Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Moving away from Charlotte for only the second time since its conception, the NASCAR All-Star Race heads to Bristol Motor Speedway Wednesday night for one of the most anticipated races in the event’s 35 year history.

Racing at Bristol is always intense, but with $1 million on the line for the winner, the intensity should get cranked to 11. The aggressiveness that the drivers will show on the high-banked bullring that is called “The Last Great Colosseum” to take home the coveted Bristol trophy and the chance to wield the gladiator sword in Victory Lane illustrates why this race is on every fan’s bucket list, because it is a must-see event from start to finish.

For the first time since racing returned from the break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant number of fans will also get to be in attendance at the track. Homestead and Talladega hosted 1,000 and 5,000 fans respectively, but Bristol is planning to host upwards of 30,000 fans for Wednesday’s exhibition race.

The 140-lap race will be divided into four stages, with lengths of 55 laps, 35 laps, 35 laps, and 15 laps. All of the laps will count in the first three stages, while the final stage will only count green flag laps. Should there be a restart with two laps or less in the final stage, unlimited attempts at a green-white-checkered finish will be made.

Prior to the main event, the NASCAR Open will give three drivers, as well as the Fan Vote winner, the chance to advance into the All-Star Race. The Open will feature three segments of 35 laps, 35 laps, and 15 laps, with the winners of those segments automatically moving on to the All-Star Race.

A new addition to this year’s All-Star Race will be the “choose rule,” which is a staple of short track racing across the country. The idea is simple: As drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they have the option to choose which lane they want to restart in. Normally, just the leader has that option, but in this race, the remainder of the field will get the chance to choose their preferred lane, adding another element of strategy for the race.

Along with the new “choose rule,” the cars themselves will also be sporting a new look, with the number moving from its traditional spot on the door back toward the rear wheel in an effort to give sponsors better placement during the race.

Cars already entered into the All-Star Race itself will also be sporting neon underglow reminiscent of the tuners featured in the Fast and the Furious franchise. The look will be similar to what the Chip Ganassi Racing entries sported during the Champion’s Week burnouts in downtown Nashville last year.

“There has already been an incredible amount of buzz around this year’s NASCAR All-Star Race with the move to Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “In addition to the thrilling racing we’re used to seeing at Bristol, the choose rule is going to add another dynamic to the race. Drivers and fans have been asking for this change and I can’t think of a better time to try it than the all-star race.”

“This NASCAR All-Star Race under the bright lights of Bristol is setting up to be a memorable event for ages to come,” added Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “With a million dollar payout and no championship points on the line in this all out high-banked short track clash, it’s surely going to be a race that fans will not want to miss.”

Drivers eligible for the All-Star Race include those that meet the following criteria: Drivers who won a points event in either 2019 or 2020, drivers who won a NASCAR All-Star Race and compete full-time, and drivers who won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and compete full-time.

The field of eligible drivers stands at 16, with Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. all gaining entry into the race.

The NASCAR Open is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET on FOX Sports 1, with the All-Star Race taking place at 8:30 pm, also on FS1.

By the Numbers

What: NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race

Where: Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee (Opened: 1960)

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 7:00 pm ET Wednesday / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  0.533-mile concrete oval

Banking: Turns: 30 to 34 degrees; Straights: 4 to 9 degrees

Race Length: Main event: 140 laps – All-Star Open: 85 laps

Stage Lengths: Main event: 55 laps/35 laps/35 laps/15 laps, All-Star Open: 35 laps/35 laps/15 laps

2019 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet (Started 18th, 13 laps led)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Bristol Motor Speedway:

  1. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 109.4
  2. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 107.2
  3. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 102.0
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 100.9
  5. Alex Bowman – No. 88 Chevrolet – 99.8
  6. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 94.0
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 93.1
  8. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 92.6
  9. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 90.8
  10. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 87.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s going to look much different than the All-Star Races we’ve had over the past several years,” said two-time All-Star Race winner Kevin Harvick. “I think all of us, from the drivers’ perspective and the fans’ perspective, have been itching for our All-Star Race. I think it’s going to be very similar to old Bristol because they are going to spray the traction compound on the bottom of the racetrack and there are very short races that are going to happen (starting with the All-Star Open).

“What I think is going to happen is the majority of the race is going to be run on the bottom of the racetrack, which means, in order to pass somebody, you’re probably going to have to use the front bumper, which could get pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to it and I’m really excited about the change for the All-Star Race.”

Last Year’s Results

After winning the All-Star Open to transfer into the All-Star Race, Kyle Larson made his presence known in the final 15 lap shootout of the exhibition race to claim a $1 million payday.

Getting a push from Kevin Harvick during the final restart with 12 laps to go, Larson surged into the lead, leaving Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott in the dust. Busch gave chase after Larson, but his pursuit was all for naught when he bounced off the Turn 4 wall with six laps remaining. Harvick took over the runner-up spot, but didn’t have enough to be able to catch Larson, who crossed the line 0.322 seconds ahead of him.

The win was the first for Larson in the All-Star Race, making him just the second driver to be able to win in the Open and follow it up with a victory in the main event later in the evening.

“This is unbelievable,” Larson said. “This whole day was up and down, you know, from the Open we were in, to getting a little bit of damage and having to repair the car. We had some great restarts there in the last few and (Kevin) Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row and that was huge. And then again, to get by the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) in that final restart. And I just had to guess what he was going to do behind me and try to take his air away. The No. 18 surprised me with how good he was. Man, this is amazing.

“I’ve been close a couple times. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star race, I’ve been close to winning. It’s neat to finally close it out. Thanks to Advent Health, Credit One Bank, McDonald’s, and everybody who helps out on this Chip Ganassi Racing team and everybody back at the shop. There are a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating and I’m excited about that.”

While Larson was busy celebrating, tempers were seething between Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman on pit road after the race following contact between the two both during the race and the cooldown lap.

Bowyer climbed from his car and stormed down to where Newman had parked his car on pit road and started punching through the window of Newman’s car, doing his best Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots impression before pit crew members rushed in to pull him away.

“Well, the 14 chopped me on the front straightaway earlier in the race. I was just about to turn him around,” Newman said of the contact that led to the post-race issues between the two. “Then after the race, I just went up and tapped him in the back to let him know that 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 3.

“Doesn’t take much of a man to try to fight somebody with a helmet on. I think he should be embarrassed of himself.”

Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler as a result, with both agreeing to disagree following their meeting with the NASCAR brass.

“It was a damn sure a surprise fight,” said Bowyer. “I don’t know what the hell his beef was. 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 seeing if something was going to happen at the end. They got four-wide off (Turn) 4. Hell, I thought he was a lap down. I checked up and ran into my left rear, that was the last I saw of him.

“Then after the race, he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around. I pulled up next to him and he dumps me into 4. Where I come from, you get poked in the nose for that and that’s what he got.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.