Almirola, Byron, DiBenedetto, Bowyer advance to All-Star Race

Aric Almirola, William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto transferred to the All-Star Race after each won one of three stages in the All-Star Open at Bristol Motor Speedway. For the final transfer spot, it was Clint Bowyer who earned a one way ticket to the main event after being named the Fan Vote winner.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Michael McDowell drew the pole position and was joined on the front row with Aric Almirola. Corey LaJoie started at the rear of the field due to failing pre-race inspection twice. 

When the green flag waved, McDowell received a strong start on the outside lane to jump to an early lead. After the first lap, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved into second while Almirola settled in third. Behind, with the field jumbling up through the corners and entering the straightaways, rookies Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick made contact in Turn 3 and nearly spun, but both saved their cars from spinning. Following the contact, Reddick fell off the pace and out of the top 10. During the contact between the two rookies, the field raced four wide entering Turn 1 before Matt DiBenedetto scrubbed the outside wall.


American Muscle

At the front, McDowell continued to lead, but was hotly pursued by Almirola, Stenhouse, Bubba Wallace and William Byron. On the 11th lap, Almirola made his move below McDowell and took the lead entering Turn 1, where he started to pull away. Shortly after, Stenhouse moved into the runner-up spot after passing McDowell. 

When the first stage reached its halfway point, Wallace pulled a bump-and-run move beneath McDowell for position through Turns 1 and 2, but McDowell hooked Wallace’s right-rear quarter panel in Turn 2 and sent Wallace into the Turn 3 wall as he made hard contact into the Turn 3 outside wall, sustaining heavy damage to his No. 43 World Wide Technology/Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Behind, Byron made contact with McDowell as McDowell spun with left-rear damage, but was able to continue. The wreck, however, ended Wallace’s attempt to make his second consecutive All-Star Race appearance since he was unable to continue the race with his wrecked primary car, which also took him out of contention of potentially winning the Fan Vote.

“Just disrespect when you get hooked into the wall,” Wallace said on FS1. “I don’t even need to see a replay…What a joke [McDowell] is.”

With six laps remaining in the first segment, the race restarted and Almirola took off with the lead on the outside lane. Behind, Ryan Preece got loose in Turn 3 and Reddick made contact to the rear bumper of Preece, which damaged part of Reddick’s front nose. 

At the front, Almirola continued to pull away with Byron in second and Ty Dillon in third ahead of Bowyer and Corey LaJoie. Despite Byron closing in towards the rear bumper of Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield/Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang in the final laps, the Floridian was able to win the first stage spanning 35 laps and to transfer to the All-Star Race for the third time in his career.

“Man, we’ve just had such a good run lately,” Almirola said on FS1. “We deserve to be in the All-Star Race. Our team has been doing an amazing job. We’ve been bringing really fast Ford Mustangs to the racetrack every weekend. So, proud to have Smithfield involved in the big show tonight. I was, actually, really nervous. When you come to a race like this, you just never know what could happen and you hate to have the All-Star Race and not be in it, especially with as good as we’ve been running lately. Proud of my guys, proud of the team…we’ll get ready for the big show tonight.”

Under the stage break, some like Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Preece, rookie Quin Houff, Ty Dillon, Reddick, rookie Brennan Poole and McDowell pitted.

When the second stage started, Byron, who inherited the lead, jumped to an early lead, but was quickly pursued by Ty Dillon followed by LaJoie. The following lap, with the field jumbling up, Preece made contact with rookie John Hunter Nemechek as both spun through Turns 1 and 2, but both continued.

With 28 laps remaining in the stage, the race restarted. On this occasion, Ty Dillon remained dead even with Byron through Turn 1, but slipped in Turn 2 as Byron was able to clear Dillon and retain the lead. Dillon fell back to fifth while Bell, Austin Dillon and Austin Dillon moved into the top 5. At the front, Byron stretched his advantage to nearly a second over Bell while Reddick moved back into the top five ahead of Clint Bowyer. Ty Dillon, meanwhile, had fallen all the way back to 12th following contact with Stenhouse and LaJoie as the pack behind the leaders were jumbling, again, for positions.

As the laps progressed, Reddick fell out of the top 10 after making contact while McDowell was back up to sixth. At the front, Byron continued to lead, leading by nearly two seconds while approaching lapped traffic. With 13 laps remaining in the second stage, DiBenedetto made contact to the rear bumper of Bell to move into the runner-up spot and was quickly pursued by Austin Dillon and Bowyer while Bell fell back to fifth.

With no drama occurring at the front nor the rear of the field, Byron was able to cruise his No. 24 AXALTA/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE across the start/finish line to win the second stage after leading all 35 laps in the stage and transfer to the All-Star Race for the second consecutive year. With Byron transferring to the All-Star Race, all four Hendrick Motorsports competitors will compete in the main event for a million dollars.

“It’s always good to advance to the All-Star Race and have a shot to go for a million dollars,” Byron said on FS1. “The guys did a good job with this car, a little bit different AXALTA look for us this week, but it needs a little bit of love on the left-rear quarter panel, but hopefully, we can get that fixed up and just be ready to go. This is, actually, one of my favorite tracks, so it’s pretty awesome to see the fans here.”

For the start of the final stage spanning 15 laps, DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon battled dead even through the first two turns before DiBenedetto pulled away with the lead. Behind, Bowyer moved into second and quickly drew himself to the rear bumper of DiBenedetto. 

With 10 to go, DiBenedetto was ahead by half a second over Bowyer with Austin Dillon trailing by nearly a second. Buescher was in fourth followed by Nemechek and Ty Dillon. Five laps later, DiBenedetto stabilized his advantage by nearly a second over Bowyer with some battles for positions taking place behind the leaders. The advantage and the gap between himself and Bowyer was enough for DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 Ford Mustang to cruise under the checkered flag to win the All-Star Open for his first non-point NASCAR Cup Series victory and to transfer to the All-Star Race for the first time in his career. 

“I was hanging on for dear life,” DiBenedetto said on FS1. “We were so loose on entry. I was right on [the] ragged edge. Just thankful to the team for battling back. My gosh, we had big damage there at the start. Had to fix it. … So proud to be driving this thing.”

Bowyer finished in the runner-up spot, but earned the final spot to the All-Star Race after being named the Fan Vote winner. With the vote, Bowyer will make his 11th All-Star Race appearance. With Bowyer transferring to the All-Star Race, all four Stewart-Haas Racing competitors will compete in the main event for a million dollars.

“You hate to lean on [the fans], but man, [it] damn sure feels good to have fans back at the track!” Bowyer said on FS1. “It’s fun to be around this place. You want to talk about an All-Star event. This is the right track to do it. It’s only gonna get better as we go here. We got a little bit of work to do on our car. Hey, we’re in it. I watched my buddy, Kasey Kahne, win it one time off of the Fan Vote. Maybe, we can do the same thing.”

Austin Dillon finished third followed by Buescher and Ty Dillon while Stenhouse, McDowell, Nemechek, LaJoie and Reddick rounded out the top 10, all of whom were 17 competitors who failed to qualify for the 2020 All-Star Race.

There were three lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 18 laps.

Results.

1. Matt DiBenedetto – Stage 3 winner, 15 laps led

2. Clint Bowyer – Fan Vote winner

3. Austin Dillon

4. Chris Buescher, one lap led

5. Ty Dillon

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

7. Michael McDowell, 10 laps led

8. John Hunter Nemechek

9. Corey LaJoie

10. Tyler Reddick

11. Christopher Bell

12. Daniel Suarez

13. Ryan Preece

14. J.J. Yeley

15. Brennan Poole

16. Garrett Smithley

17. Quin Houff, two laps down

18. Joey Gase – OUT, Handling

19. William Byron – Stage 2 winner, 35 laps led

20. Aric Almirola – Stage 1 winner, 25 laps led

21. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Accident

The NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway is next on July 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.


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