CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch took control of Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race on the final restart with 10 laps left and motored away to a 1.274-second victory—his first in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch powered his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the inside of Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford—the race leader on old tires—as the field roared toward Turn 1 on the final restart. Through the first two corners he cleared both Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who had restarted second on the outside to gain the race lead in clean air.
Though Johnson pursued with an intensity befitting the $1 million first prize, he was unable to catch Busch. Kyle Larson, winner of the first two 20-lap stages of the 70-lap non-points event, passed Johnson for second-place on the final lap.
“We’ve never won at Charlotte in a Cup car and we finally achieved that goal tonight,” an elated Busch said in Victory Lane. “I won the All-Star Race. I won a million bucks. There’s reason to celebrate and reason to celebrate big.
“I can’t say enough about this team. I can’t say enough about (crew chief) Adam Stevens and these guys on the pit box. You can rely on them all day long. I had to do that tonight. We weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes when it mattered most. We made the right moves when it mattered most. We got the most out of our night tonight and got here to Victory Lane. Just so relieved, elated, proud and excited—all at the same time.”
In the first NASCAR race contested with both prime and faster short-run option tires, Johnson’s best hope on the final restart was that Keselowski would impede the progress of the inside lane, but Busch made sure that didn’t happen.
“I was really hopeful of old tires and being on the bottom,” Johnson said. “They’d be able to hold that lane back, especially Kyle (Busch) and how good he is on restarts. And it just didn’t happen. He got in there. I had a decent start. The 11 (Denny Hamlin) spun his tires behind me, and he wasn’t able to push me and get me going.
“I had a couple of shots at him (Busch). He wasn’t handling too well at the start of the run, but I just drove too hard. I could see a million dollars out the windshield, and I just drove this Lowe’s Chevy way too hard in the corner a couple of times and gave up some ground. We learned a little bit tonight and we’ll come back next week (for the Coca-Cola 600) and have some more fun.”
With the highest average finish in the first three 20-lap stages, Larson was first onto pit road during the final break. But a small glitch during the stop cost him three positions in the pits, and with Keselowski staying out because he had no fresh tires available, Larson restarted fifth with little chance to get to the front in the final 10-lap stage.
“My pit crew has been awesome all year, and I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Larson said. “We came down pit road the leader, and three people passed us. That was pretty much the difference there. But in 10 laps… track position is huge.
“We just didn’t have it there at the end. We had the best car out there, for sure. In traffic I thought it was really good. I thought we had it most of the race, but that’s how racing goes. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But I think we had a really fast car today. We’ll go onto the 600—that’s a long race—and try it again.”
Some of the most dramatic racing of the evening took place in the Monster Open, the 50-lap, three-stage qualifying race that preceded the main event. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney won the first two stages and advanced to the All-Star Race.
Early in the final 10-lap stage, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones were battling for the lead as they entered the tri-oval. Moving to the inside in an attempt to get past Elliott, Jones clipped the infield grass and ruined his chances when the splitter dug in.
Suarez went on to win the stage and made the main event. Elliott was the final addition to the Monster Energy All-Star race field via the Fan Vote.
Notes: The race ran caution-free, except for the breaks between stages… None of the 10 drivers who qualified for the final 10-lap stage used the softer options tires in that segment—they had used them earlier to establish track position. … Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray ran fourth, fifth and sixth, with Elliott, Joey Logano, Keselowski and Hamlin completing the top 10.