The sport’s reigning Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott, earned his first NASCAR All-Star Race win Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway — holding off reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch in the closing laps.
Elliott led 60 of the 140 laps en route to the $1 million paycheck. He and his father, Bill Elliott, join the father-son combination of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to have won the sport’s midseason All-Star exhibition. Interestingly, Bill won the race when it was held in Atlanta and Chase’s victory was in Bristol, Tennessee — those are the only two times the event took place at a track other than Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Oh my gosh, there’s no feeling like it, nothing like it,” a smiling Elliott said after climbing of his Chevrolet. “Bristol is an electric atmosphere unlike any place we go to. We’re going to celebrate this one for sure.
“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. … All those No. 9 hats and T-shirts up in the stands — love to see it.”
NASCAR tried a couple innovative and seemingly well-received ideas at the non-points race, including fitting the cars with lights that provided an underglow and also a new format for restarts that allowed drivers to pick whichever lane they preferred — outside or inside.
The race still came down to just old-fashioned horsepower and age-old strategy among the 20 drivers who earned positions in the race.
“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. “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.”
Almirola’s ninth-place finish was the best among those drivers who qualified for the NASCAR All-Star Race by winning a stage in the NASCAR All-Star Open at the track earlier Wednesday. William Byron also advanced with stage win in the Open, and Matt DiBenedetto took home the checkered flag in the Open — his first time winning the non-points paying event. Clint Bowyer earned a position on the grid by winning the Fan Vote.