FORT WORTH, TEXAS – The race within the race at Texas Motor Speedway is the NASCAR All-Star Open, which kicks off an eventful Sunday afternoon. It’s the final opportunity for four out of the 16 drivers to advance into the main event.
Three spots are reserved for the three segment winners with the final being the fan vote winner. Once those spots are decided, 24 drivers will be fighting for a million dollars in “The Lone Star State.”
With the Open consisting of a mere 50 laps (20-20-10), the mindset is clear for the 16 competitors. There’s no time to lose as the preliminary event will go quick compared to the long and methodic 3+ hour races they’re accustomed to on a weekly basis.
Several drivers are looking to get back into the big show Sunday evening, including Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer. The 2020 Kentucky winner commented about the sense of urgency on trying to be a part of the 24-car all-star field.
“It’s going to come down to restarts,” Custer stated. “You got to be able to fire off good. Got to be able to make three-wide moves and be able to do what you want with your car. It’s going to be all about trying to have that short run speed. All of us just know that going into it, we got to be up on the wheel on the first lap.”
Temperatures are expected to be in the high 60s, a far cry from the high 90s on Friday. Therefore, the track conditions will be different than it was during Saturday’s 15-minute practice session.
Among the key changes is how will the Goodyear tires fare as its been a common topic all season with several tire failures. There weren’t any incidents, but Austin Dillon commented that tire grip will play a role in terms of how the car will handle.
“On short runs, firing off is key,” said Dillon. “Having a little bit of grip on the tires and do what you can to get going as fast as you can. Hopefully, fade gracefully because when you get a lot of air in those tires, it gets tight quick. I’m sure those last couple of laps you’re hanging on when you make the car edgy.”
Custer learned the dos and don’ts of navigating around the 1.5-mile circuit during the short session.
“We didn’t start exactly how we wanted and you only get 15 minutes. So, it’s kind of a thrash in trying to find what’ll make (the car) better,” said Custer. “I think we have some ideas, so it’s just a matter of getting ourselves some short run speed and being able to be good on restarts, so we can one one of those stages.”
For RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, while the practice session was short, aggression was apparent.
Improvements were made during single-lap qualifying where he was fifth quickest. As a result of pole sitter Tyler Reddick starting at the rear of the field, he’ll move up to the second row. The preliminary race itself is all about hustling for the No. 17 camp in order to be in the mix for an All-Star Race berth.
“We’re definitely working on it pretty aggressively there in a really short practice window. Never thought of saying that after every weekend being short. Good hustle by our group,” said Buescher.
“They did a nice job getting it much better for qualifying. We’re within striking distance but got a little work to do to get our Fastenal Mustang up to the front and race our way into the All-Star.”
While there are no points on the line, Buescher added that he’ll learn from what happened last Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Both the good and bad that came along his way that led to a 27th place finish.
“Definitely had a lot of good from Kansas. Had terrible luck along the way, but a lot of really good speed and a lot of good things we learned,” said Buescher. “We’re taking a lot of that (Sunday) but it’s gotta go quick though.
“Gonna have to hustle and find those spots as fast as possible and get aggressive on restarts. It was pretty wild Xfinity Series race. I think we’re hoping that we can take care of it a little better than they did. But it’s going to be a wild race.”
Justin Haley is looking to make his second All-Star Race, this time with Kaulig Racing, and to join teammate AJ Allmendinger in the main event. Throughout the season, Haley has had speed and at times strategy has benefitted him, notably at Darlington Raceway where he finished in third place.
However, each track is different to him in terms of how the car will perform.
“It’s kind of hit or miss each week,” Haley commented. “It’s everyone’s best guess if you’re going to be good or not, so just trying to work all through the processes until we get to tracks the second time. There’s been tracks we’ve ran really good at but also tracks that we’ve really suffered at. I’m just trying to figure out those good runs and apply those to our bad days.”
Coverage of the All-Star Open begins 5:30pm ET on FS1 with the All-Star Race set to commence at 8:00pm ET, also on FS1. With Reddick starting at the rear, second-place starter Daniel Suarez will be the control car in the first 20-lap segment.
2022 NASCAR All-Star Open Starting Lineup
- 8 – Tyler Reddick
- 99 – Daniel Suarez
- 47 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
- 43 – Erik Jones
- 17 – Chris Buescher
- 31 – Justin Haley
- 3 – Austin Dillon
- 7 – Corey LaJoie
- 21 – Harrison Burton
- 41 – Cole Custer
- 77 – Landon Cassill
- 42 – Ty Dillon
- 51 – Cody Ware
- 38 – Todd Gilliland
- 15 – Garrett Smithley
- 78 – BJ McLeod