In order to compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, one must win a race in the last season. For those who were unable to do that, the Monster Energy Open is their next opportunity; to advance, drivers must win any of the Open’s three stages. If they remain unsuccessful after that, the Fan Vote is their final chance. For Alex Bowman, Daniel Suárez, and A.J. Allmendinger, their stage wins propelled them into the All-Star, while fans voted Chase Elliott to join the field with them.
Rain marred Friday’s practice sessions and forced Open qualifying to be canceled. As a result, the starting lineup for the Open was set by owner’s points; Aric Almirola, who is tenth in such standings, therefore started on the pole alongside Erik Jones (thirteenth). Behind them were the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Bowman (fourteenth) and Chase Elliott (fifteenth), while part-time driver Timmy Hill (forty-second) rounded out the field of 21.
Almirola led the race early, but Bowman entered the picture on lap 12. After battling through lap 13, Bowman cleared Almirola for first. On lap 15, Jones passed Almirola for second with a move on the inside line along the backstretch. Almirola continued to drop when Elliott took third and Darrell Wallace Jr. claimed fourth. At the head of the field, Jones began to close in on Bowman, but it was not enough as Bowman clinched a spot in the All-Star Race.
Before Stage #2, every driver besides Jones, Ross Chastain, and Reed Sorenson pitted, while Michael McDowell was penalized for speeding. Jones and William Byron led the field to the restart, but Jones’ older tires caused him to fall as Suárez and Almirola drove to the front. After just two laps, Jones had fallen to eighth. Elliott passed Almirola for second on lap 24, and the two battled for the spot until the latter lost the draft. Elliott took the lead on lap 32, but could not maintain it as Suárez reclaimed it two laps later. A.J. Allmendinger took second from Elliott on lap 35 as Suárez scored the stage win.
Unlike the first two, the final stage was only ten laps. Wallace was the leader for the start ahead of Elliott, Almirola, and Jones. After eight laps, Elliott took first before Allmendinger stormed to the lead. On the final lap, Allmendinger ran along the inside groove before coming up to block Elliott. The #47 of Allmendinger got loose as it came up the track in front of Jones, but held off Elliott to win the stage and punch his ticket into the All-Star Race.
Despite falling short of racing into the All-Star, the Fan Vote granted Elliott a chance to compete in the event. It is Elliott’s third straight Fan Vote win.
The Open saw the debut of a new package for the All-Star Race. As the racing has been deemed unexciting in recent years, NASCAR introduced restrictor plates and a larger rear spoiler to increase downforce and drag. After the Open, reception to the setup ranged, but appeared to be mostly positive.
“I’d say 90% of you seem to love this package so far. Glad you like it,” Jeff Gluck tweeted. ” You may have just gotten a glimpse of the future of NASCAR. I’m really having a hard time embracing it at the moment. Still trying to keep open mind until main event.”
The four advancing drivers will compete in the All-Star Race later in the evening. Matt Kenseth is on the pole.
2018 Monster Energy Open results
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