Ryan Blaney held off Denny Hamlin on an overtime restart to win his first career NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 22. Team Penske teammates Austin Cindric and Joey Logano finished third and fourth while All-Star Open segment winner Daniel Suarez finished fifth.
How did it happen?
In an overtime restart that should not have happened.
In the final stage that was 50 laps, Blaney cleared his Team Penske stablemate Cindric to take the lead and did not look back. Even after the caution that flew as a result of a spin from fan vote winner Erik Jones, Blaney was sailing away from the rest of the field.
With a three second lead over Hamlin, who had pitted during the mid-stage caution to take two tires, Blaney was continuously pulling away from the rest of the field on route to his first All-Star victory and a $1 million prize.
Then, 50 feet away from crossing the start/finish line to take the checkered flag, the yellow lights flashed to Blaney’s right. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who was running in the back of the field at the time, had slapped the wall.
Now, to be clear, Stenhouse did not spin out. He did not crash. He didn’t even hit anyone else. Stenhouse had made contact with the wall and slowed his speed. There seemed to be very little safety incentive to throw the yellow flag, especially when the leader is literally a second away from ending the race.
The caution came out before the leader took the checkered flag.
We'll go to NASCAR Overtime. pic.twitter.com/AbGB7BByt1
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 23, 2022
But the trigger-happy yellow banner flew, and since it was the last lap, everyone believed Blaney had won the race – everyone including Blaney himself, who then took his window net down as he believed he was going to celebrate on the frontstretch. Something that every driver has done in the history in the sport after winning a race.
In the All-Star race, however, the final stage must end under green flag condition. So, there would be one more restart attempt.
Uhhh….. wait what? The race isn't over?
Bruh just call it @NASCAR
— Eric Estepp (@EricEstepp17) May 23, 2022
A surprised Blaney was told that there would be an overtime attempt, and indeed the race was not yet over. But his window net was already down, and while at speed, window nets are almost impossible to hook back on, meaning Blaney would have to restart without his window net secured unless he came to pit road to fix the issue.
No way he can hook the window net himself
— Mark Martin (@markmartin) May 23, 2022
In terms of safety, that’s bad. Very bad.
In the event of a crash, Blaney would be open to the elements, meaning any flying debris would be able to enter the cockpit through the open window, or even worse, something inside the cockpit could get out – like his arms.
So, it was in NASCAR’s safe hands to remedy the situation. Would they allow Blaney to come to pit road to get the window net hooked and regain his hard-earned position? Or would they black flag him and force him to come to pit road and restart him at the rear?
It's not a points race and it's confusing. Just let him pit and fix the window net and keep the lead and then do the restart.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 23, 2022
Because, after all, surely, they wouldn’t let a driver race at speed without a window net, right? Right?
But they did.
— Blake McCandless (@MrF4Speed) May 23, 2022
In the eventual restart, Blaney was eventually able to clear Hamlin and pull away enough to secure his first win, all while feeling the cool Texas air running straight into the left side of his face.
It was the end of a very controversial call by NASCAR officials, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Because if Blaney hadn’t won in that overtime restart, the fallout would be so much worse.
Thank god @Blaney won.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 23, 2022
Who stood out?
He qualified second, led the most laps with 84 and won the last two stages of the race. He even held off Hamlin, who had two fresher tires, for the final 20 laps. On top of that, Blaney crossed the finish line without a secure window net to protect him. That’s pretty darn impressive.
The Penske driver certainly needed the confidence boost to motivate him too. After 13 races in 2022, he is the only driver in the Penske camp that has not won a points-paying Cup Series event. Even more recently, the North Carolinian has been in somewhat of a slump, as he has not finished in the top 10 since the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But a win will help motivate him, surely. Plus, an extra $1 million won’t hurt either.
Among the field of 20 All-Star racers were the four additional drivers that were added after the race’s B-main – the All-Star Open. Stenhouse, Chris Buescher, and Suarez raced their way in while Jones won the fan vote award. Most drivers who race their way in or are voted into the main event run around midfield and sometimes can crack the top 10 to earn a respectable result.
But not Suarez.
Suarez, who after barely racing his way into the main event through winning the final stage in the All-Star open, had raced his way through the star-studded field to the top five before the end of stage two and even finished second in stage three. He ended the night in fifth.
Despite his teammate’s success, Suarez remains winless in his Cup Series career, but Sunday night he showed he had the speed required to run up front.
Raced every lap like it was the last one 😅 The boys and girls at @TeamTrackhouse brought us a fast 99 @Freeway_Ins Chevy, we just came up a little short! We’ll come back stronger for the Coke 600 🚀 #TeamChevy pic.twitter.com/PkcVDOZnVP
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) May 23, 2022
Who fell flat?
As Kyle Busch led during stage two of the exhibition event, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver cut a tire while leading. With nowhere to go on the tri-oval frontstretch, Busch veered to the left and in front of the hard-charging Chastain.
Ross Chastain slams into Kyle Busch at Texas and launches off the No. 18 car. Wow. He's okay. pic.twitter.com/3QSt8GdPVj
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 23, 2022
It was certainly the incident of the evening, and undoubtedly the preventable highlight of the race.
That was until the last caution flag occurred.
There was no mishap greater, no judgement anymore misguided, and no manipulation more blatant than that of the racing officials that threw the final caution flag.
Never should have been a yellow in the first place. They put Blaney in the situation he was in. To make up for it they let him break a rule. 2 wrongs don’t make a right.
Blaney W, NASCAR L
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 23, 2022
It is simply a controversy that could have been easily avoided.
Scott Miller admitted #NASCAR likely prematurely put out the caution for Stenhouse.
— Daniel McFadin (@danielmcfadin) May 23, 2022
Normally, I try to play devil’s advocate when it comes to officiating calls. It certainly can’t be an easy position to take, and there is so much pressure to make the right call as any incorrect move will upset millions of race fans.
It’s the classic “couch referee” argument. It’s easy to make your own call in the safety of your own living room when there’s no pressure on you and a million dollars aren’t on the line.
But the call made to throw the caution while Blaney was merely feet from ending the race simply does not make any logical sense.
I know it is easy to pile on #Nascar, but damn that was bad. Bad track. Bad format. Bad racing. Bad start time. Bad final caution. Bad ruling on the 12. NASCAR needs to rethink the ENTIRE All-Star race.
— Classic Nascar (@classicnascar) May 23, 2022
The idea of the caution flag is, and always has been, to slow the cars down to safe speed in the event of an on-track accident to prevent any further accidents. It’s a safety precaution. So, with that being said, what is the point of throwing the yellow if the race is about to end anyway?
Even further, the incident in question was not caution flag worthy, meaning the official that decided to push the caution light button jumped the gun because he or she was looking for any reason to have a late race restart. As soon as they saw the smoke on the backstretch, they pulled the yellow trigger.
At least NASCAR admitted it.
What did this race prove?
Let’s step away from the controversial overtime finish for a moment.
With NASCAR being more creative with its schedule in recent years, it’s time to reopen the idea of rotating the All-Star race – not that the idea ever went away to begin with.
Remember when the All-Star race was one of the most anticipated races of the year? Each year the annual exhibition event was a sure thing to be an action-packed wild night of racing, tempers, and rivalries for the sake of winning a million dollars.
All the way up the pace laps of the event, that anticipation was building again. No, it certainly didn’t feel as special as it has in the past years, but a million dollars is still a million dollars, and Sunday night was shaping up to be a fun break from racing for the sake of points but rather for the sake of something more rewarding instead – bragging rights.
But after two laps, everybody was reminded this was Texas, and in a race that’s supposed to focus on entertainment, you need to race at an entertaining track.
Stage 1 was about as fun as a rice cake.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 23, 2022
After being moved from its traditional home of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2020 to Bristol Motor Speedway and then to Texas one year later, the All-Star race became open to the ongoing debate of whether or not it should be rotated every year – especially after it was moved to Texas.
The All-Star race is meant to be the site of beating and banging as well as side-by-side, white knuckle racing. You can’t do that at a track that only has 1.5 lanes to race in. To make matters worse, narrow lanes make passing the leader of the race all the more difficult, which is probably why there were no green flag passes for the top spot except for Kyle Busch’s tire blowout while leading.
It wasn’t all terrible. The race format was simple and easy to understand. The gimmicks were kept lower than years past, the pit crew competition made a return – kind of – and in the end, there was indeed passing in the midfield. Thank you, Next Gen.
But the All-Star race shouldn’t be just mediocre. It should be perfect. It should be a race that we can be excited for, you know, like we used to be?
Texas simply does not fit those requirements. At least not now.
Paint scheme of the race
There was a time when the All-Star race featured a field full of fun alternate colored paint schemes that were often memorable to race fans. Some of them became so iconic that we remember them to this day.
Remember Kurt Busch‘s golden Miller Lite scheme in 2007? Or Dale Earnhardt’s rainbow-colored Peter Max No. 3 in 2000? Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s grey ghost paint scheme in 2008? How about the infamous T-rex scheme ran by Jeff Gordon in 1997?
We don’t get those anymore, but at least there are a few paint schemes that are still appealing to the eye. Even if they’re not special one-off designs.
For the 2022 edition, it seemed that AJ Allmendinger‘s hot pink and yellow Andy’s Frozen Custard livery was the highlight of the field.
— Kaulig Racing (@KauligRacing) May 22, 2022
Better than last time?
With all of the abominable late race caution flag calls, tire issues, and lack of leaders racing? Kind of.
The stats aren’t great when you compare it to last year. The combination of the 550-horsepower package and the Texas racing surface made for an awful combination. Yet, despite this, there were still eight different leaders for 10 lead changes in 2021.
This year, there were four leaders and four lead changes. All of them were made either under caution or after the leader had crashed.
So, does that mean this year was actually worse? Not exactly. Because despite the lack of lead changes, passes were still being made in the midfield. Suarez, as mentioned earlier, started 23rd and found himself in fourth by the end of stage two. Hamlin pitted on the penultimate caution and had to restart nearly 10th. He was second with 10 laps to go.
So, the competition for the lead wasn’t better, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any passing at all.
However, in the end it’s still weighing the lesser of two evils, and only further proves the All-Star race needs a change.
NASCAR tackles the longest race of the season.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns home to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. Cup qualifying for the endurance race begins on Saturday, May 28 at 7:45 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. The 600-mile race will be televised live on FOX on Sunday, May 29 at 6 p.m. ET.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.