Ryan Blaney won Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race in bizarre fashion.
The Team Penske driver led the final 84 laps of the exhibition race. It would have been a lower lap count if not for a last-second caution as Blaney came to what he thought was the original checkered flag.
As Blaney’s No. 12 Ford roared through Texas Motor Speedway’s tri-oval, NASCAR issued a caution for a minor incident on the backstretch that saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. get into the outside wall.
Given the special rules of the exhibition event, the race could not end under caution. But Blaney, thinking the race had ended, had unlatched the safety net from his driver side window.
The race remained under caution for multiple laps as Blaney tried to reattach the net. He was eventually somewhat successful, getting it halfway up.
In the overtime finish Blaney outran Denny Hamlin and Austin Cindric to take the checkered flag.
“I thought it was like any other race,” Blaney said. “That rule was never kind of relayed to us. I already took my window net down and everything. My left arm is worn out from trying to get that damn thing back up. I got it rigged up enough to where it halfway stayed. I appreciate NASCAR for not making us come down pit road to fix it and letting me get it clipped back again to where we could stay out there. This Mustang was a rocketship. I am really glad we ended up winning that after that last caution. I am so proud of everybody. Tonight will be fun.”
Hamlin acknowledged that Blaney “deserved” to win the race, but he wasn’t happy with what he saw as NASCAR bending the rules for him and not making Blaney pit to fully fix his window net.
“If you mess up and you break a rule – not intentionally, but there’s rules and we have rules in place for safety,” Hamlin said. “My crew chief is taking four weeks off because of safety (suspension for an unsecured wheel). I nearly crashed (Blaney) off of Turn 2 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.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, addressed the situation with media later on.
Miller admitted that the caution for Stenhouse was likely put out “prematurely.”
“The way that works in the tower, we’re all watching around the race track,” Miller said. “Obviously, the race director, who has the button and makes the call is the final say. … We saw the car and mentioned the car riding the wall along the back straightaway. The race director looked up and we’re not sure what he saw, but he immediately put (the caution) out. Wish we wouldn’t have done that, but we did that and we’ll own that we probably prematurely put that caution out.”
As for Blaney’s window net, Miller said officials saw Blaney with both hands on his steering wheel on the last lap before the restart and that the net appeared up.
“No way for us to know if he got it 100% latched or not,” Miller said. “At that point in time no way we can be certain that he didn’t get it latched so there’s no way we can call him down pit road at the time.”
Miller said it would have been “out of character” for NASCAR to bring Blaney to pit road to to fix the net and then given him back his track position.
“There was some speculation about doing that up there,” Miller said.
Never should have been a yellow in the first place. They put Blaney in the situation he was in. To make up for it they let him break a rule. 2 wrongs don’t make a right.— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 23, 2022
Blaney W, NASCAR L
Nascar is gonna gladly let you debate the window net so as you don’t reflect on how ridiculous that yellow flag situation was as Blaney was crossing the finish line to win.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 23, 2022
The top five was completed by Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez. Suarez finished in the top five after he raced his way into the main event by winning the final stage of the All-Star Open.
The first stage of the race was uneventful, as pole-sitter Kyle Busch led every lap.
Kyle Larson, the defending winner of the All-Star Race, brought out the first caution of the event. On Lap 12 of the second stage, the right-front tire of his No. 5 Chevrolet was cut down, sending him into the outside wall in Turn 4.
When Larson was interviewed by Fox Sports 1, he said it was Kyle Busch’s race to lose because it was “impossible” to pass.
Moments later, Busch’s right-rear tire went flat as he raced through the tri-oval with three lap to go. This allowed Austin Cindric to take the lead. But as Busch raced toward Turn 1 Ross Chastain slammed into Busch, sending his No. 1 Chevrolet airborne before landing on all four tires. Chastain then slid up the track into Chase Elliott. That contact sent Chastain into the outside wall.
Huge impacts after the No. 18 suffers an issue on the frontstretch. pic.twitter.com/6HirDTHigR— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 23, 2022
The incident resulted in a red flag as Cindric led over Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, William Byron and Christopher Bell.
Cindric would win the stage once the race resumed.
During the stage break, the pit crew competition was held. Joey Logano’s No. 22 team had the fastest visit to pit road, guaranteeing him a top four starting spot for the final stage.
When the third stage began, William Byron led over Blaney and Suarez.
On Lap 3 of the stage, Blaney passed Byron for the lead. With eight laps left in the stage, Stenhouse had to visit pit road for a cut right-rear tire.
Three laps later Christopher Bell, who was running in second, got loose and slid up into the Turn 4 wall to bring out the caution.
Under the caution, everyone chose to pit except the three Team Penske cars.
The third stage ended in an overtime finish, as Blaney raced unchallenged to the stage’s conclusion, with Suarez finishing second, Logano third, Michael McDowell fourth and Cindric fifth. Under the caution, the Penske cars and McDowell pit, but given All-Star Race rules, they kept their positions on the track.
On the restart with 50 laps to, Blaney pulled into the lead over Cindric.
Nothing of note happened until 29 laps to go when Erik Jones got loose and backed into the Turn 4 wall.
At the time, Blaney led over Cindric, Logano, Suarez and Hamlin. The top four cars, plus Truex, Buescher, Keselowski and Almirola stayed out.
Of those that pit, Hamlin was the first off pit road after taking just right-side tires.
The race resumed with 21 laps to go.
First Stage winner: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Second Stage: Chris Buescher
Third Stage: Daniel Suarez