Kevin Harvick has dominated NASCAR this season, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t do it again at Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On a restart with two laps to go, Harvick chose the outside lane, and the help of Ford stablemate Joey Logano pushed him past Daniel Suarez and into the lead.
That move was worth a cool $1 million when Harvick held off Suarez for his second victory in the All-Star Race.
“Our car was super fast and would accelerate well, and I just felt like if we could get to Turn 2 even we could take it on the backstretch,” Harvick said after the race on FS1.
And that’s how it unfolded, which for Suarez was bittersweet.
“It was not bad, but it hurts to be close and not win it,” he said on FS1.
But the biggest winner could be NASCAR after the way the cars ran against each other at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In fact, it might be worth a fortune to the sport’s sagging ratings and reputation.
A race package that had restrictor plates being used as well as a taller spoilers led to hard racing all over the track, if not necessarily always at the front, but even so the lead car couldn’t just check out and run away. That’s been lacking at 1.5-mile tracks such as Charlotte for years.
That package will not be used next week for the 600-miler at Charlotte or for the rest of the year because of an agreement with the race teams, but might be used in 2019 and beyond.
But fans may be clamoring, even demanding, the change before they go to sleep. Social media was decidedly in favor of the new package after the events.
And one track similar to Charlotte seemed convinced, with Texas Motor Speedway’s Twitter account showing, complete with a begging kitten GIF, “@NASCAR, one #AllStarRace package plz.”
Harvick, winner of five points-paying races this season, took the first 30-lap segment of the race, holding off Martin Truex Jr. as the laps wound down.
Kyle Busch took Stage 2 with Suarez second after another 20 laps. Real drama started to unfold near the end of Stage 3 as Alex Bowman wrecked with two of the 20 laps to go to bring out a caution.
That left drivers and teams to decide if they should pit for fresh tires with the overtime shootout to end Stage 3 and then the final 10 laps of the race, or stay out for track position.
Another crash meant double-overtime to end Stage 3, with Truex, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski taken out of contention in the wreck.
Harvick passed Suarez on the outside of Turn 4 on the final lap of Stage 3 to take it, setting up the final 10-lap sprint to the finish.
Bowman, Suarez and A.J. Allmendinger advanced out of the All-Star Open, held earlier to allow those not already in the big race to get into the All-Star Race. Chase Elliott got in via the fan vote for the third year in a row.
Bowman won the first stage of the Open, Suarez the second and Allmendinger took the overall honors after the stages of 20 laps, 20 laps and the final 10 were done.
That set up the big event, run in four stages with nothing on the line but $1 million to the winner. How much of that million the drivers see is based on their contracts with their team, as the purse is paid to the team.
Elliott, likely to take the mantle of NASCAR‘s most popular driver now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has retired, was thankful.
“Hopefully this time next year we will be in the big show and we don’t have to worry about it,” Elliott said of the fan vote. “… Being the third year in a row, that does mean a lot to me. It is pretty special as a racer that the folks at home voting have my back like that.”
Elliott finished fifth in the All-Star Race.