CONCORD, N.C. – William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson earned starting spots in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race by taking top honors in a thrilling Monster Energy Open Saturday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Alex Bowman took the final starting spot in the All-Star Race by winning the fan vote.
Daniel Hemric looked like he was cruising to victory in the first stage, but a caution flag for fluid from the expired engine in B.J. McLeod’s car four laps from the completion of the first stage changed things a bit.
Hemric, second-place Kyle Larson and Wallace stayed out during the caution while nearly everyone else came down pit road for tires. Alex Bowman and Byron led the group of those who pitted, lining up sixth and seventh for the ensuing green-white-checkered restart.
When the green flag waved Wallace pushed Larson clear of Hemric entering turn one, but Wallace was content to run second. He got to Larson’s inside and the raced side-by-side for the next lap, fighting tooth and nail for the top spot.
Wallace finally pulled clear of Larson in turn four on the final lap of the stage, but a hard-charging Byron suddenly appeared to Wallace’s inside out of turn four. The two made contact multiple times as they raced to the line, with Byron beating Wallace by inches to punch his ticket to the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
“I wasn’t sure if we were going to finish it off with how sideways I got out of (turn) four and the momentum I was going to have, but luckily I was able to pull it off,” Byron said.
Wallace got another opportunity to earn a spot in the All-Star Race in the second stage and this time he wasn’t going to be denied. When Hemric and Ryan Preece crashed racing for third with two laps left in the second stage, Wallace opted not to pit and restarted second alongside Bowman for the green-white-checkered restart.
Fourth-place Daniel Suarez, who did pit during the caution, pushed Wallace clear and into the lead on the restart. Suarez hounded Wallace for the next lap, trying to take the lead, but Wallace refused to let him take the spot.
Coming out of turn four on the final lap Suarez got a run on the outside and then dove to Wallace’s inside, but Wallace blocked Suarez’s run, sending Suarez spinning through the frontstretch astroturf and allowing Wallace to win the stage
“It shows that…I guess I’ve still got it,” said Wallace after securing his first start in the All-Star Race. “Just telling yourself you can’t do it anymore is tough. To give up and what not. I gave up the damn first stage win and I didn’t say anything on the radio. My parents always said, everybody that has helped me has always said that when I’m pissed off I drive better.
“Damn it feels good to win something. I’ve failed at a lot of things in life recently and I’m working to make those things better. Let’s see what we can get tonight.”
Compared to the first two stages, the final 10-lap stage was tame. Ty Dillon bested Kyle Larson to take the lead at the start of the stage, but Larson chased him down and took the position with five laps left. Once clear Larson drove away from Dillon to punch his ticket into the All-Star Race.
“When you’re the leader on a restart, it’s difficult, but somehow, some way, we got back by Ty (Dillon) and got the job done,” Larson said. “We did everything we could to give it away, but it ended up working out for us.”
Bowman, who finished third in the final stage, will make his second All-Star start thanks to the fans.
“I wanted to race my way in, but I appreciate all the fans for voting for me and giving me a shot, and we’ll reload to go chase that million dollars tonight,” Bowman said.