By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
On a night that became Chase Elliott’s million-dollar runaway, Ryan Blaney ended up being the only other competitor winning a stage in Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Blaney, who led a race-high 72 of 140 laps, ended up leading the field to the green flag following pole sitter Martin Truex, Jr. dropping to the rear of the field for failing inspection twice before the race.
His time at the front didn’t last as Alex Bowman took command right way, but the No. 12 Bodyguard Ford Mustang quickly fought back and took the top spot two laps and never looked back in Stage 1, beating Kevin Harvick and Elliott in the process.
Pit stops followed as Blaney exited out in third to start the second stage. Nothing dramatic took place as he ended up third, but that would change on the next pit stop.
The No. 12 Team Penske squad opted for Blaney to stay out, regaining the lead as a result. Blaney’s teammate Brad Keselowski pitted for left side tires and Elliott went with four fresh Goodyear tires to start the third stage.
On the restart, both Blaney and Keselowski chose to ideal top groove while Elliott decided to pick the bottom. As was the case for the entire night, the top lane reigned supreme as Blaney made quick business over Elliott to have the clear advantage in Turn 1.
Blaney was able to hang onto the race lead for the next 19 laps, but as the laps were winding down, it was a matter of time for his older tires beginning to wear thin.
That’s when Elliott made his fresh tires work as he was able to cut down Blaney’s lead and by Lap 11, he made the race-winning pass and took the second straight stage win. Blaney crossed the line in second with only the final 15 laps to decide who’ll take a million dollars.
The front running cars stayed out, including Blaney. Once the race resumed, Keselowski spun his tires, assuring Elliott the race lead and ultimately becoming the only man smiling as he won his first All-Star Race.
On the other hand, Blaney struggled in the dash towards the finish compared to guys like Kyle Busch and Harvick, who pitted for fresh tires and finished second and third respectively.
Despite a disappointing effort, Blaney stopped by on the front stretch to congratulate the new million dollar kid as Wednesday marked his first top-10 finish in his All-Star Race career.
From no points to now resuming the championship fight in just four days as Texas Motor Speedway will be the next race of the regular season. Live coverage of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 begins at 3:00 p.m. EST on NBCSN. Blaney will enter the 334-lap race third in the regular season standings and fifth on the playoff grid.