By Cole Cusumano
When it was revealed the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race would be switching from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Bristol Motor Speedway on a Wednesday night, there was an inherent buzz from drivers and fans alike. These high expectations everyone had coming into this night were almost immediately met in the opening laps of the All-Star Open.
Starting from the pole via random draw, Michael McDowell headlined the exhilarating event after intentionally turning Bubba Wallace and wrecking him from fourth-place. The driver of the No. 43 was understandably livid after the Arizona-native slashed hit shot at $1 millon, calling him a “joke” on live tv.
In an exhibition race, a move like this should receive more lenience. However, for the move to be done less than halfway through Stage One was fairly unwarranted. Yes, there were bump and runs exchanged by both drivers, but it’s Bristol. That’s going to happen and often.
The bottom line is the Front Row Motorsports driver was gifted with a tremendous opportunity in starting from the pole and he reacted to an insignificant occurrence way too early on. He was able to finish seventh, but that won’t transfer you into the big event.
McDowell wasn’t the only one who succumbed to aggressive driving — the other being Ty Dillon. The grandson of Richard Childress impressively drove all the way up from 20th to second, but once the lead was in sight it seemed like he’d lost sight of the prize. Again, more beating and banging was taking place, as it does at the half-mile track, and the driver of the No. 13 let his anger get the best of him.
This all took place early in Stage Two and with a shot at a spot in the main event on the line, that kind of racing is expected. Unfortunately for Dillon, had he ran a smarter race and remained up front, he could have won his way into the All-Star Race.
Instead, arguably the three favorites coming in accomplished what they set out to do. Aric Almirola and William Byron dominated the opening two stages and Matt DiBenedetto won the 15-Lap shootout to end the Open. Claiming the final transfer position to the big race was runner-up, Clint Bowyer, who was praised by the 25,000 fans on hand when the news was announced.
Lastly, this event served as an appetizer for what teams and those watching at home can expect from ‘The Choose Rule’ and the product from Bristol as a whole.
The racing overall was stupendous and left many wondering why the All-Star event hadn’t been moved to the ‘The Last Great Colosseum’ sooner. It seemed as if this venue was catered for an exhibition race of this magnitude.
As for the ruling that drivers had been campaigning for for years — it was essentially a non-factor. No one was penalized for hitting the box and there was really no difference in the restarts.