NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kyle Larson sneaks into NASCAR All-Star Race, wins with savvy survival instincts

Kyle Larson wins NASCAR All-Star race

NASCAR driver Kyle Larson wins the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 18, 2019.
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NASCAR driver Kyle Larson wins the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

With $1 million on the line, there’s no such thing as off limits.

So it should come as no surprise how the final laps of the NASCAR All-Star Race shook out Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Minutes into the 15-lap final shootout, one car pulled up limp — and promptly got drilled from behind. Cars bounced off the wall. Cars bounced off each other. Again, what wouldn’t you do for a million bucks?

But for all the edgy moves and “rubbin’s racin’ ” that took place on a hot summer night, the ultimate winner turned out to be the one driver who avoided that conflict: Kyle Larson.

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The winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will receive $1 million on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Former NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip and a co-worker presented driver Joey Logano an opportunity to check out a brief case of $100 bills prior to the running of the race on pit road. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Larson, in particular, made one move that put him ahead for good. While some cars went four-wide on the straightaways, Larson patiently waited for openings to appear. And once they did, he struck.

With 13 laps left, Larson found an opening between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. that allowed him to slide into first. From that point, it was a matter of avoiding the contact that doomed so many other drivers. Kevin Harvick pushed Larson, as did Kyle Busch, but that one savvy maneuver gave Larson the clearance he needed.

And for someone who hasn’t won a points-paying Cup Series race since he won four in 2017, that briefcase full of $1 million might be the thing that gives Larson some much-needed momentum.

If not, he’ll take the money anyway.

Race breakdown

Stage 1: Kevin Harvick immediately stole the lead from pole winner and teammate Clint Bowyer, only to eventually cede that lead to Kyle Busch with about 10 laps left in the stage. A late caution sent the stage to overtime, and while Brad Keselowski temporarily held the lead by not pitting, Busch quickly passed him and won the first stage.

Stage 2: Harvick dominated for most of the second stage, although Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney kept him from pulling away entirely.

Stage 3: Harvick lost the lead with a rough pit stop, and then cut a tire soon thereafter to drop even further back. Logano finally made it to the front and held firm there for the remainder of the stage, although Chase Elliott kept gaining on him as the laps trickled away.

Stage 4: Logano opted not to pit after the third stage, instead choosing to preserve his track position. He fell back quickly, instead leading to a three-way battle for the lead between Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Harvick. Busch took damage late and Harvick tried closing on Larson in the final laps, but ultimately ran out of laps.

Three who mattered

Kyle Larson: He scooted through traffic in the final 15 laps, gave himself a lead, and then stayed far enough ahead to win his first All-Star Race.

Kevin Harvick: His bright pink millennial-themed car was a contender early, surged in the middle of the race ... but ultimately came up just short in the last lap of the race.

Kyle Busch: He was in contention for the win late, but smashed into the wall and essentially gave Larson the win.

Observations

Three drivers advanced to the All-Star Race by winning a stage in the All-Star Open earlier Saturday evening. Charlotte native William Byron beat Bubba Wallace literally by inches to win the first stage, then Wallace redeemed himself by taking the second, and finally Kyle Larson took the third. Alex Bowman won the fan vote and also advanced.

Larson becomes the first winner of an Open qualifying race to win the All-Star Race in more than 15 years. Ryan Newman won the last No Bull 5 Sprint race then captured the 2002 Winston all-star race. Michael Waltrip won the 1996 all-star race after advancing from a qualifier.

As is custom for races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was a heavy Carolina Panthers presence at the track Saturday. Recently retired running back Jonathan Stewart led the pace car, and coach Ron Rivera was around supporting his friend Rick Hendrick. Also, former running back DeAngelo Williams and current receiver Jarius Wright were part of Austin Dillon’s prerace posse.

Several teams had all their drivers compete in the All-Star Race, including: Chip Ganassi Racing (Larson and Kurt Busch); Hendrick Motorsports (William Byron, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Alex Bowman); Joe Gibbs Racing (Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Erik Jones); and Team Penske (Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski).

They said it

“That’s as hard as I’ve ever pushed a pedal for that long.” – Larson.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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