FORT WORTH, TEXAS – In a blink of an eye, a million-dollar payday would have been gone for Ryan Blaney. Coming 300 feet shy of taking the checkered flag, a caution for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. changed everything.
A domino effect unraveled as fans at Texas Motor Speedway booed the decision. NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller explained the situation of the caution that sent the race into overtime.
“Everybody knows that we’ve probably prematurely called that yellow flag,” said Miller. “We’re all watching around the race track. The race director who has the button and makes the call has the final say. We all watched and saw Stenhouse riding the wall and race director looked up and not sure what he saw, he immediately put it out. Wished we wouldn’t have done that.”
Such fiasco became an afterthought as Blaney’s window net was down, creating more controversy in terms of safety and leaving people scratching their heads. However, Blaney’s net was deemed safe by NASCAR and he would have to hold off the field one more time. That’s what he exactly ended up doing as he brought the No. 12 Menards/Wrangler Ford Mustang into victory lane.
In terms of the “premature” caution, Blaney was mad for about three seconds until noticing the window net was down. Suddenly, an “Oh shit” moment led to a greater problem.
“I felt like that did kind of take my head away from getting upset that the race wasn’t over,” said Blaney. “But I would have rather not had the window net issue and just dealt with, man, I’ve got to get another restart, honestly, because we do that stuff all the time. The window net deal, that’s a pretty — that never happens.”
Consistency has been vital for the No. 12 camp as they’ve scored the second most amount of points after 13 races. While there were not any points on the line, it was a huge win for Blaney and the organization. More so, it marked his first win with crew chief Jonathan Hassler.
“It’s awesome. It’s something that we’ve been — obviously not a points race, but we’ve been really close to winning races all year and I feel like we’ve had good speed and we’ve been working really hard to do it,” Blaney commented when asked about working with Hassler.
“To get our first win together as driver and crew chief, it’s really cool and really special. It’s neat. I feel like we came to the track this weekend with kind of a little bit different mindset in how we approached things with our race car and setup, and I felt like it had great potential. I felt like our car was really fast all night.
“A lot of positives leading out of this. A lot of momentum going back to Charlotte, and a lot of things to build off of. I’m just proud of the effort. Our car was really fast all weekend, and it showed tonight.”
Hassler explained that he felt his team has been really strong this season, validating the excitement he had when he succeeded Todd Gordon’s role at the end of 2021.
“I think I was really excited to come on board with this new car and have the opportunity to get so many tests early in the year, even late last season with Ryan,” said Hassler. “I think we got off on a good — got off really well together, and we came out of the gate really good. I think we competed for some wins early in the year.
“Me personally, I feel like we kind of lost a little bit over the last month and we’ve been trying to make sure we keep getting better and make sure we get that win and we’re there in the playoffs, able to compete for the championship.
“I think it’s been good, and we’re trying to get better each and every week.”
Denny Hamlin crossed the line in second but was extremely angry at NASCAR for not penalizing Blaney due to safety concerns of the window net. In an interview with MRN Radio’s Kim Coon, Hamlin had no issue with Blaney winning, but NASCAR should’ve played “by the f***ing rules.”
“If you mess up and you break a rule – not intentionally, but there’s rules and we have rules in place for safety,” Hamlin commented. “My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) is taking four weeks off because of safety (at Dover). I nearly crashed him off of turn two when I got squeezed there.
“If I send him into traffic and he’s got no window net, then what, right? Luckily, that didn’t happen and NASCAR avoids another controversy because there wasn’t a wreck in a car with no window net.”
Blaney knew that Hamlin would be tweeting right out of the gate and had he been in his position, he’d be upset as well.
“You’re running second and the guy makes a mistake and puts the window net down, and you expect it to be handed to you and the leader get black flagged,” Blaney on Hamlin’s remarks.
“I can understand his frustration for sure, but obviously I’m not going to say I’m frustrated about it. It worked out for us. We had the best car all night. We were leading the race three seconds before the last caution.
“But I can understand where he’s coming from. But that’s just a product of running second compared to winning. He would be over the moon elated in my position if he won the race and I’d be ticked off just like he was if he was second, so just kind of depends on the spot, so can’t blame him.”
In response, Miller commented that Blaney thought he’d won which led to the window net madness. Since it’s a non-points race, there were unique rules. Notably, if the caution came out before the driver took the checkered flag, even on the final lap, it’s not over.
“Every other race that we do besides this one, he would’ve won the race when the caution flag came out,” Miller commented. “They were celebrating and he put the window net down. We saw him struggling to get it back up.”
Additionally, NASCAR noticed that Blaney was getting ready for the overtime restart, convincing them that his window net was fine. Whether or not it was 100% secure was a hard call to decide if Blaney needed to be penalized. Had such call been made, it would’ve been “out of character” of what they had done in the past. If it was dangling, the decision would’ve been different.
“Coming to green, he was warming his tires back on the back straightaway. You can clearly see both hands on the wheel warming the tires up. The window net was up,” said Miller. “No way for us to know if he got it 100% latched or not. At that point in time, no way we could be certain if he got it latched. No way we could call him down pit road.”
In addition to Blaney bringing it home for Team Penske, teammates Austin Cindric and Joey Logano finished third and fourth respectively.
Logano, whose No. 22 pit crew won $100,000 for making the fastest pit stop after the second segment, explained the impact Penske has had in getting strong results when the opportunity arises.
“It all happened in different ways. That’s something that we should be proud of the most,” said Logano. “We were okay. A lot of fast cars crashed and I don’t think we were the fastest cars by any means. But we can get ourselves to the front one way or the other.
“Whether it’s on pit road, good restarts, or everyone working really well together, we were able to position ourselves in great spots for a million bucks. As a team, we should be very proud of that. Probably still need to be faster because there were some cars that wrecked were faster.”
Four drivers advanced into the main event with the three All-Star Open winners being Stenhouse, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez. Erik Jones won the Fan Vote which determined the 24th and final driver for the main event.
Out of the four, Suarez bested the bunch by working his way up to fifth. In his words, “a solid race” for the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Team.
“We had a fast car. Most of the night, we were a top-five car but lacking a bit on the Penske guys,” said Suarez. “They were also working together and taking care of each other. It was hard to pass them all.
“Overall, a good day. We have some good information and a few things that we can do better. Hopefully, we can improve those things for next week.”
Defending All-Star Race winner Kyle Larson was unable to get his third win after crashing in Turn 4 on Lap 37. A right front tire did him in and once the car moved up, the disappointment arrived.
“I don’t really think that made the (tire) wear any worse. It just let go in the center and took off,” Larson on his exit. “I hate that it happened. I feel like our car was good enough, depending on restarts since you can’t pass at all, especially the leader anyways. We’ll move on and look forward to the Coca-Cola 600, and hopefully put on some good racing there.”
The most wildest ride came from Ross Chastain, who ended up running into the left side of Kyle Busch, who had led the first 47 laps. Coming off Turn 4, Busch was off the pace due to a flat tire. Drivers tried avoiding him but Chastain ran out of real estate and took a wild ride. Chastain would keep his car from flipping over but ultimately clipped Chase Elliott that also saw his day end early.
Due to the chaos, the red flag came out in the All-Star Race for the first time since 2013 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All drivers were okay, but for Busch and Chastain, it was pure agony.
Busch had zero indication of the right rear tire going down and was disappointed to not bring home a million bucks.
“Just when I got to the exit of four, the right-rear went down. I was trying to limp it around and get it to the bottom of the track. Just got ran over,” said Busch. “I don’t know, just tough day for our M&M’s Camry, it was super fast. Just real proud of the guys, everything we had and we were doing it right. Just not able to go out and race for a million bucks right now. Pretty disappointed.”
Chastain, who already had a wild weekend after going to the care center due to being dehydrated after the Truck Series race, felt he chose the wrong lane to avoid Busch.
“Our Worldwide Express Chevy was tight all night and we were just managing the tightness,” said Chastain. “I saw Kyle (Busch) have an issue with a tire down. I guessed left and I should have guessed right. It was a big hit into Kyle. It was a tough break, but we had a fast car.”
Chaos, drama, and a million-dollar dream fulfilled, Sunday night at Texas will certainly be talked about for a long time. The focus now shifts to the longest race of the season — the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Live coverage of the 400-lap event begins Sunday, May 29 at 6:00 pm ET on FOX.
2022 NASCAR All-Star Race Results
- 12 – Ryan Blaney
- 11 – Denny Hamlin
- 2 – Austin Cindric
- 22 – Joey Logano
- 99 – Daniel Suarez
- 48 – Alex Bowman
- 16 – AJ Allmendinger
- 17 – Chris Buescher
- 6 – Brad Keselowski
- 20 – Christopher Bell
- 24 – William Byron
- 10 – Aric Almirola
- 45 – Kurt Busch
- 19 – Martin Truex, Jr.
- 34 – Michael McDowell
- 23 – Bubba Wallace
- 4 – Kevin Harvick
- 14 – Chase Briscoe
- 47 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (-1 lap)
- 43 – Erik Jones (Accident)
- 18 – Kyle Busch (Accident)
- 1 – Ross Chastain (Accident)
- 9 – Chase Elliott (Accident)
- 5 – Kyle Larson (Accident)