CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch finally put his demons at Charlotte Motor Speedway to rest on Saturday night, winning the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race for the first time and pocketing a million dollars in the process.
After 12 years of trying, the win was Busch’s first-ever in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car at Charlotte, coming one night after his record-setting seventh NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumph in the Queen City.
Saturday night’s race featured stages of 20, 20, 20 and 10 laps, for a total race distance of 70 laps, but Busch wasn’t a major factor until the final sprint.
Busch led every lap of the final 10-lap stage, using a masterful three-wide pass on the final restart to work underneath both late-race leader Brad Keselowski and Stage 3 winner Jimmie Johnson before the field had even exited the quad-oval on the frontstretch.
Keselowski’s team put the ‘Option’ tires on prior to the start of Stage 3, then brought him back in before the green flag and put his final set of ‘Prime’ Goodyears on the car.
By rule, the option tires could only be put on as a sticker or new set, meaning that Keselowski’s options were ineligible to be used again and the 2012 champion was forced to stay out on old tires during the final round of pit stops.
While that did give Keselowski the lead at the start of Stage 4, Busch wasted no time in stealing the top spot for the first time all race long and driving off into the Charlotte night.
“It’s the All-Star race and we’ve never won at Charlotte in a Cup car, so we finally achieved that goal tonight and won the All-Star race and won a million bucks, so there’s reason to celebrate and to celebrate big,” Busch said in victory lane. “I can’t say enough about this team, everybody on this M&M’s Caramel Camry this week. It’s their first race and (we scored) the first win for those guys.”
“You know we weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes when it mattered most. We made the right moves when it mattered most and we got the most out of our night tonight and got here to victory lane. I feel so relieved … proud and excited all in the same time.”
Busch beat Kyle Larson, who won Stages 1 and 2 by leading the first 40 laps in succession, to the checkered flag by 1.274 seconds.
Larson used a massive slide job in Turns 3 and 4 to take the runner-up spot away from Jimmie Johnson on the last lap, but “just didn’t get going fast enough” to contend for the win.
“To quote (World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion) Donny Schatz, second sucks ass,” Larson lamented after the race.
The Cup points leader added that the difference in his race came on pit road prior to the final 10 laps.
“My pit crew has been awesome all year and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but we came down pit road the leader and three people passed us, so that was pretty much the difference there,” Larson said. “With only 10 laps, track position is huge. We just didn’t have it there at the end. We had the best car out there, for sure. … I thought we had (control for) most of the race but that’s how racing goes. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. We’ll go onto the 600, that’s a long race, and try it again.”
Johnson came home third after winning Stage 3 and contending for his fifth All-Star Race win, followed by Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.
Fan Vote winner Chase Elliott came home seventh, the only driver who came out of the Monster Energy Open who made the final segment.
Only 10 drivers advanced to the last stage on Saturday night, with the others eliminated based on average finishing position through the first three segments.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled all race long and was credited with 18th in his final All-Star Race appearance.