Chase Elliott had a million reasons to rebound in NASCAR’s All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday.
Following a 23rd-place finish at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday—his fourth race in the last five without a top-10 result—Elliott was dominant at the Last Great Coliseum.
In the biggest crowd of spectators since the COVID-19 pandemic, the driver of the No. 24 Team Hendrick Chevrolet won three of the final four stages to score his first All-Star Race victory.
“I can’t believe it,” Elliott said. “What better night to have fans back than tonight--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.”
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr., rounded out the top 10 in what was far from the barnburner NASCAR expected.
Kurt Busch was the first victim at Thunder Valley after Keselowski tagged the No. 1 Chevy in Turn 1 on Lap 8. Busch finished 20th, the last car on the lead lap.
Blaney won the first stage followed by Harvick, Elliott, Bowman, Almirola, Logano, Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman. Harvick claimed the lead out of the pits for the Lap 56 restart but Newman spun on the backstretch to trigger the third caution on Lap 57. Once the race restarted on Lap 62, Elliott took the lead and held the point for the Stage 2 win.
The No. 12 Penske team elected to remain on the track when the leaders pitted prior to Stage 3. He held the point for 19 laps until Elliott grabbed the lead again and the third stage win. Harvick and Logano pitted for tires prior to the final 15-lap segment and restarted 10th and 12th, respectively. But even with four fresh tires, Harvick could only race his way to third over the final seven-and-a-half miles.
“I think that was the right call,” Harvick said. “That was our only chance. We weren’t gonna beat the 9 where we were sitting on the same tires, so it all came down to getting past those cars for the first couple laps.
“In the end, it was definitely one lane. Much different than I thought it was gonna be.”
Kyle Busch trailed Elliott by .418-seconds at the finish of the 140-lap race. For the defending Cup champion, who is still searching for his first win of the season, the result was his fourth second-place result of the year.
“Even if I got to him, I wasn’t going to be able to pass him because the air following guys just wouldn’t let me get close enough all night,” Busch said. “Me anyways. Overall, I don’t know. Still felt like I had to drive 110 percent to even make that finish happen. Still kind of slow, just missing something. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) made some good adjustments on pit road there during the race to get us closer instead of just running 10th all night. Just second, that’s it.”
Elliott followed his father Bill’s footsteps as the only two drivers to win the event outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Elliott’s also became the second father-son duo since the Earnhardt’s to win the prestigious event.
"Bristol is an electric atmosphere that is unlike any other that we go to," Elliott said. "Couldn’t be more excited. We’re going to celebrate this one for sure. And we’ll take that million dollars back to Georgia, why don’t we.”
Almirola won the first stage of the All-Star Open to transfer to the feature. William Byron, who finished 12th, was the second driver to win an Open stage and move on. Matt DiBenedetto won the final Open segment, but hit the wall early in the All-Star Race. He recovered from 19th to 13th over the final 85 laps. Bubba Wallace, who was expected to earn the fan vote, was nailed by Michael McDowell 17 laps into the Open. He was scored 21st. Ultimately, Clint Bowyer was voted into the feature by the fans.
“You hate to lean on them (the fans), but it damn sure feels good to have the fans back at the track,” Bowyer said. “Thank you, guys.
“It’s fun to be around this place. You want to talk about an All-Star event, this is the right track to do it. It’s only gonna get better as we go here. We’ve already seen sparks flying, tempers flaring. I think you’re gonna see more of it.”