FORT WORTH, Texas – When the money was on the line, Kyle Larson found a different lane.
Larson, fresh off back-to-back victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Sonoma Raceway, stormed to a $1 million payday during the NASCAR All-Star Race Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway after a brilliant pass in a lane at the top of the track that no one else tried to use all evening.
“I’m just glad Brandon Overton wasn’t here to take any more of our money,” Larson joked in reference to Brandon Overton, who earned $273,000 at Eldora Speedway this week after sweeping a pair of Dirt Late Model Dream events.
The race featured six stages, multiple inversions and a pit stop competition before ending with a 10-lap dash to the checkered flag and the $1 million grand prize. The average finish of each driver during the first four segments set the starting lineup for the 30-lap fifth segment, which featured a required pit stop in the first 20 laps of the segment.
Larson, by virtue of a random draw, started from the pole in the first 15-lap segment. He won that segment and followed it up with finishes of 14th, sixth and second in the segments that followed to secure the second starting position alongside teammate William Byron for the fifth segment.
The Hendrick Motorsports duo, along with teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, strategically stayed out longer than most of the other cars during the fifth segment in order to stretch their lead on the rest of the pack.
When the Hendrick drivers finally did pit, it was Elliott’s crew that got him off pit road first ahead of Byron, Larson and Bowman. That fast pit stop by Elliott’s crew not only got him off pit road first, but also earned the crew a $100,000 bonus for the fastest pit stop during the fifth segment.
Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski had waited until the last moment to make his pit stop and that ended up paying dividends.
Just as Keselowski was coming off pit road Ross Chastain spun and the caution flag waved. Keselowski was able to get off pit road before Elliott got to turn one on the race track, allowing Keselowski to retain the race lead.
During the restart Elliott, Byron and Larson were all able to get back by Keselowski, with the Hendrick trio crossing the finish line at the end of the stage in that order ahead of Keselowski.
That set up the final 10-lap dash to the finish with Elliott and Byron on the front row and Larson deciding to line up behind Elliott on the outside.
“I definitely wanted to be third because I wanted to be able to chose the outside,” Larson said. “I feel like you have more options when you go there.”
When the green waved Larson pushed Elliott while Ryan Blaney, who lined up second on the inside line, went three-wide to try and steal the lead.
Larson pushed Elliott clear of Blaney, but rather than stick with his teammate as they roared into turn three Larson went even higher and was able to get alongside Elliott to challenge for the race lead.
“That restart just worked out perfect,” Larson said. “Chase kind of got choked up and I was able to get to his back bumper and push him past the 12 (Blaney) and get him a little bit clear. He kind of shaded left a little bit much and I poked to the outside.”
They stayed side-by-side for a lap and entering turn three Keselowski saw an opening on the bottom and took it, storming below Elliott and Larson to briefly take the race lead coming out of turn four.
Larson managed to hang on Keselowski’s corner coming out of turn four, which allowed him to get a run through turns one and two to regain the lead. Despite being hounded by Keselowski for the rest of the race, Larson held on to win the All-Star Race for the second time in his career after previously winning it in 2019.
“I thought there had to be enough grip above where we’d been running for one corner,” Larson said in reference to his pass on Elliott. “It was a little slick up there, but I was able to get it and hold him off from there. I can’t believe it.”
Keselowski’s runner-up finish was his third in the All-Star Race. He’s never won the event in 13 attempts.
“It feels like running second to the Hendrick cars right now is an accomplishment,” Keselowski said. “They are just stupid fast. I had him off turn four but they just have so much speed. He just motored right back by me.
“It feels like a first-in-class day with the Discount Tire Ford. The team did a great job of executing and getting us in position, we just didn’t have enough speed to make the most of it. It was good execution day though and I am proud of that.”
Elliott finished third, with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney completing the top-five.