Ford Performance owned qualifying for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race. The 33rd annual event takes the green flag with Ford Fusion drivers in the first four spots on the grid. Seven of the top ten qualifiers sport the Blue Oval on the hood. Matt Kenseth(6), in his first qualifying attempt of the year, sits on the pole. Followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17), Clint Bowyer(14), and Kevin Harvick(4).
Kenseth’s speed of 126.915 included 3 laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway and a pit stop where his team changed four tires. No pit road speed limit allowed the 17 driver’s eligible for the race to speed down pit road entering and exiting the pits.
This year’s edition of the race has a new rules package, no surprise. However, for the first time, a restrictor plate is mandated that NASCAR hopes will create pack racing similar to Daytona and Talladega.
The Monster Energy Open precedes the main event. The Open, run in three stages set for 20, 20 and 10 laps respectively gives three driver’s an opportunity to earn a starting position in the All-Star race. Stage winners advance to the evening’s main event. One more entrant earns a starting spot based on a vote by the fans.
The All-Star race is run in four stages of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps, and 10 laps. Only green flag laps will be counted in the Final Stage. Normal stage break procedures are in effect, with one exciting addition: NASCAR Overtime will be in play for all stages. Of note, there will be no mandatory pit strategy as in some of the previous editions of the event.
Oh, did I fail to mention? The winner cashes a check for $1,000,000.
The Monster Energy Open
Alex Bowman(88) won the 1st Stage of the Open and advanced to the All-Star race. Daniel Suarez(19) joined him winning the 2nd Stage. With a late pass from fourth to first, A.J. Allmendinger(47) won the 50-lap event and also qualified for the Big Event. For the third year in a row, Chase Elliott was voted into the race by the fans.
Results of the 2018 Monster Energy Open
|11||Darrell Wallace Jr.||43|
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race
Harvick started the race by pushing Stenhouse to the lead on the start. Just 2 laps in Kurt Busch spun but avoided serious damage to his car by keeping it off the wall. Harvick took the lead just prior to the caution coming out.
Harvick, as he has done so often this year, began to build his lead when the race went back to green. Ten laps in, pole sitter Matt Kenseth had dropped to 19th position. Harvick held on to win Stage 1. Martin Truex Jr.(78) finished 2nd, Kyle Busch(18) third, Allmendinger 4th, and Joey Logano(22) 5th. Allmendinger, starting at the rear of the field, proved he is a contender to be reckoned with.
Harvick’s Stage ending pit stop left him in 6th place exiting the pits. Kyle Busch took the lead by coming out first just ahead of Truex. On the drop of the green flag, Truex sped to the front. Kyle Busch went back to the lead a lap later. Jimmie Johnson(48) took the top spot briefly as Harvick picked off cars moving his way to the front.
Harvick could get no closer than 3rd as the field shuffled places behind Kyle Busch. Allmendinger brushed the wall hard enough to wipe the logo off his right side tires. Busch took the Stage win. Suarez finished second, Kyle Larson(42), Truex and Chase Elliott(9) rounded out the top 5.
Brad Keselowski(2) took just 2 tires on the stage ending pit stops and grabbed the top spot coming out of the pits. Kyle Busch started on the front row next to him. On the restart, Truex slipped by Kyle Busch, he and Keselowski ran side-by-side until Keselowski prevailed. Only to be passed by Truex 2 laps later. Kasey Kahne(95) hit the wall hard, causing considerable damage to the right side of his car. Likely ending his chance at the million dollar winner’s share. On the restart from the Kahne caution, Truex grabbed the lead again.
Alex Bowman(88) got loose and slammed the wall down the backstretch. Bringing out the caution with 2 laps to go in Stage 3. Per the All-Star Race rules, the Stage cannot end under caution. Some driver’s pitted some chose to stay on the track. Larson and Suarez led the pack to the green-white-checkered finish.
Suarez took the lead on the restart. Cars behind the leader ran 3 and 4 wide down the backstretch. Truex and Bowyer got together and the track was soon littered with wrecked race cars. In addition to the 2 cars that started the crash, several other drivers were unable to continue and took their cars to the garage. Kurt Busch and Keselowski retired, while Kyle Busch’s crew attempted to repair his car on pit road. Johnson also experienced minor damage his crew was able to repair.
Suarez and Denny Hamlin(11) led the remaining cars to the second attempt of a green-white-checker. Larson passed the front row to take the lead, Suarez battled back only to be passed by Harvick on the high side coming to the checkered flag.
The Final Stage
Only cars near the rear of the pack opted to pit prior to the start of the Final Stage. Everyone near the front wanted to keep their track position for the 10-lap sprint to the finish.
Running side-by-side with Suarez, Harvick inched ahead at the end of the 1st lap and opened a small margin by the end of lap 3. Despite the efforts of several drivers to make a run on Harvick. He continued to hold the lead.
With 2 laps to go Larson and Logano bumped and Larson spun into the grass on the front dog-leg. All-Star rules say caution laps do not count during the final stage. So the finish will be another green-white-checkered sprint.
2 Laps for a Million Dollars
Put a big paycheck in front of Kevin Harvick and he’s going to do anything to grab it. Suarez was unable to make a pass and Harvick pulled away for the win. A Million Dollars richer Harvick and his crew celebrated his second victory (previously in 2007) in NASCAR’s All-Star Race.
Results of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race
|11||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||1.971||93|
|17||78||Martin Truex Jr.||-17||76|