NASCAR’s All-Star Race was completed with a Texas-sized ceremony. Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage hyped up the event hosted at the Fort Worth track for the first time, and delivered the showmanship on Sunday.
Pre-race ceremonies included pyrotechnics, cowboy hats and an appearance by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Post-race celebrations were complete with race winner Kyle Larson in Victory Lane holding two pistols and firing blank shots into the air with a smile that recognized he’d just won a million dollars.
“I’ve always wanted one of these,” Larson said admiring his prizes. “Jimmie Johnson’s got a lot of these dang things.”
Larson didn’t dominate most laps of the six-round race format like he has the past two races. He said he surprised himself after starting on the pole through a random draw, then falling to the back due to the invert in the second round and struggling with his car. But Larson credited crew chief Cliff Daniels with making the necessary adjustments on his Chevrolet to get back in a top-three position to start the final three rounds.
The No. 5 driver lined up behind leader Chase Elliott for the last restart of the 10-lap shootout that closed the race. When the green flag waved, Larson drove high to pass Elliott on the outside, as Brad Keselowski took the low line to run into second place. Larson led the final laps and held off Keselowski by 0.2 seconds at the flag.
“It was a little slick up there but I was able to get it and hold him off from there,” Larson said. “I can’t believe it.”
Elliott was another favorite to win the race and led 12 laps behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron (30 laps led), as well as Larson (18) and Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney (15). Blaney also started in the top-four for the final restart, but finished behind his teammates Keselowski in second and Joey Logano, who finished fourth. Elliott finished third.
“Kyle got to my outside and that was the end of it really,” Elliott said. “Just got beat.”
While the Penske cars delivered a strong showing at the 1.5-mile track, it was yet another dominant night for Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the past five races. Keselowski said that he considered running second to a Hendrick car an accomplishment.
“They are just stupid fast,” Keselowski said. “I had (Larson) off Turn 4, but they just have so much speed. He just motored right back by me, like damn!”
Daniels said he’d rate his execution of his team’s strategy a “B” since the car was built for getting clean air, but the format of the race featured inversions, meaning Larson was sent to the back early to battle through traffic.
“You had to be able to pass,” Daniels said of the strategy with the inversion. “So it took us a little while to get our car where it could do that.”
Daniels noted the “big mix in the field” and didn’t offer any suggestions for the format change. Hendrick Motorsports competition director Jeff Andrews offered his perspective on NASCAR’s change to reduced horsepower for the race. NASCAR utilized a 510 horsepower package instead of its typical 550 horsepower package with the goal of bunching the field together and increasing drafting. The move has been met with criticism by some, but Andrews said he thought that it was a “good move” from a competition and fan perspective.
“I think it produced the intent of what the reduction in power was intended to do,” Andrews said. “It looked very competitive on the racetrack … I thought the restarts were great, and there were some real opportunities to kind of jumble some things up on the restarts, depending on the side draft you got and who your partner was pushing you.”
NASCAR will continue to deliberate on the package as well as the location for the non-points event. The All-Star Race has been held at two different tracks over the past two years in a switch from its traditional home at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Last year, the race was held at Bristol due to the pandemic. This year, it was the sendoff event at Texas for Gossage, who will retire on July 1 after serving the speedway for more than 25 years.
“I’ve always believed that the All-Star Race should move around to different tracks,” Larson said. “Kind of like how other sports, their All-Star games move to different venues. We’ll see if that’s something that they do. I think all of us drivers would love to see that.”
Gossage presented Larson with his trophy and million dollar check (“I’m gonna save for sure”) and looked misty-eyed as the semi-full grandstands cheered on the night of Texas-sized theatrics and the promoter’s long career. A light show in the sky spelled out, “Thank you Eddie,” over the infield.