By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
The sport’s reigning Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott earned his first NASCAR All-Star Race win Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway – holding off the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch in the closing laps.
Elliott led 60 of the 140 laps en route to the $1.1 million paycheck. He and his father Bill Elliott join father/son combination of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to have won the sport’s midseason All-Star exhibition. Interestingly, Bill Elliott won the race when it was held in Atlanta and Chase’s victory at the half-mile Bristol, Tenn. short track are the only two times the event was held at a track other than Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet took a convincing lead at times in the second half of Wednesday night’s 140-lap event, but ultimately he had to hold off a hard-charging Busch who is still looking to hoist his first race trophy of the 2020 season. The winning difference between them was a mere .418-seconds.
The season’s driver standings leader Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and 2020 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. Ryan Blaney, who led a race-best 72 laps, finished sixth. His Penske teammate Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-10.
Elliott’s win was hugely popular even to the limited number of fans who were allowed to attend the race in person and they celebrated by showering the 24-year old with cheers.
“Oh my gosh, there’s no feeling like it, nothing like it,” a smiling Elliott said after climbing of his Chevrolet. “Bristol is an electric atmosphere unlike any place we go to. We’re going to celebrate this one for sure.”
“There’s nothing like Bristol. There’s nothing like the lights here. There’s nothing like racing here. I’ve never won here – what a race to do it. Just really proud of our team tonight and rebounding. We’ve had a really tough couple of weeks and just felt like we had kind of gotten off base and I felt like I was struggling.
“Just tried to hit the reset button this week, and came out and put on a great performance – great car. Just can’t thank all our partners enough, everybody that makes this happen. All those No. 9 hats and t-shirts up in the stands – love to see it.”
NASCAR tried a couple innovative and seemingly well-received ideas at the non-points race, including fitting the cars with lights that provided an under-glow and also a new format for re-starts that allowed drivers to pick whichever lane they preferred – outside or inside.
Ultimately, however, the race still came down to just old-fashioned horsepower and age-old strategy among the 20 drivers who earned positions in the race.
“We’re trying hard and we’re running okay, but it seemed like we were mired in 10th place for much of that race tonight and the last couple of adjustments really helped us,” Busch said. “Adam (Stevens) did a great job helping the car and making it better.
“I got a good restart and went from 12th all the way up to fifth [in the final 15-lap stage] so that was a huge bonus for us getting that track position. Overall, just got to keep fighting. I think that’s like four, five six second places this year, what do you do? You just have to keep going.”
Almirola’s ninth-place finish was the best among those drivers who qualified for the NASCAR All-Star Race by winning a stage in the NASCAR All-Star Open at the track earlier Wednesday. William Byron also advanced with stage win in the Open and Matt DiBenedetto took home the checkered flag in the NASCAR All-Star Open – his first time winning the non-points paying event. Clint Bowyer earned a position on the grid by winning the Fan Vote.
The NASCAR Cup Series resumes its regular season on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Coverage begins for the event at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.