Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Hold My Watch, Richard

NASCAR’s second rendition of the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway and the 40th All-Star Race overall may not have featured the passing that we all crave, but it sure didn’t lack drama.

With only a couple of underdogs in the main event itself, there was the potential for a very quiet night from the dark horses of the sport.

However, under a full moon at a track with deep connections to NASCAR’s moonshiner roots, it didn’t take long for classic short track racing tempers to rear its head.

On the very first lap, Kyle Busch slid up the track while battling Michael McDowell in turn 2. That opened the door for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who said the limited number of laps ratcheted the level of urgency to gain track position.

See also
Punches Thrown Between Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, & Crews

Busch’s car appeared to get tight exiting turn 2, causing him to slap the wall.

Whether it was out of frustration with his 2024 struggles thus far, hitting the wall so early or whether Busch legitimately thought Stenhouse pinched him, “Rowdy” quickly showed his displeasure by turning Stenhouse the next lap, causing the No. 47 to overcorrect and careen into the outside wall.

Stenhouse, who appeared to have left plenty of room for Busch, saw his night on the track quickly come to an end.

However, his off-track plans were just getting started.

First, Stenhouse parked his car in Busch’s pit stall. He then climbed out and exchanged words with Randal Burnett (Busch’s crew chief) and Andy Petree (vice president of competition at RCR).

Following that, the warning was issued.

“We passed him,” Stenhouse told FOX Sports after being released from the infield care center. “He left the middle open there. You know, short race, you’re trying to get all you can get. We passed him and I guess he was mad. So I parked my car in his pit box. I figured he would do something like that. Maybe Richard [Childress, Richard Childress Racing owner] will hold my watch after the race.”

If you are unfamiliar with the watch reference, Childress once was livid with, ironically, Busch after a 2011 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway in which Busch made contact with Joey Coulter, who was driving for RCR.

After the race, Childress reportedly told Austin Dillon to “hold my watch” and got into a scuffle with Busch.

And just like that incident, Stenhouse didn’t let his mouth do the talking.

Since North Wilkesboro has no infield tunnel, the Mississippian waited the remainder of the race to meet up with Busch. Then, after a few short words, he went for a haymaker on Busch that would make Chuck Norris proud. A brawl ensued that included Stenhouse getting flipped over tires, his father grabbing Busch and several pit crew members turning the scene into NASCAR’s version of the Royal Rumble.

Whether this will escalate into a further feud will be closely watched in the coming weeks.

Still, despite a last-place finish in the All-Star Race, Stenhouse may have been the star of the show when the night concluded.

Other Underdog All-Stars

Two other underdogs got to shine under the stars. While he hasn’t typically been on The Underdog House list this season, McDowell is slowly beginning to regain form after a brutal first few months.

McDowell made his third All-Star appearance after winning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race last year. It was also his third All-Star appearance in the last four years.

Starting from ninth, the No. 34 team quickly switched to the primary tires from the option tires after the lap 2 caution. Unfortunately, McDowell struggled early on, sliding outside the top 15 and falling a lap down. However, he caught a break when the field reached the end of the first segment on lap 100, as McDowell was in the free pass position.

That translated into a quiet night overall for the 39-year-old, though things got a little uncomfortable on lap 118 when Ty Gibbs went around, forcing McDowell to take evasive maneuvers.

McDowell sat in 11th when segment two ended, and crew chief Travis Peterson brought him to pit road for right side tires only. The No. 34 won the race off pit road, setting McDowell up to restart in eighth.

Donning a Charlotte Knights paint scheme, McDowell held steady throughout each inning … I mean, lap. When the checkered flag flew, he finished in ninth, his best result in the All-Star Race.

Joining Stenhouse and McDowell in the show was AJ Allmendinger, who got in by virtue of his win at the Charlotte ROVAL in 2023. It was the veteran’s seventh appearance in the race, and the second for Kaulig Racing in its young history.

Unlike McDowell, however, Allmendinger was unable to get back on the lead lap after falling a lap down during the opening 100-lap stint. Despite a couple of battles for the lucky dog later in the race, the 42-year-old came out on the wrong end. Fighting an ill-handling car, Allmendinger fell another lap down in the final 42 laps to finish in 18th, two laps down.

Who’s Trending Up?

Can you believe we are 13 races into the regular season already? As surreal as it is to face the fact that we’re in mid-May, it opens up the opportunity see which underdogs are on the right track, or wrong track, heading into the summer.

Todd Gilliland: Out of the all underdogs on our list, Gilliland is the highest in points in 22nd. The third-year driver might only have one top 10 so far, but don’t let that fool you. He’s landed a top 15 in four of the past six races and has already led a career-high 95 laps this season.

Carson Hocevar: Hocevar has endured a three-race stretch where he’s finished outside the top 20, but that shouldn’t overshadow what he’s accomplished so far. The freshman driver is just 19 points back of Josh Berry in the Rookie of the Year standings, and he leads his Spire Motorsports teammates in the standings sitting in 25th. With a top 10 at Texas Motor Speedway and three top 15s, look for the young phenom to reach greater heights as the year progresses.

Justin Haley: 32nd in the standings may not scream stardom, but Haley is doing exactly what he needs to at Rick Ware Racing. He doesn’t have a DNF this season, and he’s putting the No. 51 in positions it has never been before. Haley came into the All-Star weekend with finishes of 18th and ninth at two intermediates. That alone is an accomplishment for the growing team.

Who’s Trending Down?

John Hunter Nemechek: If you expected more from Legacy Motor Club this season, which swapped to Toyota and has 15 Cup titles among its leadership, you aren’t alone. Throw in Nemechek, who won seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races last season, and this team appeared destined to succeed. But after meddling inside the top 20 in points after the first 10 races, Nemechek has slipped to 24th in points. To make matters worse, he has finished 31st or worse in four of the past six races.

Harrison Burton: In what appears to be a make-or-break year for Burton in his third season, his future in Cup is very murky. The third-year driver is on pace for a career-worst average finish, and he sits 33rd in points, second-lowest among full-time drivers. With rumors that he may already be out at Wood Brothers Racing come season end, things need to turn quickly for him.

Zane Smith: Another driver who carried a lot of optimism into the year, the 2022 Truck champion has about had the wheels fall off the bus. On loan to Spire Motorsports from Trackhouse Racing, Smith is lowest in points of full-time drivers in 35th and he only has two top 20s this season.

What They’re Saying

Stenhouse (20th):

Small Team Scheme of the Week

As mentioned earlier, the Charlotte Knights baseball team came aboard McDowell’s No. 34 to attempt a home run for one million dollars. They may have come up several yards short, but the scheme was out of the park, featuring a vibrant blue design to match the smooth navy base.

About the author

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Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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janice

so kyle busch popped 2 hits on steinhouse’s father. interesting. wonder if the police will end up involved.

Pool Medic

Doubt it. But Stenhouse Sr. Should lose his hard card for getting involved

Kevin in SoCal

I don’t blame the man for trying to keep Busch away from his son. Although his son threw the first punch.

Kevin in SoCal

I find it hilarious when they interview someone who crashed out and they always say something like “we had a good car, we were moving to the front and challenging for the lead.” Yeah, no, it was lap 2 and Joey Logano led all but 1 lap. You weren’t going anywhere.

Wildcatsfan2016

A bunch of people jumped in to try and break up the fight including stenhouses dad. He got punched accidentally. No need for a fight though

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