FORT WORTH, Texas — Ryan Blaney won his first career NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race on Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, earning a $1 million payday in the annual fan favorite non-points event. And he and his team celebrated twice.
Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford ultimately beat Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Toyota by 0.266 seconds in an overtime finish. But at one point, Blaney thought he may have taken the checkered flag twice — a caution flag flew the first time he was approaching the finish line in regulation — only seconds before he crossed the line.
He and his team thought he had won the race, not realizing the yellow light was on for an incident involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the backstretch. Moments after cruising across the finish line, Blaney unstrapped the driver’s side window netting preparing to celebrate the big win with his team, which was high-fiving one another and jumping onto pit road to applaud the apparent victory.
NASCAR, however, ruled with video evidence that the caution light had activated for the Stenhouse on-track incident – yards before Blaney actually crossed the finish line.
As the cars made laps on the 1.5-mile track preparing for the overtime restart, Blaney could be seen trying to refasten the driver’s side safety net with one hand, steering the car under caution with the other. After finally getting the net secured, the race restarted and Blaney pulled away from the field going down the backstretch to take the checkered flag — the 26th different driver to win NASCAR’s prestigious All-Star event.
“It was about to be real bad for us, I thought the race was over,” Blaney said. “Everyone thought the race was over. I already had my window net down. I do want to thank NASCAR for letting me kind of fix it and not make us come down pit road. But yeah, that was really tough. Then having to do it all over again after trying to get that window net back up there.
“Great car, (crew chief) Jonathan Hassler, everybody on this 12 group did a great job. I know it’s not a points-winning race. But it’s going to be a lot of fun. Party is going to be pretty big.”
The runner-up, Hamlin, was unhappy with the extra accommodation — the extended laps under caution — to allow Blaney to get the safety net back up and secured.
“You know, it’s tough because he deserved to win the race, but if you mess up and you break a rule – not intentionally, but there’s rules and we have rules in place for safety,” Hamlin said. “My crew chief is taking four weeks off (a penalty from a pit-road infraction earlier in the season) because of safety.
“I nearly crashed (Blaney) off of Turn 2 when I got squeezed there. If I send him into traffic and he’s got no window net, then what, right? Luckily, that didn’t happen.”
Not only did the 28-year-old North Carolinian hoist the winner’s trophy, Blaney put in the effort on track all evening to deserve it. His 84 laps led was most in the field, and he won Stage 3.
He ran up front all race and was fortunate to stay out of some early race drama involving winners of four of the last five All-Star Races.
Last year’s All-Star Race winner, Kyle Larson, was eliminated only 11 laps into the second stage when his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet blew a right-front tire, sending him hard into the wall. He nursed the car through the infield to pit road but had to retire.
Only eight laps later, Kyle Busch — who had led every lap of the race at that time (47 laps) and won Stage 1 — suffered a tire problem and slowed toward the inside of the track. Ross Chastain, who was running second at the time guessed wrong on which lane Busch would slow into and hit him on the left side, slid up the track and into Chase Elliott’s No.9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before hitting the wall.
Busch’s pole-winning No. 18 Toyota was unable to continue as was Chastain’s No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet and Elliott’s Chevy.
“Felt like the driver of the 1 car chose the wrong lane to go,” Chastain said, managing a smile as he left the infield care center. “Our car was tight all night and just managing the tightness and saw Kyle have an issue, like a tire down, and I guessed left, and I should have guessed right. Big hits.
“Tough break. But fast cars.”
NASCAR Cup Series rookie Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner, finished third in this first All-Star Race, followed by Team Penske teammate Joey Logano — giving the team three cars among the top-four finishers. Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford over-the-wall crew also collected a $100,000 bonus for the quickest time on pit road during a mandatory four-tire stop for all teams after Stage 2. That perk also placed Logano third for the final-stage start.
Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez, who advanced out of the All-Star Open race held earlier Sunday evening, finished fifth. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman was sixth followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Brad Keselowski and Christopher Bell.
Suárez was the best finisher from the three drivers who advanced from the 50-lap All-Star Open preliminary, with Chris Buescher and Stenhouse finishing eighth and 19th, respectively. Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones secured an All-Star berth through an online vote by fans; he crashed in the final stage and finished 20th.
The NASCAR Cup Series’ next event is also its longest, with the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled Sunday (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Note: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage was completed without any issues found, confirming Blaney’s victory.
Contributing: Staff reports