Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher and Daniel Suárez advanced into Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race by posting stage victories in Sunday’s All-Star Open.
Stenhouse led all 20 laps in the opening segment, Buescher surged ahead in Stage 2, and Suárez prevailed in the final 10-lap stint in the 50-lap preliminary. The final All-Star Race berth went to Erik Jones — the top vote-getter in fan balloting among drivers not already qualified.
Tyler Reddick, who won the pole in Saturday qualifying, had to drop to the rear after unapproved adjustments to his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet for the start. That allowed Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet to move up to the front row, and he pulled away from Suárez’s No. 99 Chevy after the green flag to secure an All-Star berth.
“We definitely got a fortunate circumstance there getting to go to the front row,” said Stenhouse, who parked after sealing his All-Star fate. “Our No. 47 Kroger/Viva Camaro took off really, really strong there. The Kroger team has been working really hard the last few weeks and we’ve been getting results, which is nice. Now, we get to go race for $1 million and be in the big show. We sat and watched it last year, so it feels really good. We’ll make some adjustments. I’ve got a better idea of what my car was doing there, so hopefully we can run up through the field.”
In Stage 2, Buescher bypassed both leader Corey LaJoie and Suárez in one swoop with a low-side pass on Lap 32, then sailed away to clinch his own All-Star starting berth.
“That was some aggressive racing like we know it is going to be with these short runs when we come to the All-Star event,” Buescher said. “We got side-by-side there and when I saw (LaJoie) starting to slip up the hill, I knew we had to commit. It was cool. I got a good push down the straightaway and had to be really protective into (Turn) 1, and that grip was just starting to come in. I am curious to see where the end of this race goes and really excited for the All-Star Race tonight.”
Reddick had methodically worked his way up to second place by the final stage, but he spun with eight laps remaining in his pursuit of Suárez. Reddick’s No. 8 Chevy bounced off the Turn 4 retaining wall, then collected the No. 21 Ford of rookie Harrison Burton. The race went green the rest of the way, and Suárez held off runner-up Austin Dillon by 1.393 seconds at the finish.
Suárez said he thought he had a chance to seal an All-Star berth based on fan voting but was pleased to lock in his spot instead as a stage winner in the Open.
“I wish I knew the result because I felt like I’ve received a lot of support on social media in the last couple of weeks from the fans,” Suárez said. “I felt like they were going to have my back if something happened, but I really wanted to get in on speed. The car had the speed, we just needed to work a little bit on the balance. When we got that figured out, it was a tire and restart kind of game. A lot of people were able to keep track position right at the end and have a couple of good restarts to stay up front.”