CONCORD, North Carolina (AP) A new format to NASCAR’s annual All-Star race left half the field confused to almost comical levels but did produce an aggressive race that ended with a thrilling victory for Joey Logano on Saturday.
Logano snatched the lead away from Kyle Larson with two laps remaining to win the $1 million exhibition event.
Although he didn’t win, Larson was the star of the day. He had to race his way into the main event earlier Saturday, and earned his spot in the 20-driver field by beating Chase Elliott in a stirring last-lap door-to-door battle to the checkered flag.
“Larson is a hard racer. I watched him in the Showdown earlier today and I knew what I was up against, I knew he was going to run hard,” Logano said. “What a crazy battle for a million dollars at the end.”
Larson was competitive during the 113-lap main event and won the second segment. He had to pit for four tires, restarted in third for the final 13-lap dash-for-cash and rocketed his way to the lead. He seemed to have it in control until Logano eventually caught him. Larson tried several times to hold him off, but as the two raced side-by-side, Larson smacked the wall and the damage took him out of contention.
“I’m super disappointed. I hate that I keep letting my team down,” Larson said. “They did everything right. They worked their tails off after I got all the damage in the Showdown. I’m having fun but this will be hard to get over.”
Once Logano cleared Larson, he cruised to the win ahead of Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who suggested much of the race format.
Keselowski defended the format, which cut the race into three segments and included a blind draw before the final shootout that ordered a random number of cars to make a mandatory four-tire pit stop. But it also created some apparent sandbagging and a lot of confusion among the drivers.
“There was a next to last lap pass for the lead. There were several passes for the lead,” Keselowski said. “The last four (All-Star) races, there hasn’t been a pass for the lead in the last 20 or 30 laps. Our fans deserve a better format than that, and they got that.
“I don’t know how you can get much more compelling racing than what we saw today, so they need to get unconfused and enjoy the racing.”
Third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted to being confused until the final segment.
“The intent was really positive and the ideas were great, but the simpler we make it, the easier it would be to follow,” Earnhardt said. “I was pretty confused right until it was 13 to go and it was all the normal rules. Gimmicks and all that stuff is going down the wrong path.”
The format came in part from the driver council, which Keselowski was elected to this season. He was largely credited for the finished product, and panel members Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were not fans of it after the race.
“It didn’t work, did it?” Busch asked.
On Twitter, Hamlin distanced the driver council from the format.
“It came from 1 (driver),” Hamlin posted. “Nobody liked it.”