2018 Monster Energy All-Star Race Review
Experimental Aero Package/Restrictor Plate Thoughts
What a night. 38 lead exchanges, three-wide racing, and everyone had a shot at the $1 Million Dollar prize. The Monster Energy All-Star Race was without a doubt a hit. Kudos to NASCAR for trying something new and experimenting with a new aero package on one of their marquee evenings. While there will always be pushback from the “we want the old-NASCAR” crowd, Saturday Night’s race was definitely a step in the right direction for a sport some consider to be “dying.” NASCAR isn’t dying and isn’t going anywhere in the near future. However, a major reform of the sport could be on the table soon. Saturday’s All-Star Race could be the foot that opens the door on that conversation.
For those who didn’t consider the 2018 All-Star Race a success, just look back a season ago. The 2017 All-Star Race was as boring of a race as any of the past few years. There were four lap-leaders in total and only three cautions (all for stage breaks). This year’s race provided twelve changes for lap-lead and the tighter racing produced eight cautions. Furthermore, Kevin Harvick’s margin of victory (0.325 seconds) was the closest in the All-Star Race since Harvick edged Jimmie Johnson by 0.141 seconds in the 2007 version of the event. The experimental aero package worked.
Make no mistakes about it. I don’t think that the success of the aero package on Saturday Night means that NASCAR should try and implement a similar aero package at other tracks a mile and a half or greater this season. They should absolutely look into it for select tracks in 2019 though. Prime targets include California, Michigan, Texas, and Kentucky, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Moments of the All-Star Race
My first moment of the race came at the end of Stage 3. During the first lap of a Green-White-Checkered finish, four-wide racing didn’t sort itself out resulting in Martin Truex Jr. pinching Ricky Stenhouse Jr. going into turn three. Truex Jr. went spinning and collected several others including both Busch brothers and Brad Keselowski. On the ensuing restart, Kevin Harvick slung himself around the outside of three cars between the start-finish line and the end of turn two. Then he overtook leader Daniel Suarez on the outside in turns three and four to take the stage victory.
The second moment of the race was Harvick’s pass for the win. After Joey Logano and Kyle Larson tangled through the tri-oval to bring out the caution with two to go, the field was back double-file for a Green-White-Checkered. On the restart, Suarez received a big push from teammate Denny Hamlin in turns one and two. By FS1’s aerial coverage the #19 looks like he’s clear of Harvick who restarted on the outside. However, instead of going up and blocking Harvick’s momentum, Suarez elected to not get run over by Harvick, who was being pushed by third-place Logano. Harvick clears Suarez and has smooth sailing to the checkered flag.
All-Star Race Results Thoughts
Experimental aero package or not, Kevin Harvick and the #4 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford Team are ridiculously good this season. They’re taking Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance from a season ago to a whole new level. Five points race wins and an All-Star trophy within the first thirteen events of the season. We haven’t seen this type of dominance since Jeff Gordon set the series on fire in 1998. That season Gordon went on to win thirteen points races on his way to his third career Cup title. While the playoffs are the great equalizer in today’s NASCAR, I see no indication of why Harvick won’t be racing for the title at Homestead.
Aside from Harvick, all the drivers who advanced from the Monster Energy Open were impressive. Alex Bowman and AJ Allmendinger used their experience from the earlier race to make hellacious runs through the pack in the first stage. Though Bowman’s night ended early after getting loose and hitting the outside wall, it was good to see the #88 continue to get better every week. Allmendinger hung around the 5-9 range most of the night and brought home a solid eighth-place finish for the #47 JTG Racing Team. Chase Elliott, who advanced to the All-Star Race via fan-vote, took his #9 Chevy home fifth.
Out of the four, I was most impressed with YOUNG Daniel Suarez and the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Team. YDS ran up front all evening and was a legit contender for the victory. Personally, I wanted YDS to take the victory after my $$$ pick (Larson) was taken out. He finished second in three of the four stages and had Harvick cleared on the final restart. Had he slid up and thrown the block, the outcome may have been different. As Jeff Gordon put it in the FS1 booth, “It would’ve been risky, but I think he could’ve done it.” After Saturday Night’s run, I’m expecting a confidence boost for Suarez and his team heading into the next couple of weeks and wouldn’t be surprised if he is in contention during this weekend’s 600.
After both were caught up in wrecks throughout the race, I was by the resilience of Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne’s teams both bringing home top ten finishes. Yes, it may have everything to do with having restrictor plates on the race cars, but damn, they still had to overcome major adversity to do it.
My one disappointment from the All-Star race was Matt Kenseth and the whole #6 Roush Racing Team. After sitting on the pole, I was convinced Kenseth was going to at least be in contention at the end. Instead, they immediately fell back and were never a threat. Kenseth finished fourteenth in a field that had sixteen cars running at the end.
All in all, this was an excellent event. I certainly hope NASCAR uses this package for future All-Star Races.