By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – With Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet bouncing off the outside wall, and Kyle Larson’s Chevy bouncing off Elliott’s car coming to the finish line, Larson won a wild drag race to claim the last of three available spots in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1).
At the end of the final 10-lap dash in the Sprint Showdown, Larson pinched Elliott into the outside wall entering the dogleg at the 1.5-mile track and banged into the left side of Elliott’s No. 24 Chevy as the drivers raced side by side to the finish.
Both cars were battered as they crossed the finish line.
“I knew (Elliott) was going to be good on four tires and was probably going to win the Fan Vote, so I knew I had to win because I knew I wasn’t going to win the Fan Vote,” Larson said. “So, I did what I could do. Hopefully, they can repair the right side good enough or we can pull out the backup — or whatever.
“I’m sure Chase is upset with me. He has all the reason in the world to be but hey, tonight we’re going for a million bucks (the prize for winning the All-Star Race), and I’ve never had a chance to do that before. Hopefully we can get this car back in Victory Lane and hold a big check later.”
Larson got to the stripe .016 seconds ahead of Elliott, but that wasn’t the closest finish of a scintillating Showdown, which, for the first time, placed three segment winners into the All-Star Race.
Splitting the cars of Elliott and Ryan Blaney with a courageous run up the middle off Turn 2, Trevor Bayne won the first 20-lap segment by .004 seconds over Elliott.
“I was thinking about what I could do, and I timed the restart really good and got right to the 21’s (Blaney’s) bumper at the line and was able to get three-wide off of Turn 2. The car was pretty good there.
“In clean air I was all right. I was a little concerned with dirty air, but I got a run and went through the middle. It was a little sketchy squeezing through that hole, but it worked.”
Before the race, Roush Fenway Racing had no cars in the All-Star Race. After the second, the organization had two, as Greg Biffle followed Bayne, his RFR teammate, into the main event. Playing tire strategy perfectly, Biffle started third at the beginning of segment two, passed Austin Dillon for the top spot on Lap 26 and pulled away to win by 1.525 seconds.
Biffle credited crew chief Brian Pattie with the call that won the race.
“Brian Pattie is a very, very smart veteran crew chief in this sport, and it was his call,” said Biffle, who came to pit road under a late caution in the first segment for two left-side tires and added right sides during the break between segments. “I was skeptical of it, trust me, but I tell you what, what really made the difference was we made a chassis adjustment, two left side tires, the car was really fast the last single lap that we made under green and I was able to pass four cars in one lap.
“Then we came down and the guys ripped off a great two-tire stop like a lot of other cars did and got us out third. Really, that’s what did it. I was being as aggressive as I could be, and I knew it was 20 laps and I knew that was my chance. The 3 car (Dillon) was a little bit loose and so was I, but I made some adjustments on my driving style and was able to get by him.”
Elliott, who finished second in two of the three segments, did get a consolation prize. As Larson had predicted, Elliott was one of the Sprint Fan Vote winners, joining Danica Patrick.
Image: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images