CONCORD, N.C. — Rookie Daniel Suarez prevailed in the final stage of Saturday’s Monster Energy Open preliminary race, emerging from a brilliant three-car battle to transfer to Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney also secured All-Star berths by winning the opening two 20-lap stages in the 50-lapper at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The last spot in the 20-car All-Star field went to Chase Elliott, who finished third behind runner-up Austin Dillon but was the top vote-getter in fan balloting.
Suarez survived a wild 10-lap final stage, which began with Elliott spinning Landon Cassill out of the first position. Elliott, Suarez and Erik Jones later made a three-way contest for the lead on the frontstretch, with Jones getting the worst of his excursion into the infield grass.
Jones’ Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota began smoking and his spin in Turn 1 brought out the final caution flag with three laps remaining. Suarez’s Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota pulled away from there.
Even though it didn’t count as an official points-paying victory, Suarez said he savored scratching the win column in his first season in NASCAR’s premier series.
“It’s a lot of fun, racing with Chase, racing with Ryan and with all these guys,” Suarez said. “They’re super-aggressive, they’re great drivers and it’s a lot of fun.”
Jones wound up 19th in the 24-car field, unable to continue after his bold move in the late going.
“Just hoped there was enough pavement down there to make a move and get clear, but unfortunately there wasn’t and that was the end of our day,” Jones said. “I knew if we could get out front that we could probably drive away from them, but it just didn’t work out.”
Bowyer started first and led every lap in the opening 20-lap stage, putting his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford in the 70-lap main event (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM). Blaney’s Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford scooted away to lead wire-to-wire in the second stage.
Blaney finished second in the opening 20-lap stage, with Jones, AJ Allmendinger and Elliott completing the top five. In the second stage, Blaney was trailed by Elliott, Suarez, Jones and Paul Menard in the top five.
Bowyer, who won the Open pole at 189.474 mph earlier in the day, returns to the All-Star Race after a one-year absence last season. The All-Star berth is a first for Blaney, who is in his second full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Suarez will also be making his first All-Star appearance.
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