NORTH WILKESBORO, NC — Kyle Larson didn’t mince words after his third All-Star victory in the last five years.
“That was an old-school (butt) spanking, for sure,” Larson said.
Larson put in a dominating effort to earn his third All-Star career and win $1 million Sunday night in the Cup Series return to North Wilkesboro Speedway after a 27-year absence.
He became the fourth driver to win the All-Star race at least three times. Jimmie Johnson has the most with four wins, while Larson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt have three. Larson is the first to win the All-Star race at three different tracks, having also won at Charlotte in 2019 and Texas in 2021.
He celebrated the win with a full exhausting lap around the .625-mile track as Hendrick Motorsports won his 11th All-Star race.
Bubba Wallace finished second in the 200-lap exhibition race with no points, followed by Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Chase Elliott.
But only Larson collected prize money in the winner-take-all event.
Wallace joked that “the best of the rest” won.
“Larson was off, so congratulations to him,” Wallace said. “They’ve been hitting heads all season, so running second behind them isn’t a bad thing. But running second in the All-Star race sucks because you go home with nothing.”
Larson wasn’t sure if he would finish better than 15 after struggling in the heat races on Saturday night.
“I didn’t think there was enough there for (my team) to upgrade me,” Larson said.
So when Larson was penalized for speeding on lap 24 and sent to the back of the field, he figured it wasn’t his night.
But after putting on the new tires, he drove his No. 5 Chevrolet to the front of the field, passing 16 cars, including polesitter Daniel Suárez, on lap 56. Larson built an 11-second lead going into the first yellow flag of the competition in lap 100.
“Once I was getting people out, I was like, man, is my car that good or is it the tire mismatch?” Larson said. “So I thought, shoot, our car is pretty good. So I tried to do as many laps as I could.”
The race caution did not stop Larson, who was never seriously challenged in the second half of the race.
“We had a great car going through the long runs and I was thinking there was going to be a caution for sure,” said Larson, who also won the Truck Series race at North Wilkesboro on Saturday. “I got to a big lead and I could see everyone’s cars were driving like crap in front of me.”
If fans came to see the accidents, they left disappointed.
There weren’t any.
And the only pass they saw for the lead was Larson passing Suarez in what amounted to another short-track nap in a season in which NASCAR has struggled with non-competitive racing.
“It’s no secret that everyone in the industry, the fans, has expressed a desire for better short-track racing, so I think what happened tonight matches what that narrative has been as of late,” Reddick said. “NASCAR is working on that and we’re all going to put our heads together and try to make short track racing better.”
North Wilkesboro Speedway’s repaired asphalt track held up fairly well after a week of racing despite not having been paved in over three decades.
The track, which lay mostly idle and overgrown, was restored with the help of Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season.
Suarez and Chris Buescher started on the front row for the All-Star race after winning their 60-lap series on Saturday night, when NASCAR first experimented with wet-weather tires on Cup cars.
Suárez dominated from the start, leading the first 55 laps of the race, while Buescher quickly lost his pace early, falling to tenth after just five laps when he got stuck on the outside.
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