In the buildup to Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, those not locked into the event battled it out in the Monster Energy Open, with the three stage winners and whoever had the most votes in the Fan Vote being granted the chance to race. By the end, William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Kyle Larson advanced on stage wins, while Alex Bowman won the Fan Vote.
Daniel Hemric won the pole for the Open, leading a field of 24 drivers alongside Michael McDowell. Other faces included MBM Motorsports fielding a two-car team once again for Joey Gase and Timmy Hill after doing so for the first time in the Cup Series‘ latest race at Kansas Speedway, and Rick Ware Racing having three cars for the first time in team history, running a new #53 for B.J. McLeod.
The first two stages were 20 laps long. As Hemric led, Larson battled with Bowman and Byron for second.
On lap 16, McLeod’s engine failed, bringing out the caution. Chris Buescher also exited the race after his track bar broke. With the caution occurring so close to the end of the stage, overtime rules were used to set up a two-lap sprint.
Hemric, Larson, Wallace, Matt Tifft, Corey LaJoie, Ross Chastain, and Quin Houff did not pit under the yellow, while Bowman was the first to leave pit road and restarted seventh. Larson briefly led at the green flag before Wallace took the lead.
In turn four on the final lap, Byron charged to Wallace’s inside, the two making contact as they exited. The duo ran side-by-side but Byron was able to edge Wallace out to take the stage win.
Daniel Suárez and Bowman comprised the front row for Stage #2, the latter quickly pulling ahead. Suárez attempted to chase down Bowman, but a caution came out with three laps remaining when Hemric was clipped by Ryan Preece on the frontstretch, spinning him into the infield.
With another overtime, Suárez and others like McDowell elected to pit, while Bowman and Wallace stayed out. Bowman fell back on the restart as Wallace took the lead, with Suárez in tow. As they neared the checkered flag, Suárez attempted to make his move on the leader’s inside line, but the two bumped and Suárez spun, enabling Wallace to win the stage.
In the garage, Wallace celebrated with close friend Ryan Blaney:
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) May 18, 2019
“Damn you Ryan for coming over here and making me cry. I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time, and I didn’t give a damn out there,” Wallace stated in an interview with FS1. The 2019 season has proven to be difficult for Wallace, who currently sits twenty-ninth in points and has opened up about his personal struggles. “I love Suárez to death, but he knows what’s on the line. I gave away that first stage and Hemric gave away that first stage.
“We needed this, I needed this. It’s been tough. I haven’t got to chug a Coke, this isn’t Victory Lane, but damn, this Coke tastes good.”
Larson and Ty Dillon led the grid to the final ten-lap stage. Dillon led the first five laps before Larson passed him, eventually building a large advantage that he never relinquished.
“That was a lot more stressful than I would have liked it to be,” Larson said in a Twitter video, “but either way, we get to race for a million bucks here.”
Bowman won the Fan Vote to become the fourth and final Hendrick Motorsports driver in the All-Star Race. He and the three Open winners will start at the rear for the event.