CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott took home the spoils of victory in Saturday evening’s Monster Energy Open, winning their respective stages to advance into the 33rd annual Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
After winning the pole in qualifying earlier in the day, Bowyer dominated the opening 20-lap stint, leading from wire-to-wire en route to transferring out of the Open for the third time in the last four years.
The Emporia, Kansas native beat Blaney to the green-checkered flag by 3.653 seconds in a caution-free run.
“The task at hand is a million bucks,” said Bowyer, who will compete in his eighth All-Star Race start later in the night. “We did good there. (Crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and all the guys on this 14 car brought a really fast race car. It was fast yesterday in practice, and obviously being fast in qualifying enabled us to start up front, have that clean-air benefit and win that first stage. Now we can focus on being a part of the big boys and running for that million bucks.”
Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and A.J. Allmendinger completed the top five at the end of Stage 1.
From there, the field came down pit road, and on the restart Blaney replicated Bowyer’s show of speed from Stage 1. The third-generation driver wired the second 20-lap run to win Stage 2 and punch his ticket into the big dance.
Blaney admitted that running the preliminary was arguably more nerve-racking than what he’ll face come post time for the All-Star Race.
“Honestly, I think it’s more pressure to just get in it than (there is) in the All-Star Race itself,” Blaney said. “Once you’re in it, you’re just gonna race hard for a million bucks.”
“I was probably more nervous trying to hold Chase off there than I will be all night trying to get up through the field. You want to have a chance to race for the money and the Open is our way to do it. I didn’t want to do anything to blow that. So yeah, I think there was more pressure in the Open than the actual All-Star Race, but you never know.”
Saturday night will mark the Wood Brothers’ first appearance as a team in the All-Star Race since 2012 with Trevor Bayne.
The third and final stage began with Landon Cassill on the point after a two-tire pit call, but Cassill’s chances went awry immediately when the green flag came out, as he struggled to get up to speed and was spun by Chase Elliott on entry to Turn 1.
Once racing resumed again, Suarez jumped out to the point, but was hotly pursued by Elliott as the duo battled tooth-and-nail for the final transfer spot.
Elliott got alongside Suarez coming to three laps to go, leading at the start-finish line as a charging Erik Jones ducked to the grass to try and make it three-wide entering Turn 1.
Jones sustained left-front fender damage and eventually spun to bring out the caution, setting up a shootout for the final stage win.
Suarez got the jump he needed on the final restart and sailed on to win the Monster Energy Open in his rookie appearance, while Elliott faded to third after a last-lap battle with Austin Dillon.
“I took the bottom (on the restart) and I said, ‘Man, maybe I want the top.’ But I was thinking, too, that the bottom was stronger all day long and was a little dirty out there in (Turns) 1 and 2. I knew that if I could have a good restart and be clear by (Turn) 1, I was going to be fine … and we had a decent restart right there and it worked out well.”
Despite his late struggles, Elliott still made the All-Star Race as the Fan Vote winner, while Regan Smith and Danica Patrick completed the top five.
The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race goes green at 8 p.m., live on FOX Sports 1 and the Motor Racing Network.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…