If there was any doubt about Kevin Harvick this season, he continues to throw them out the window.
Harvick, who leads the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with an impressive five wins after just 12 races, scored yet another victory as he won the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race and $1 million.
In recent years, the All-Star Race has provided a racing product that many viewed as uneventful and boring. To make things more interesting, NASCAR decided to introduce restrictor plates for the event, while also adding a larger rear spoiler to increase downforce and drag. The package was used for the Monster Energy Open, receiving mostly positive reviews from fans and media.
As race winners during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, 16 drivers were automatically eligible for the All-Star Race. A seventeenth driver, Jamie McMurray, was locked into the race by virtue of winning the All-Star in 2014. Alex Bowman, Daniel Suárez, and A.J. Allmendinger advanced from the Open after finishing first in the event’s three stages, while Chase Elliott won the Fan Vote to join the 21-car field.
Qualifying for the race consisted of a three-lap timed run with a four-tire pit stop. A week removed from his Cup return at Kansas Speedway, Matt Kenseth, running a special throwback scheme to former Roush driver Mark Martin’s 1998 All-Star-winning car, scored the pole ahead of Roush Fenway Racing team-mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It was Kenseth’s third All-Star pole and first since 2007. A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing Fords sat in row two as Clint Bowyer and Harvick started third and fourth, respectively.
“To have both [Roush] cars on the front row is really a tribute to these guys — the pit stops, obviously the engines and all the restrictor-plate stuff,” Kenseth said.
The format for the race consisted of four stages; the first lasted 30 laps, the second and third ran for 20, and the final was a ten-lap sprint. McMurray, who qualified twelfth, moved to the rear of the field for an engine change.
Kenseth did not enjoy much time in first as Stenhouse, receiving a push from Harvick, took the lead on the opening lap. Fans also did not enjoy much green flag racing as Kurt Busch spun on lap two to bring out the first caution. Stenhouse and Harvick led the field to the restart on lap five, with the latter pulling ahead to become the leader a lap later. As for Kenseth, he began to plummet, eventually bottoming outside the top fifteen by lap eight.
Martin Truex Jr. moved up to second behind Harvick, and the two began establishing a solid margin over the rest of the field. Behind them, Kyle Busch began his march through the field, eventually reaching Truex by lap 20. As concerns of rain loomed, Harvick scored the stage win ahead of Truex, Busch, and Allmendinger.
Every car pitted between stages, with Busch winning the race off pit road ahead of Truex; Harvick was marred by a slow stop when the left-front tire became stuck on the fender, dropping him to fifth.
Busch remained the leader for the start of Stage #2, while Kyle Larson quickly began challenging Truex for second. On lap 33, Suárez entered the picture for the lead before losing momentum and falling back. Truex would also begin a fall of his own, dropping to fifth by lap 38. Four laps later, Allmendinger hit the wall, but no yellow flag was waved. Busch went on to win the stage, with Suárez, Larson, Truex, and Elliott in tow.
After taking two tires, Brad Keselowski became the leader for the restart ahead of Busch. Keselowski led the first four laps before Truex overtook him for first. On lap 55, Kasey Kahne hit the wall to produce a yellow flag. While the leaders stayed out, Harvick, Bowyer, and Stenhouse elected to pit. A push from Larson on the lap 58 restart propelled Keselowski into the lead, but he lost it to Truex two laps later.
Larson battled with Truex for the top spot until another caution came out on lap 68 for Bowman’s spin into the turn two wall. As All-Star Race rules mandate all stages must end under green, this resulted in an overtime situation. Truex, Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Joey Logano decided to pit, while others remained on the track as Larson and Suárez led. Johnson was moved to the tail end of the grid after he was caught speeding on pit road.
Overtime began on lap 73, though it resulted in another overtime when a multi-car wreck occurred after just one lap. In turn four, Truex was clipped by Stenhouse, sending him up the track into Kurt and Kyle Busch and Keselowski. Bowyer was also hit by Truex as he slid up.
The next restart took place on lap 81 with Hamlin and Suárez occupying the front row. Suárez dropped quickly before fighting back to take the lead, though it was not enough as Harvick passed him to record another stage win.
Harvick and Suárez led the grid to the start of the final stage on lap 84. Harvick quickly advanced ahead for the lead, while Hamlin took third from Blaney. On lap 91, Larson made contact with Logano as they exited turn four, causing Logano to hit the wall before turning Larson. Larson went around as he slid through the grass, but did not suffer substantial damage. Stenhouse, Ryan Blaney, and Austin Dillon pitted during the resulting caution.
The green flag waved with two laps remaining on lap 91 as Harvick led Suárez. Suárez could not mount a strong-enough challenge for Harvick, who pulled away to continue his Cup Series domination and score his first All-Star win since 2007. Logano finished third, ahead of Hamlin, Elliott, Johnson, Larson, Allmendinger, Kyle Busch, and Kahne,
“We got a little behind on the first pit stop and traffic wasn’t our friend,” Harvick stated in Victory Lane. “These guys built a really fast Jimmy John’s Ford. […] [A] special thanks to the Roush-Yates engine department. They put a lot of effort, they love restrictor plate racing, and we won!”
Following the race, debate over the package and its use in future races took place. Compared to past races, the 2018 edition saw more passing: it featured 38 passes under green flag conditions, compared to none in 2017. Although lap times were slower due to the plates reducing horsepower, the increase in passing raised some discussion. The Chicagoland Speedway Twitter account tweeted its interest in utilizing the setup: “If at all possible, we’ll take this package on July 1. Y’all cool with that?”
“I think all in all, was excited at the beginning of the race, honestly was excited throughout the race. I thought every lap had something to watch out there on the track,” NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell commented. Despite the mostly positive reviews, expectations of it appearing in future events is unknown at this point.
“I would never say never, but our intent is we’ve talked coming into this, was to try this here, then really take a deep dive into how do we make this the best package possible for 2019 if we liked what we saw. Again, it’s still very early. You all watched the race, we just watched the race as well, so we have to digest a lot of information and see where we go from there.”
“If this is something the fans liked, we’ll continue in that direction.”
Next Sunday, the Cup Series remains in Charlotte Motor Speedway for the longest race on the calendar: the Coca-Cola 600. Dillon is the defending winner.
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race results
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