Elliott records first All-Star triumph at Bristol

In front of a packed grandstand and with an orange-colored neon glowing underneath his No. 9 UniFirst/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE under the lights, Chase Elliott held off Kyle Busch in a 15-lap dash to the checkers to win the 36th running of the NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway following a dominating performance. The victory marked Elliott’s first All-Star triumph as he became the 25th Cup competitor to win the annual race.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Martin Truex Jr. drew the pole position, but he dropped to the rear of the field due to failing pre-race inspection twice. Alex Bowman, who drew the second-place starting position, led the field to the start alongside Ryan Blaney.

When the green flag waved for the start of the race and the first stage, spanning 55 laps, Bowman, who started on the outside lane, jumped to an early lead. After leading the first two laps, Blaney emerged with the lead. Behind, Kevin Harvick was in third, trailing by a second to Blaney, while teammates Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth battled for fourth, trailing by more than three seconds. 


American Muscle

On the seventh lap, just as Kevin Harvick moved into the runner-up spot, Brad Keselowski made the slightest of contact to the left rear quarter panel of Kurt Busch while battling for fourth, which sent Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE spinning through Turn 1 as the first caution flag flew. Busch was able to keep his car off the wall and proceed with no significant damage while also being dodged by the oncoming field. Under the first caution, he along with Justin Haley made a pit stop.

The race restarted with 40 laps remaining in the first stage, and Blaney retained the lead following a strong start on the outside lane. Harvick settled into second followed by Bowman, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott, who made contact with Keselowski to move up the leaderboard. Keselowski settled in sixth followed by Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman while Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones were scored in the top 10. Behind the leaders, Matt DiBenedetto made contact with the outside wall entering Turn 3 after making contact with William Byron when Byron checked up, but he proceeded under green. 

Ten laps later, Blaney was still ahead by nearly a half second over Harvick. Bowman was trailing by more than two seconds while Logano and Elliott battled for fifth. Four laps later, Elliott pulled off a bump-and-run move to move into fourth after passing Logano.

While the laps in the first segment continued to dwindle under green, Blaney continued to stabilize his lead over Harvick by approximately half a second. Elliott was in third followed by Bowman and Jones while Almirola, Logano, Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Newman were in the top 10. Jimmie Johnson was in 11th followed by Denny Hamlin while Matt Kenseth had fallen back to 15th, one position ahead of Truex. Rookie Cole Custer and Justin Haley, both of whom were making their All-Star debuts, were in 17th and 18th, while Kurt Busch was mired in 20th, the rear of the field.

With nine laps remaining in the first stage, Blaney lapped Kurt Busch as Harvick started to narrow the deficit to himself and Blaney. Behind, Elliott was behind by around a second while being one of the fastest cars on the track. Despite encountering DiBenedetto, who was on the verge of going a lap down, Blaney was able to hold off Harvick to emerge as the leader when the first stage concluded. DiBenedetto was able to remain on the lead lap while Kurt Busch received the free pass to return on the lead lap under the stage break.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Harvick assumed the lead followed by Elliott, Blaney, Jones and Bowman.

When the second stage, spanning 35 laps, commenced, Harvick jumped to an early advantage on the outside lane while Elliott and Blaney battled for the runner-up spot. The caution returned a lap later when Newman got loose entering Turn 4 and spun towards the bottom lane, where he made minimal contact with the inside wall. He was able to drive back to pit road for tires and repairs.

Five laps later, the race resumed under green and Harvick, again, jumped to an early advantage on the outside lane. The following lap, Elliott bolted his way to the lead on the outside lane when Harvick briefly fell off the pace. Four laps later, Elliott, Harvick and Blaney were separated by above half a second while fourth-place Bowman trailed by nearly two seconds. Keselowski was in fifth behind Bowman while Logano, Bowyer, Hamlin, Almirola and Kyle Busch settled in the top 10.

With 10 laps remaining in the second stage, Elliott was still ahead by three-tenths of a second over Harvick while Blaney trailed by more than a second as the 20-car field settled in racing in a single file line. 

Though Harvick remained within sight of Elliott, the Georgia native in the No. 9 Chevrolet was able to stabilize his advantage as he also started to extend it to nearly a second. With no interferences within sight in front or behind him, Elliott was able to retain the lead at the time the second stage concluded.

Under the stage break, Blaney remained on track while the rest of the field pitted. Following the pit stops, Keselowski was the first to exit off pit road after having two left-side tires changed on his car. Elliott, the first with four fresh tires, followed pursuit along with Harvick and DiBenedetto, who also had two tires changed on his car. Logano was fifth over Bowman.

Once the third stage spanning, 35 laps, commenced, Blaney, restarting on old tires, benefitted on the outside lane to retain the lead followed by teammate Keselowski, Elliott and Harvick. Three laps later, Elliott made contact to the rear bumper of Keselowski entering Turn 4 to pull himself beneath Keselowski while challenging for the runner-up spot. Two corners later, Elliott and Keselowski raced three wide with Harvick in Turn 2 before Keselowski settled back into the runner-up spot followed by Elliott and Harvick.

With 23 laps remaining in the third stage, Blaney was ahead of a four-car battle for the lead as Keselowski and Elliott with Harvick trailing. Shortly after, Elliott pulled the bump-and-run move on Keselowski in Turn 1 to move into the runner-up spot as he quickly pursued Blaney for the lead. 

Approximately 10 laps later, Elliott passed Blaney to reassume the lead. With the stage reaching its final 10 laps, he started to stretch his advantage to nearly a second over Blaney while teammate Keselowski and Kyle Busch caught him for position. While Keselowski and Kyle Busch continued to battle for third, Elliott was able stabilize his advantage to above half a second over Blaney to win the third stage.

Under the stage break, some of the leaders led by Elliott and Blaney remained on track while others led by Harvick, Logano and Bowman pitted. The decision to pit for Harvick and others moved teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin up to the top five.

At the start of the final stage, spanning 15 laps, Elliott retained the lead following a strong launch, but he was pursued by Blaney and Kyle Busch while Keselowski fell back to fourth ahead of Hamlin. With 10 laps remaining, Elliott was ahead by less than half a second over Kyle Busch, who made a late appearance towards the front. Keselowski and Hamlin trailed the front two leaders while Blaney had fallen back to fifth with his tires starting to wear out. Harvick, racing on fresh tires, was back in seventh behind Jones and was running out of time to race back to the front. 

Though Kyle Busch remained within sight of Elliott, he was unable to narrow the deficit between himself and Elliott nor was he able to find another groove/lane with his No. 18 M&M’s/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry to pass him. On the final lap, Elliott was able to stabilize his advantage for a final circuit to race back to the finish line under the checkered flag and win the All-Star Race by 0.418 seconds over Busch while cashing in over a million dollars.

With the victory, Elliott recorded the ninth All-Star win for Hendrick Motorsports, (becoming the fourth HMS competitor to win the featured race), the 19th for the Chevrolet nameplate and the first for veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. He also became the third youngest winner of the All-Star event at age 24 years, seven months and 18 days. As an added bonus, Elliott is guaranteed a spot in the All-Star Race for the next 10 seasons.

In addition, the Elliotts joined the Earnhardts as the only father-son duo to win the All-Star Race. Ironically, Elliott joined his father, Bill, as the only drivers to win the All-Star Race at a different track from Charlotte Motor Speedway, (Bill won the All-Star Race at Atlanta in 1986).

After taking the checkered flag, Elliott greeted his crew members, performed a smokey burnout and saluted the fans while receiving a chorus of cheers under the lights. With a crowd of above 20,000 in attendance for the race, this marked the largest crowd gathering for a NASCAR race since May and amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe it,” Elliott said in front of a roaring crowd on FS1. “What a better night to have fans back than tonight. I mean, y’all are awesome. There’s nothing like Bristol. There’s nothing like the lights here. There’s nothing like racing here. I’ve never won here – what a race to do it. Just really proud of our team tonight and rebounding. We’ve had a really tough couple of weeks and just felt like we had kind of gotten off base and I felt like I was struggling. Just tried to hit the reset button this week, and came out and put on a great performance – great car. Just can’t thank all our partners enough, everybody that makes this happen. All those No. 9 hats and t-shirts up in the stands – love to see it…Bristol is an electric atmosphere that is unlike any other [racetrack] that we go to. [I] Couldn’t be more excited. We’re gonna celebrate this one, for sure, and we’ll take that million dollars back to Georgia. Why don’t we?”

Kyle Busch, who won the All-Star Race in 2017, settled in the runner-up spot for his sixth top-five result in the All-Star event followed by Kevin Harvick, who fell short in winning his third All-Star event.

“We’re trying hard and we’re running okay, but it seemed like we were mired in 10th place for much of that race tonight and the last couple of adjustments really helped us,” Busch said. “[Crew chief] Adam [Stevens] did a great job helping the car and making it better. I got a good restart and went from 12th all the way up to fifth [in the final 15-lap stage] so that was a huge bonus for us getting that track position. Overall, just got to keep fighting. I think that’s like four, five six second places this year, what do you do? You just have to keep going.”

“There were a couple laps there that I had to spend a little more time in traffic than I needed to to get back to the front, but our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang guys did a good job,” Harvick said. “I think that was the right call [for tires]. That was our only chance. We weren’t gonna beat [Elliott] where we were sitting on the same tires, so it all came down to getting past those cars for the first couple laps, but, in the end, it was definitely one lane. Much different than I thought it was gonna be.”

Keselowski finished fourth followed by Hamlin while Blaney, who led a race-high 72 laps, settled in sixth on old tires.

“We managed to win Stage 1 but fought a tight condition most of the race,” Blaney said. “I should have pitted at the end of Stage 2, but it was a fun event and glad to see fans back in the stands at Bristol tonight. We’ll be ready to go racing for real on Sunday in Texas.”

Logano, Bowman, Almirola and Truex rounded out the top 10. DiBenedetto, Haley and Custer finished 13th, 14th and 16th in their first All-Star attempts while Johnson finished 17th in his 19th and final All-Star appearance.

In addition to the neon glow under 16 of the 20 cars and the packed grandstands, this year’s All-Star Race featured the implementation of the “choose rule” format, which allowed all competitors to choose their lanes for all restarts, and the exposure of sponsors alongside the cars, where the numbers were moved from the door towards the rear wheels with the sponsors gaining a greater presence alongside the cars for a race.

All 20 participants of the 2020 All-Star Race finished on the lead lap. There were six lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 13 laps.

Results.

1. Chase Elliott, 60 laps led, Stage 2 & 3 winner

2. Kyle Busch

3. Kevin Harvick, six laps led

4. Brad Keselowski

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Ryan Blaney, 72 laps led, Stage 1 winner

7. Joey Logano

8. Alex Bowman, two laps led

9. Aric Almirola

10. Martin Truex Jr.

11. Erik Jones

12. William Byron

13. Matt DiBenedetto

14. Justin Haley

15. Clint Bowyer

16. Cole Custer

17. Jimmie Johnson

18. Matt Kenseth

19. Ryan Newman

20. Kurt Busch

The NASCAR Cup Series will return on July 19 to race at Texas Motor Speedway as part of a triple-header weekend. The race will air at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.


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