NASCAR All-Star Race Preview: Texas All-Stars

NASCAR All-Star Race Preview: Texas All-Stars

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

NASCAR takes a break from the regular season schedule this Sunday night to hold its annual All-Star Race festivities.  Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with daily fantasy racing and many racing pools that form specifically for this event and its unique format.  Up until last season, NASCAR has held their annual All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The intermediate oval in North Carolina has become synonymous with this celebration of the sport's best drivers.  However, the sanctioning body moved last season's All-Star Race to Bristol Motor Speedway.  For the first time ever, NASCAR held this high profile exhibition on a NASCAR short track, under the lights.  This season, they've decided to stick with the new venue theme.  The 2021 installment of this exhibition event will be held at Texas Motor Speedway.  The intermediate oval in Fort Worth will host this event for the first time ever this weekend. 

This exhibition race is divided into several racing segments which ultimately culminate in the final segment in which a winner is crowned.  The racing begins Sunday evening with the All-Star Open, a 50-lap sprint race divided into three segments (20/20/10 laps) with the final 10-lap heat being the final dash to the finish. As many as four Open drivers can transfer into the All-Star Race, three by winning each segment of the Open, and the potential fourth by winning an internet fan vote.  To qualify for the Open, a driver must

NASCAR takes a break from the regular season schedule this Sunday night to hold its annual All-Star Race festivities.  Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with daily fantasy racing and many racing pools that form specifically for this event and its unique format.  Up until last season, NASCAR has held their annual All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The intermediate oval in North Carolina has become synonymous with this celebration of the sport's best drivers.  However, the sanctioning body moved last season's All-Star Race to Bristol Motor Speedway.  For the first time ever, NASCAR held this high profile exhibition on a NASCAR short track, under the lights.  This season, they've decided to stick with the new venue theme.  The 2021 installment of this exhibition event will be held at Texas Motor Speedway.  The intermediate oval in Fort Worth will host this event for the first time ever this weekend. 

This exhibition race is divided into several racing segments which ultimately culminate in the final segment in which a winner is crowned.  The racing begins Sunday evening with the All-Star Open, a 50-lap sprint race divided into three segments (20/20/10 laps) with the final 10-lap heat being the final dash to the finish. As many as four Open drivers can transfer into the All-Star Race, three by winning each segment of the Open, and the potential fourth by winning an internet fan vote.  To qualify for the Open, a driver must have finished inside the Top 50 of the 2020 Cup Series standings, attempted to qualify for the 2021 Daytona 500 or competed in a NASCAR Cup Series event during the 2021 season.  This is an exciting heat race, because the winners of the segments are usually drivers that are not normally contenders for the victory on most Cup Series race weekends. 

After the Open and later Sunday night is the Cup Series All-Star Race.  This is the night's main feature.  It is a 100-lap event divided into six segments of 15 laps, 15 laps, 15 laps, 15 laps, 30 laps and a 10-lap shootout finale.  The drivers who transfer from the Open join the drivers who are race winners from the previous and current Cup Series seasons, past All-Star event champions and Cup Series champions who are active drivers and have competed in at least one series event during the 2020 or 2021 season.  The starting grid for the first segment is set by random draw and then the green flag drops for 15 laps.  After the first 15-lap segment the field is partially inverted (between 8 and 12 drivers) for the start of the second segment.  Before the start of the third segment, the finishing order from the previous stage is completely inverted for the start of stage 3.  Round 4 is then another partial field inversion similar to round 2.  The starting field for round 5 is set by the average finishing order from rounds 1 thru 4.  There will be a mandatory four-tire pit stop that all teams must perform at the conclusion of round 5.  The finishing order of round 5 will then set the starting order for the sixth and final segment of 10 laps.  The winner of this sixth and final segment earns a hefty $1 million purse.  NASCAR overtime rules apply to all segments of the All-Star Race.  Only green flag laps count, so there will be no finishes under caution, and no caution flag laps taken off the board to shorten these exciting segments.

Since this is an exhibition racing event and a departure from NASCAR's normal racing format, we have to put the historical track statistics in proper perspective this week.  The stats can be skewed since most teams come to the All-Star race with "disposable cars" and are looking to hit the big payday even at the expense of wrecking the team's car.  However, we can rely to the historical stats to a certain degree when evaluating our contenders this week.  The stats in the table below cover the Top 15 drivers by average finish in the last 10 races at Texas Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishWinsTop 5Top 10PolesLaps Led
Kevin Harvick5.43692567
Joey Logano5.80690306
Kyle Busch8.03570344
Tyler Reddick8.501105
Kurt Busch9.5009241
Erik Jones10.10360112
Martin Truex Jr.11.40370441
Christopher Bell12.001105
Chase Elliott12.0025044
Ryan Blaney12.20361403
Aric Almirola16.10140101
Alex Bowman16.1022057
William Byron16.5002024
Denny Hamlin17.11240134
Ryan Newman17.600101

This weekend's race is unlike any of the normal Cup Series events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well.  We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in the All-Star Open, and then our picks for who'll contend for winning the sixth and final segment of the Cup Series All-Star Race.

The Open Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Tyler Reddick – This will be Reddick's second start in the All-Star Open.  He finished a respectable 10th-place in last season's battle in the Bristol mixing bowl.  The intermediate ovals have been kind to the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet so far this season.  Reddick has racked up three Top 10's in the five events to-date on the 1.5-mile ovals.  That includes his 9 laps led and ninth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte recently.  Texas Motor Speedway has yielded some results to Reddick in just one season of racing at NASCAR's top level.  He led 5 laps and finished runner-up at the Texas oval last July, and he also nabbed a Top-15 finish at the track at the end of last season.  Reddick will be battling for the win in this opening exhibition race.   

Chris Buescher – Buescher has really held his own among the stars in the Cup Series racing on the cookie cutter ovals this season.  The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has three Top 10's in five starts on these style tracks, including a three-race Top-10 string at tracks like Atlanta, Kansas and Charlotte.  Buescher's most recent work was an impressive eighth-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600.  He has a pair of Top-5 finishes in his last three starts in the All-Star Open, so he's always racing among the leaders in this event.  As for his Texas resume, Buescher has only visited the Top 15 once in his career at this oval.  We're willing to look past that considering how well he is racing right now and performing on these intermediate ovals.      

Matt DiBenedetto – The veteran Wood Brothers Racing driver led 15 laps and won last year's Open at Bristol.  It was DiBenedetto's first-career victory in that event.  While the track has changed for this season, this driver's excellence should be unaffected by the venue change.  The driver of the No. 21 Ford has snagged 11th-, fourth- and 18th-place finishes in his last three intermediate oval starts heading into this weekend.  Those are respectable results and show the competitiveness of this driver and team.  DiBenedetto also likes the track at Fort Worth.  He peddled to a career-best Texas finish of eighth in last October's Echopark Automotive 500.  In a race field that lacks mega-star power, DiBenedetto's name stands out as one to beat in this exhibition race. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – While Stenhouse has not been a world-beater on these cookie cutter tracks in 2021, he has been competitive and posted respectable results.  The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran has four Top-15 finishes in the five events to-date on these size tracks.  That includes his most recent finish of 12th-place in the long Coca-Cola 600.  Stenhouse has finished fifth- and sixth-place in his last two All-Star Open starts, so he's been racing among the leaders in this All-Star qualifying heat race.  Although the veteran driver has never cracked the Top 10 at Texas Motor Speedway, his last start at the oval was very encouraging.  He peddled the No. 47 Chevrolet to a respectable 12th-place finish last October at Fort Worth.  Stenhouse will be in the thick of the battle in this 50-lap sprint race. 

Ross Chastain – The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet will be making just his third-career start in the All-Star Open despite his five seasons of Cup Series racing experience.  The journeyman driver has not distinguished himself to this point in this exhibition race, but this time will be different.  The No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team is the best outfit he's brought to All-Star weekend.  After a slow start to the 2021 season, Chastain has begun to get some traction and show some results with his new race team.  He's earned a pair of Top-15 finishes in his last three intermediate oval starts and he's recently collected his first Top-5 finish of the season at COTA.  Chastain is heating up at the right time coming to Texas.  We expect Chastain to race among the leaders in the All-Star Open and contend for the win.      

Bubba Wallace – The driver of the No. 23 Toyota has had a bumpy start to his new season with his new race team.  Wallace has yet to crack the Top 10 this season and he's 22nd overall in the driver points entering the All-Star break.  The reason for our optimism is that things have been looking up of late for this driver and team.  Wallace has nabbed a pair of Top-15 finishes in his last three starts, including a respectable 14th-place finish at Charlotte.  Things have begun to move in the right direction for this young driver.  Wallace has never won the Open before, but he did finish a surprising fifth-place in the 2019 All-Star Race.  He has six-career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, so he's quite familiar with the track.  Wallace even has one Top-10 finish in those six prior starts.     

Aric Almirola – In a field that's generally short on experience, Almirola's name stands out.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has 14 years of racing under his belt at NASCAR's top level.  That's way more than the average across this very young Open field.  His recent Texas Motor Speedway exploits stand out in this thinner driver field.  The driver of the No. 10 Ford has four Top 10's in his last five Texas starts.  Despite the fact that Almirola has been mired in a slump for much of this season, we have to like his chances in this lighter field of drivers.  In fact, he could be the driver many don't see coming to win the NASCAR Open.  Almirola won stage 1 of last season's Open at Bristol to transfer into the All-Star Race, so he has that recent experience in this exhibition event.

The All-Star Race Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Larson – The young Hendrick Motorsports star is on fire coming into All-Star weekend.  Larson has won two consecutive races and he's either won or finished runner-up the last five events.  The intermediate size ovals have been particularly kind to the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet.  Two of Larson's three victories this season have come on the cookie cutter tracks.  Texas Motor Speedway has yet to yield a victory to him to this point in his Cup Series career, but that could easily change this weekend.  Larson was won the Open twice and the All-Star Race once in his career so he knows how to perform on this big time stage.  He has to be viewed at the top contender this Sunday evening at Texas.    

Chase Elliott – Elliott will make his sixth-career start in the All-Star Race this Sunday night.  The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is the 2020 All-Star winner from last season at Bristol.  While the racing will be completely different last season compared to this season in this exhibition event, that experience will still be very valuable.  Winning on the All-Star stage is a big deal and carries a lot of experience.  Elliott was a runner-up finisher and led 22 laps in the last intermediate oval race at Charlotte two weeks ago.  That "last look" on this style track is a good sign heading into All-Star weekend.  Elliott has never won at the oval in Fort Worth, but he's been a 50-percent Top-10 finisher there through his six-season career.  The youngster won his first-career Xfinity Series race at this track, so you know Texas is special to Elliott.

Kyle Busch – This will be Busch's 16th appearance in the All-Star Race. He is a one-time winner by virtue of winning at Charlotte in 2017.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star will visit one of his favorite short tracks this week, and that should make a big difference in his typical chances in this high-stakes exhibition.  Busch is a four-time Texas winner, including the last time NASCAR visited the track last October.  The veteran driver led 90 laps and marched to the dominant win in the Echopark Automotive 500.  Busch has been strong on the cookie cutter ovals this season with one win and four Top-5 finishes, including his recent third-place effort at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  He's easily one of the most experienced and proficient drivers at this fast intermediate oval. 

William Byron – For what Byron lacks in terms of All-Star experience he more than makes up for in proficiency at intermediate oval racing.  Just this season alone he's captured one win and five Top-10 finishes on these style tracks with 148 combined laps led.  He's not only been finishing well, but he's been leading laps.  Byron has yet to leave his mark on either the All-Star Race or Texas Motor Speedway for that matter.  However, we feel this time around will be different for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet.  Byron has ascended to the top tier of NASCAR drivers in 2021.  He'll be racing among them in this high profile exhibition race Sunday night.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick is a two-time winner of the All Star Race, and a Top-3 finisher in the last three All-Star events.  Racing on this big stage has been his niche for some time now.  The changing of venues to Texas Motor Speedway will play to Harvick's advantage this week.  He's a three-time winner at the Fort Worth oval since the 2017 season.  That means that the Stewart Haas Racing star has won three of the last seven events at TMS.  With close to 700 career laps led at this facility, it's become one of Harvick's most successful intermediate ovals on the Cup Series circuit.  He has lacked some of the race-winning speed on 1.5-mile tracks that others listed higher in this article have had, but Harvick could easily elevate his game and win Sunday night due to the one-million-dollar payout to the winner. 

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex has yet to win on the intermediate ovals this season, so that puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, but we cannot overlook the success he's had on these style ovals the last few seasons.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota really impressed us in his last start at Texas Motor Speedway last October.  Truex led 53 laps and finished runner-up in the Echopark Automotive 500.  The veteran Joe Gibbs racing driver has All-Star experience that dates back as far as 2005, so he knows all too well how to race on this big stage.  Truex is facing a bit of uphill odds in this event, but he'd love to rack up All-Star win number one at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. 

Alex Bowman – This will be just Bowman's fourth start in the NASCAR All-Star Race.  While he's yet to leave his mark on the big stage, he's been getting better with each start.  The move back to a cookie cutter oval for this exhibition race favors Bowman more than some other drivers.  Two of his last three starts at Texas Motor Speedway have yielded Top-5 finishes, including 54-combined laps led in those starts.  The last was his 43 laps led and fifth-place finish in last October's Echopark Automotive 500.  Bowman has racked up two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on intermediate ovals this season.  He's been steady, he's been consistent and he's been fast.  While Bowman has not won yet on these ovals in 2021, he's still good enough to be relevant in the All-Star conversation.      

Denny Hamlin – The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota is a three-time winner at the Fort Worth oval, and as recently as 2019.  Hamlin is also a one-time winner of the All-Star Race (2015) and finished Top 5 in last season's exhibition event.  With All-Star experience that dates all the way back to 2006, he's one of the more seasoned and experienced drivers in the field.  Hamlin has been pretty consistent on the intermediate ovals this season with a total of 84 laps led, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes.  He'll be battling some uphill odds in this Sunday night's race, but he was also a big underdog the season he won the All-Star race in 2015.  Hamlin can be a spoiler again Sunday in Texas.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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