The Winston Cup Monster Energy All Star Open and Feature
The new package, first run in the Lillys Brickyard 250 last season, was anticipated to where the lone practice session before the race was monitored more intently than most practices. As one might expect the drivers spent lengthy time feeling out the cars, and as they got comfortable they became more spirited, to where late in the session there was a roughly 20-car sidedraft.
Takeaways from the most anticipated All Star Race in years -
Scoring showed 38 lead changes, nineteen official and nineteen additional between the Open and the Feature. Even with that passing the leader proved harder than hoped, but clearly this was not caused by this package, given the drivers now have a genuine drafting effect to work with. Handling proved more important than perhaps anticipated, especially fresh tires - all of which teams will address down the road. Historically the draft has mattered at Charlotte and Atlanta but not to quite the effect as at Daytona and Talladega; it nonetheless has been an aid to passing.
For several lengthy periods the leader was free because his pursuers spent too much time racing for second. Kevin Harvick had posted the strongest trap speeds down the backstretch in Friday's qualifying session and it showed in the race at the end the way he was eating his chasers up entering Three. It showed anew how much stronger Harvick is compared to everyone else.
In the Open Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez grabbed the first two segments and thus transferred to the Feature but it was AJ Allmendinger who stormed to win the race and then followed that up by flying through the Feature field. His very promising night ended when he whacked the wall pretty hard, thus denying the All Star Race a darkhorse winner even though he salvaged a respectable eighth at the end.
Allmendinger was one of several wildcards whose promising night didn't end as well as hoped. In the Open Bubba Wallace led seven laps and was clawing for the win; the last-lap three-wide near-shunt wound up killing his night down to a disappointing 11th.
It was once again a showdown between Harvick and the Toyotas and the Toyotas wound up either shooting themselves via a big melee involving Martin Truex and Kyle Busch or couldn't quite get past Harvick, as was the case for Daniel Suarez en route to a frustrating second.
It was yet another lousy night for the Roush Fords - Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse swept the front row then were never heard from again after Stenhouse led the opening five laps. The Ford fleet outside of Harvick curiously was also uneven - Joey Logano ran stout but crashed with Kyle Larson late and still finished third; Brad Keselowski was quiet all night and eliminated in the big wreck with Kurt Busch - his second crash of the night - and Clint Bowyer, who self-servingly whined the racing was like an Xfinity race. Ryan Blaney also had a rough night.
Though not in contention, the Chevrolets overall showed for the first time since Daytona some actual fight, especially Jimmie Johnson. Though it was the tail-end of the top ten, five Chevys nonetheless finished in the top ten - far and away better than what the Chevrolets have run pretty much all season.
But the big story was and is the restrictor plate-draft duct package and its effectiveness, to where Harvick on PRN seemed to offer an endorsement of it. "How do we merge this package and the superspeedway package to be the same, because I think we can." Certainly the bottom line is this package is far and away better than what the sport has had for many years. Difficulty passing the leader is no longer something the teams can't solve, and this race also showed while Harvick is well above everyone else it's no longer the canyon of a gap it had been earlier this season.
So the sport now has genuine reason to anticipate better racing and also that a number of teams will eventually ascend to challenge Harvick and others.