Competition was hot and heavy in the Monster Energy Open Saturday night, with three transfer spots on the line for the Monster Energy All-Star Race and its million-dollar prize. Clint Bowyer won the pole, led the pack to green and romped to a win in the first stage by more than three seconds, with Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger in tow.
The racing behind Bowyer was hotly contested, with cars four-wide before the first turn and racing hard for every position. There was a hairy moment when Danica Patrick took the air off Trevor Bayne’s No. 6. Bayne got completely sideways but managed to hang on to his car with a memorable save that will make the highlight reels.
Bowyer pulled into the garage to prepare for his eighth career All-Star Race, leaving the 23 remaining cars to battle it out for the two remaining spots. Ryan Blaney led the field to green in the second stage and was able to get away from the field quickly. Blaney had been battling a loose racecar, but the clean air up front helped him to cruise early.
Chase Elliott had a slightly faster car than Blaney in the second stage, but Blaney’s smooth driving let him open up a lead as Elliott had to chase his car a couple times. While they raced up front, Austin Dillon and AJ ALlmendinger got together. Dillon had the second impressive save of the night, but a cut tire sent Allmendinger to the garage. The caution didn’t fly once again, though allowing Blaney and Elliott to race for the stage win. Elliott mounted a charge on the final lap, but it was Blaney who would take the stage and the transfer spot into his first All-Star event with Elliott, Daniel Suarez, Jones and Paul Menard in the top five.
The final stage was a ten-lap shootout for one last chance, and the field didn’t disappoint. Landon Cassill gambled for track position with a two-tire stop to lead the field to green, but nobody else took the bait, leaving Cassill to try to keep pace with Elliott and Daniel Suarez. It didn’t work out for Cassill, who spun his tires and was promptly spun from behind by Elliott, bringing out the caution flag for the first time in the event. Cassill was able to get to pit road for fresh tires and continue, and the damage to Elliott’s car was minor as well.
Suarez and Austin Dillon restarted on the front row, but Dillon couldn’t hang on, leaving Suarez to hold off Elliott and Erik Jones. Elliott was able to run Suarez down and that allowed Jones to join the party. Jones got into the grass trying to make a three-wide pass and cut a tire to bring out the second caution. Suarez held a slim lead when the caution flew and got a strong restart with three to go, leaving Elliott to fight off Austin Dillon behind him. Elliott cleared Dillon but didn’t have enough time to run Suarez down, and then a bobble sent Elliott up the track, allowing Dillon to get back by him. Suarez took the checkers for the win.
Elliott finished third, but will still advance after winning the fan vote.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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