Loose, But Fast Blog: Monster Energy All-Star Race Review

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

Happy Harvick

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. 

Open Advancers

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. 

Other Impressions

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. 

Loose, But Fast Blog: Monster Energy All-Star Race

Loose, But Fast Blog: Monster Energy All-Star Race

Preview

Tonight marks the 34th running of the Monster Energy All-Star Race. It’s the lone gathering of the season where points don’t matter and all eyes are on the $1 Million dollar prize. Over the years, the All-Star race has been used to experiment with new rules, new aero/tire packages, and other aspects of the racing product as a high-dollar testing ground. This year is no different. For the first time ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR will mandate that every car racing this evening must have a restrictor plate under the throttle body to reduce speeds. This is in hopes to induce closer racing and put on a better show for the fans.

After this morning’s final practice, ESPN’s Bob Pockrass pointed out the difference in final practice speeds from this year to last year. 

Though speeds were down roughly sixteen miles per hour from last season, 30 of the 38 cars to make a practice run were within three miles an hour from the top speed of 173.305 by Kyle Larson. From the abbreviated video seen from the from this morning’s untelevised practice, passing looks possible and racing should be intense and exciting. The most telling sign, the drivers seem eager to get going. 

Monster Energy Open

Tonight’s event will kick off around 6 PM (weather permitting) with the Monster Energy Open. This will be the race to get into the $$$ race. The Open will feature a 21 car lineup of all current Cup regulars who were not already eligible for the main event (2017 & 2018 race winners and former All-Star Race winners). Four drivers will advance from the 50 lap race, the stage winners from the first two 20 lap stages will automatically advance along with the winner of the final 10 lap shootout. The final spot will be decided by fan-vote. Since qualifying was rained out Friday, the starting grid for The Open was set by owners points.

Monster Energy All-Star Race

After The Open concludes, the main event is scheduled to begin at 8 PM.  This season’s All-Star Race will once again be broken into four stages. Stage 1 will be 30 laps, Stage 2 will end on lap 50,  and Stage 3 will end on lap 70. The Final Stage will be a 10-lap dash with a million dollars on the line. Unlike previous All-Star Races, this season there are no mandatory pit stops, eliminations, or random inversions of the field (my personal favorite). 

While The Open qualifying was rained out, qualifying for the All-Star Race was not. The All-Star field, save the four Open advancers, will start as follows:

2018 Monster Energy All-Star Race Starting Grid

Start # Driver Team Make  Eligibility
1 6 Matt Kenseth #DoYouKnowJack/Roush  Ford 2017 Race Win (ISM)/2004 ASR Win
2 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Fastenal/Roush  Ford 2017 Race Win (Talladega/Daytona)
3 14 Clint Bowyer SHR Fan Club/Stewart-Hass Ford 2018 Race Win (Martinsville)
4 4 Kevin Harvick Jimmy John’s/Stewart-Hass Ford 2017, 2018 Race Win (7x)/2007 ASR Win
5 78 Martin Truex Jr. 5 Hr. Energy-Bass Pro/Furniture Row Toyota 2017, 2018 Race Win (9x)
6 12 Ryan Blaney Hawk-Carlisle/Penske Ford 2017 Race Win (Pocono)
7 18 Kyle Busch M&M’s/Gibbs Toyota 2017, 2018 Race Win (8x)/2017 ASR Win
8 2 Brad Keselowski Discount Tire/Penske Ford 2017 Race Win (3x)
9 3 Austin Dillon Dow/Childress Chevrolet 2017, 2018 Race Win (Charlotte/Daytona)
10 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil/Penske Ford 2018 Race Win (Talladega)/2016 ASR Win
11 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s/Hendrick Chevrolet 2017 Race Win (3x)/ASR Win (03, 06, 12, 13)
12 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops-Tracker/Ganassi Chevrolet 2014 ASR Win
13 31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar-Grainger/Childress Chevrolet 2017 Race Win (ISM)/2002 ASR Win
14 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx/Gibbs Toyota 2017 Race Win (2x)/2015 ASR Win
15 41 Kurt Busch Monster Energy/Stewart-Hass Ford 2017 Race Win (Daytona)/2010 ASR Win
16 42 Kyle Larson Credit One Bank/Ganassi Chevrolet 2017 Race Win (4x)
17 95 Kasey Kahne Dumont Jets/Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet 2017 Race Win (IMS)/2008 ASR Win
18 TBD by Monster Energy Open
19 TBD by Monster Energy Open
20 TBD by Monster Energy Open
21 TBD by Monster Energy Open Fan Vote

 


Predictions

Monster Energy Open

With a chance to advance to the Million Dollar Main Event, the Monster Energy Open usually provides awesome racing. With the addition of the restrictor plate, the action should get even tighter.  Here’s how I think things will shake down in The Open

Stage 1

Aric Almirola flexes the Stewart-Hass/Ford muscle. AA takes Stage 1 from the pole leading all 20 laps despite great, close racing in the pack.

Stage 2

With Almirola already in the Main Event, Stage 2 becomes a three-horse race between Eric Jones, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez. Chase Elliott holds on to win, throwing a wrench into the fan vote. 

Stage 3

Everything is a mess, the field ends up wrecking once if not twice. Somehow, Paul Menard survives and advances. 

Fan Vote

With Chase Elliott winning Stage 2, the fan vote is up for grabs, most likely between Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger, and dark-house Matt DiBenedetto. Bubba wins the vote and advances.

Advancing: Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Paul Menard, Bubba Wallace

Monster Energy All-Star Race

Stage 1

Everyone plays nice, Kevin Harvick battles Truex Jr. for the win, Harvick prevails.

Stage 2

Everyone plays nice again. Truex edges Harvick.

Stage 3 

Kyle Larson makes his presence felt but finishes 2nd to Truex.

Stage 4

In the final stage, insanity is everywhere. The field wrecks once, taking out a major contender or two. From third, Larson slingshots Clint Bowyer and Truex Jr. to take the checkered flag and $1 Million Dollar payday.

 


Final Thoughts

I have to applaud NASCAR for trying something different. At first, I was very skeptical of putting restrictor plates on cars at Charlotte. Now I can’t wait to see what tonight has in store. In all, I think tonight should be one of the most entertaining races of the season. Tune in to find out. I’m always down to get the conversation going, find me on Twitter at @QMS_Rongy. HAPPY ALL-STAR RACE DAY PEOPLE.

 

It’s been a while since I wrote about NASCAR. I’m back though, for good. Check out more from the Loose, But Fast Blog and Podcast in the future.

Truex Jr. Captures Monster Energy Cup

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