HORTICIS WILKESBORO, NC (AP) — Kyle Larson didn’t mince words after his third win in the last five years in the All-Star Race.
“It was an old-school (butt), for sure,” Larson said.
Larson put together a dominant effort to run away in his third All-Star race and earn $1 million Sunday night in his return to North Wilkesboro Speedway after a 27-year absence from the Cup Series.
He became only the fourth driver to win the All-Star Race at least three times. Jimmie Johnson has the most wins with four, while Larson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt have three each. Larson is the first to win the All-Star Race at three different tracks, and also won at Charlotte in 2019 and Texas in 2021.
He celebrated the win with a full lap of burnouts around the .625-mile track as Hendrick Motorsports won its 11th All-Star race.
Bubba Wallace finished second in the 200-lap non-points feature race, followed by Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Chase Elliott.
But only Larson collected the prize money for the winner-takes-all.
Wallace joked that he won “the best of the rest.”
“Larson was lights out, so congratulations to him,” Wallace said. “They’ve been hitting heads all season, so it’s not a bad thing to run second to them. But running second in the All-Star race is unpleasant because you go home with nothing.”
Larson wasn’t sure if he would finish better than 15th after struggling in Saturday night’s heat races.
“I didn’t think there was enough (of my staff) to make me better,” Larson said.
So when Larson was penalized for speeding on lap 24 and sent to the back of the field, he knew it wasn’t his night.
But after picking up new tires, he drove his No. 5 Chevrolet to the front of the field, blowing past 16 cars, including pole-sitter Daniel Suarez on lap 56. circle 100.
“One time I was picking people up and I thought, man, is my car that good, or the unevenness of the tires?” Larson said: “At that time I was like shot, our car is pretty good. So I tried to spin as much as possible.’
The competitive caution didn’t slow down Larson, who was never seriously challenged in the second half of the race.
“We had a great car in the long run, and I thought there was definitely going to be a caution,” said Larson, who also won Saturday’s Trucks Series race at North Wilkesboro. “I got out to the big lead and saw everyone’s cars driving in front of me.”
If fans came to see destruction, they left disappointed.
There were none.
And the only pass they saw for the lead was Larson passing Suarez, amounting to another short-track sleeper in a season where NASCAR has struggled with uncompetitive racing.
“It’s no secret that everybody in the industry, the fans, have been vocal about wanting better short track racing, so I think what happened tonight fits that story lately,” Reddick said. “NASCAR is working on it and we’re all going to put our heads together and try to make short track racing better.”
North Wilkesboro Speedway’s patched asphalt track held up pretty well after a week of racing, despite not having been paved in more than three decades.
The track, mostly dormant and overgrown with weeds, was restored with the help of Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season.
Suarez and Chris Buescher started on the front row for the All-Star Race, winning their 60-lap race Saturday night as NASCAR tested wet-weather tires on Cup Series cars for the first time.
Suarez dominated early, leading the first 55 laps of the race, while Buescher quickly fell off the pace, dropping to 10th after just five laps as he was stuck on the outside.
Kevin Harvick, who is set to retire after the season, last drove the No. 29 car in a white paint scheme.
It’s the same car in which the two-time All-Star winner started his career with Richard Childress after filling in for Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 following Earnhardt’s death.
Harvick normally runs the No. 4 for Stewart-Haas Racing, but SHR has reached an agreement with RCR to allow him to drive the No. 29 car.
Earlier in the day, Josh Berry won the All-Star Open to move into the All-Star race along with runner-up Ty Gibbs and fan vote winner Noah Gragson. Berry took the lead with 23 laps remaining when he passed Gibbs on the inside apron of the track.
“It’s pretty cool to be here, special,” Gibbs said. “I wasn’t alive when they competed here, but it’s really cool. It’s a well-worn race track, but fun. Just kind of looking for patches, looking for a grip.”
There were two crashes in the open race, including one involving Michael McDowell and Justin Hale, both of whom were running in the top five at the time before Gibbs collided with McDowell.