan Newman on pit road.
Earlier Saturday afternoon, Larson won the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway to make the All-Star Race field. Then, in the four-stage, 85-lap main event, Larson became only the second driver in the All-Star history to win the Open and go to Victory Lane in the All-Star Race.
With a huge push from Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang after a restart with 12 laps left, Larson surged into the lead in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, leaving Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott in his wake off Turn 2. Busch chased Larson until his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry bounced off the Turn 4 wall with six laps left and surrendered second place to Harvick.
Larson kept Harvick at bay the rest of the way and crossed the finish line .322 seconds ahead of the SHR Ford. For Larson, it was a welcome win in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season that has been a struggle so far.
“This is unbelievable,” an elated Larson said after a burnout on the front stretch that shrouded the grandstand in smoke. “This whole day was up and down. From the B Main (a dirt-track racer’s nomenclature for the Open), we had a little bit of damage, had to repair the car. Had some great restarts there the last few, and Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and that was huge.
“Then again to get by the 18 (Busch) on that final restart, just had to guess what he was going to do behind me and try and take his air away. The 18 surprised me how good he was.
“But, man, this is amazing,” Larson continued. “I’ve been close a couple times. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star Race I’ve been close to winning, so it’s neat to finally close it out.
“There are a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating. I’m excited about that.”
Harvick, who dominated the second stage, arguably had the fastest car, but slow pit stops repeatedly cost him track position, leaving the driver frustrated with second place.
“A letdown,” was the way Harvick described his evening. “That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot them the whole field… and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. (Crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and all these guys on the team just did a great job, and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight.
“It was a great night for performance; just a bad night on pit road.”
Busch, who won the 30-lap first stage, held on to third place at the finish, followed by Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace, another transfer from the Open. Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.
Repeated contact between the cars of Newman and Bowyer on the cool-down lap ended with Bowyer turned into the outside wall. Later, on pit road, Bowyer rushed to Newman’s car.
Newman climbed from his car, and the drivers exchanged words instead of blows as they stood on pit road.
“The 14 (Bowyer) chopped me on the front straightaway earlier in the race,” Newman said after the race. “Then after the race I just went up and tapped him in the back to let him know I didn’t appreciate the way he raced me.
“Then he body-slammed me, and I hit him back a little bit on the back straightaway, and then he just cut across my nose in Turn 3. It doesn’t take much of a man to try to fight someone with a helmet on.”
Bowyer, who like Newman was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race, seemed mystified about the origins of the original conflict.
“I don’t know what the hell his beef was,” Bowyer said. “I thought he was a lap down. I checked up, and he ran into my left rear. That was the last I saw of him, and then after the race, he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around. I pull up next to him, and he dumps me into (Turn) 4.
“Where I come from, you get poked in the nose for that.”
Larson wouldn’t have been in the All-Star Race at all had he not won the Monster Energy Open, which decided three of the last four spots in the main event. Each of the first two 20-lap stages of the drama-filled qualifier ended with a two-lap overtime, the first of which was decided in Byron’s favor by .006 seconds.
On fresh tires, Byron roared through Turn 4 on the final lap of Stage 1 and made hard side-to-side contact with the Chevrolet of Wallace, who had stayed out on older rubber under caution for BJ McLeod’s blown engine. Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet turned sideways, but he straightened the car and beat Wallace to the finish line by little more than the length of the front splitter.
Wallace found redemption in Stage 2, again staying out on older tires for the overtime run. For two laps, Wallace held off the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Daniel Suarez, who had new Goodyears, and when Suarez darted to the inside off the final corner, Wallace blocked, sending Suarez sliding through the infield and out of contention.
The stage win was a welcome change for Wallace, who has suffered through a difficult season in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet.
“My mental game is really shot right now, but, damn, it feels good to win something,” Wallace said after the Open. “I have failed at a lot of things in life recently, but I am working to make those things better. We’ll see what we can get tonight.”
Larson (who won the last 10-lap stage), Byron and Wallace all earned spots in the All-Star Race, along with Open third-place finisher Bowman, who made the field as the winner of the All-Star race Fan Vote. All four of those drivers finished in the top 10 in the main event.