In an exhibition battle for one million dollars, Kyle Larson went from racing in the Monster Energy Open to taking home the money in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. Amidst the fireworks of his victory, tensions flared between Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman after the race.
Bowyer started on the pole alongside Kyle Busch. Fifteen of the nineteen drivers were locked in beforehand by winning a race in 2018 or 2019, being a full-time former All-Star Race winner, or a full-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion. The four exceptions – William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr., Larson, and Alex Bowman – qualified via the Monster Energy Open earlier in the day, with Bowman winning the Fan Vote; they started at the rear.
The 85-lap race was split into four stages: the first was 30 laps long, the second and third 20 laps, and the final 15. Caution laps did not count in Stage #4.
Cars featured a special carbon fiber splitter/pan, which handled sensitivities in ride height and stabilised aerodynamics to allow for better performance in traffic, and a radiator exit duct in the hood to reduce engine temperatures and separate aerodynamics from engine performance. Rumours have suggested these changes may appear in the Generation-7 car expected for début in 2021.
Stages #1 and #2
The race opened with Kevin Harvick quickly taking the lead from his Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Bowyer, who started to fall. Busch attempted to pass Harvick for the position as the early stages continued, but could not do so until lap 19, overtaking him on the frontstretch.
On lap 25, Erik Jones‘ right-front tyre went down, bringing out the yellow flag for debris. All but Brad Keselowski elected to pit, which placed him at the front, while Busch was the first to exit pit road. With the race so close to the stage finish, overtime rules were utilised for the restart.
In overtime, Bowyer and Busch battled for the lead, with the latter winning out. Harvick eventually passed Bowyer to take second, with Joey Logano and Austin Dillon in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Newman, Keselowski, Jones, Jimmie Johnson, and Aric Almirola pitted between stages. The race resumed on lap 33 with Busch at the helm.
As the field fought for position, including one battle in which the field went four-abreast through the frontstretch, Newman spun through the infield turf on the frontstretch for a caution. Wallace and Bowyer, who bumped with Ryan Blaney, pitted to repair damage.
Harvick took the lead on lap 37. Logano was unable to catch the leader as Harvick scored the stage win. Blaney, Byron, and Larson rounded out the top five.
Stages #3 and #4
Bowyer left pit road first ahead of Logano, while Blaney had to pit again for a loose wheel. The stage began on lap 51, and it did not take long for Logano to take over first. Newman hit the wall and was forced to pit.
After two laps, Harvick fell off the pace with a loose wheel. The following lap, Dillon and Busch collided in turn three, sending the former up into Jones, who in turn hit the outside wall. The green flag waved on lap 59, and Logano drove off to the stage win. Elliott, Byron, Keselowski, and Martin Truex Jr. finished up the top-five finishers.
Before the final stage, Logano, Elliott, and Busch stayed out, while Denny Hamlin won the race out of the pits. Blaney and Almirola were penalised for driving through too many pit boxes and having too many crewmen over the wall, respectively.
The 15-lap Stage #4 commenced on lap 71. Elliott received a push from Busch to clear Logano for the lead, which fell into Busch’s hands on lap 73. Shortly after, Hamlin spun after making contact with Blaney to force a yellow.
The race resumed on lap 74, but green flag racing lasted only one lap before Jones’ right-front tyre went down and he hit the wall. Logano, Blaney, and Almirola pitted.
Larson took the lead for the ensuing restart. As he held off Busch, Harvick moved up to third; on lap 79, Busch brushed the wall, allowing Harvick to take second. Although Harvick narrowed the margin, he could not pass Larson who stormed off to win his first All-Star Race.
Busch finished third, ahead of Logano, Wallace, Almirola, Dillon, Bowman, Byron, and Truex.
After the race, Bowyer was turned by Newman on the cool-down lap. When they were on pit road, Bowyer confronted him in his car, throwing multiple punches through Newman’s window before crew members arrived to break up the fight. When the two interacted again, Bowyer called Newman out for being a lap down, which the latter refuted:
“14 chopped me on the front straightaway earlier in the race,” Newman explained in a post-race interview with FS1. “I just about turned him around, if I had hit the brakes, would’ve turned him around. And then after the race, I went up to him and tapped him in the back, let him know I didn’t appreciate the way he raced me, and then he body-slammed me. Then I hit him back a little bit on the back straightaway and then he just cut across my nose in turn three.
“Doesn’t take much of a man to try to fight somebody with a helmet on. I think he should be embarrassed of himself.”
“It was a damn sure surprise, I don’t know what the hell his beef was,” Bowyer said in his interview. “I thought he was a lap down. Our day was over, we lost track position there, got sideways, crossed up, basically just buying time there, and see if something was gonna happen at the end.
“They got four-wide off of (turn) four, hell, I thought he was a lap down. I checked up, he runs into my left rear, that was the last I saw of him. And then after the race, he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around and I pull up next to him and he dumps me into four. Where I come from, you get punched in the nose for that.”
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller has confirmed neither driver will be disciplined for the fight.
“We yeeted the millennial car,” Larson said in a Twitter video, alluding to Harvick’s millennial paint scheme for the race, a livery designed after sponsor Busch Beer proclaimed he would win the 2018 Cup title but did not. “So it feels good, even if he helped me win.”