NASCAR Barometer:  Kyle Larson Dominates for Third All-Star Race Win

NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Larson Dominates for Third All-Star Race Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

NASCAR's highly anticipated return to the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway for the annual All-Star Race weekend turned into the Kyle Larson show Sunday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started the night's main event toward the back of the field, but really got his night going when he opted to change to fresh tires during the race's first caution. That fresh rubber enabled the No. 5 to mow his way forward to the lead, stretching his advantage all the way to NASCAR's previously planned caution break at lap 100. The remainder of the race went caution free, which was just what Larson wanted. He put on a master class for the final run to the checkered flag, managing his tires and maintaining a comfortable margin over second place as he cruised to his third career All-Star victory. 

The most action Sunday came from the 100-lap All-Star Open race that kicked off the night's festivities. Ty Gibbs started that race on pole as a reward for his team's victory in the pit crew challenge. He started alongside Josh Berry and the race turned out to be battle between the pair. Close racing and short-track contact early in the event ultimately influenced the outcome, though. While Gibbs and Berry raced at the front, Michael McDowell exacted some revenge on Gibbs while the leaders worked their way past the No. 34 following an earlier incident where the pair made contact. McDowell made lapping him a difficult job for Gibbs, which enabled Berry to win

NASCAR's highly anticipated return to the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway for the annual All-Star Race weekend turned into the Kyle Larson show Sunday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started the night's main event toward the back of the field, but really got his night going when he opted to change to fresh tires during the race's first caution. That fresh rubber enabled the No. 5 to mow his way forward to the lead, stretching his advantage all the way to NASCAR's previously planned caution break at lap 100. The remainder of the race went caution free, which was just what Larson wanted. He put on a master class for the final run to the checkered flag, managing his tires and maintaining a comfortable margin over second place as he cruised to his third career All-Star victory. 

The most action Sunday came from the 100-lap All-Star Open race that kicked off the night's festivities. Ty Gibbs started that race on pole as a reward for his team's victory in the pit crew challenge. He started alongside Josh Berry and the race turned out to be battle between the pair. Close racing and short-track contact early in the event ultimately influenced the outcome, though. While Gibbs and Berry raced at the front, Michael McDowell exacted some revenge on Gibbs while the leaders worked their way past the No. 34 following an earlier incident where the pair made contact. McDowell made lapping him a difficult job for Gibbs, which enabled Berry to win the race. Both Gibbs and Berry earned starting spots in the main event by virtue of finishing first and second, though. The third and final driver to advance from the Open to the main event was rookie Noah Gragson who won the fan vote. However, no one could hold a candle to Kyle Larson as the former champion put on a driving clinic to take home the night's million-dollar prize.

UPGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson was the class of the field in each race he was entered at North Wilkesboro Speedway. First, he won the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race in overtime with 138 of 252 laps led. He then went on to win his third All-Star Race in another dominant performance Sunday night. Larson used the first caution of the race to switch to fresh tires, which he then used to carve his way through the field in his charge to the front. By the end of the first 100 laps the No. 5 had stretched his lead to more than 12 seconds over second place and eased away again in the second half on his way to the win. It was a dominant weekend for Larson and team who appear to still be building their potential this season. Larson won Charlotte's 600-mile race in 2021 from pole, leading 327 of 400 laps that night. Last year he led 51 laps and finished ninth despite starting 36th.

Bubba Wallace – Wallace gained automatic entry to the All-Star Race by virtue of his victory at Kansas last season. He raced to a fifth-place finish in the second qualifying heat Saturday, and then followed Larson to the front on Sunday. The No. 23 team followed suit with Larson to pit on lap 17, and then used those fresh tires to get to the front of the pack for the remainder of the race. From there it was pretty quiet for Wallace, who wasn't able to beat Larson off of pit road on the mid-race stop and was thus resigned to second place for the rest of the night. Like the rest of the field, the No. 23 machine was no match for the No. 5, but Wallace was the best of the rest and held his runner-up position all the way to the finish. Wallace continues to evolve into a consistently competitive fantasy option with his 23XI Racing team. He has yet to finish in the top 10 on Charlotte's oval, but he did lead a lap in last year's race before damage took him out of the competition.

Josh Berry - Berry made the most of his substitute role for Alex Bowman in the No. 48 machine Sunday at North Wilkesboro. The fill-in driver has been getting more Cup Series experience than expected with injuries to both Chase Elliott and Bowman, and Berry confidently piloted Bowman's No. 48 to victory in the All-Star Open by steering clear of some beating and banging ahead of him. The veteran-like approach netted him a start in the All-Star Race. He finished 15th in that main event despite starting 22nd. Bowman was expected to be out of action between three to four weeks, which means Berry's most recent stint in the Cup Series should be drawing to a close shortly. He made an impression through these recent weeks, though. He has proven to be a driver destined for a full-time ride at NASCAR's highest level, and that opportunity may arrive sooner than anticipated based on this season's effort.

Ty Gibbs - The All-Star weekend turned out to be a good one for Gibbs and the No. 54 crew. The team won the pit crew competition, which gave them a nice payday as well as earning them the top starting position for the All-Star Open. Once the racing began Sunday night Gibbs led 53 laps and was nearly able to get back to Josh Berry for the Open win. Unfortunately, earlier contact with Michael McDowell left a sour taste with the driver of the No. 34, and McDowell took his opportunity to thwart Gibbs. That was enough of a hurdle for Gibbs to lose the victory, but Gibbs still did well enough to finish second and transfer into his first All-Star Race. In the main event Gibbs again drove consistently to move from the 23rd starting spot to the ninth finishing position. All in all it was an encouraging weekend for him with a continued upward trajectory in his rookie campaign.

Noah Gragson - Despite a difficult All-Star Open, Gragson was recognized by winning the fan vote to earn a spot in the night's biggest race. Unfortunately, the team was behind the ball when heavy front-end damage from his seventh-place run in the Open left repair work to be done quickly before taking the green for the All-Star Race. The team pulled off a herculean effort, though. Gragson started his second race of the night in 24th, but climbed as high as 11th as teams began deploying their tire strategies. Damage to his car and lack of pace was too much for Gragson to overcome across the full 200-lap distance, and his story ended with a 23rd-place finish, three laps down to the leaders. The night was good experience for the rookie who got his first All-Star Race start, though. That experience will help him climb the learning curve as he comes up to speed in the Cup Series.

DOWNGRADE

Chris Buescher - The weekend's events seemed to be signaling a great Sunday night for Buescher and his No. 17 team. The group placed third in the pit stop competition to get the top starting spot for their qualifying heat, which Buescher then won. That effort gave him a front-row spot for Sunday's main event. All that momentum evaporated once the green flag waved, though. Almost immediately Buescher started sliding backward and he was basically not heard from again. At the end of 200 laps he had slipped back to the 16th finishing position in a terribly disappointing result considering the success earlier in the weekend. There are some bright spots for the team to bring forward into the rest of the season, but Sunday was a missed opportunity. Buescher has three top-10s from 10 Charlotte starts. He crashed out of last year's race but finished eighth in the 2021 version.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -  Sunday night at North Wilkesboro could have been a great opportunity for Stenhouse to punch above his weight. A short track with a challenging surface should have been a chance for him to shine given plenty of experience in similar situations through sprint cars. Unfortunately, he was the first and only driver to bring out a caution period in the All-Star Race when he attempted to quickly move back to the inside line only to find Erik Jones already filling the gap. When the pair made contact it was Stenhouse who went spinning out of contention. The lack of cautions the rest of the night left the No. 47 machine languishing behind the leaders. Stenhouse finished the night four laps down in last position. However, this team is still focused on the coming playoffs, and Charlotte could be a good chance to see their progression toward the knockout rounds. Stenhouse finished seventh there last season despite a 29th-place starting spot.

Aric Almirola – Third place was one spot too low for Almirola Sunday night. The Stewart Haas Racing driver drove a confident race in the All-Star Open to come from ninth on the grid to finish third, but that was a spot short of being able to transfer to the All-Star Race and a shot at one million dollars. It was the first All-Star Race Almirola missed since 2018. Unfortunately, the regular season has been a challenge for this team as well. Almirola has just one top-10 finish this season, which was a sixth-place finish at Martinsville. He sits 26th in the points as the regular season resumes this week at Charlotte, too. Improvements need to be found and top-10 finishes need to become the norm for the No. 10 team to move back into playoff contention. Three top-15 finishes from the last six Charlotte races won't do much to instill confidence that the team's situation will turn around this week either.

Michael McDowell – Some of the biggest excitement from Sunday came in the All-Star Open when McDowell and Ty Gibbs raced one another. Early in the event Gibbs pushed McDowell into Justin Haley. McDowell had just made up some ground following the competition caution, and that contact undid his efforts, causing him to fall back down the order. However, McDowell did his best to return the favor later in the race as Gibbs was racing with Josh Berry in the lead. As Gibbs approached the No. 34, McDowell squeezed him into the wall as payback for the earlier incident. That situation stunted the progress of the No. 54 machine and left Berry out front to win. McDowell was relatively calm after the event effectively saying Gibbs might receive payback at a future time. The No. 34 team has bigger fish to fry, though. They sit 21st in the standings with one top-10 finish, a sixth-place result at Richmond.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kyle Busch – The All-Star weekend turned out to be one to forget for Busch. The former All-Star winner was virtually nowhere to be found when the on-track competition got underway at North Wilkesboro. The team was 32nd in the pit crew competition, and Busch started his qualifying heat at the back of the pack. He made a late charge to pick up a handful of spots before the finish, but when the All-Star Race got underway Sunday night he was still well behind the competition. Busch simply did not have what he needed to put up any kind of fight and finished multiple laps down in 22nd position of the 24 drivers. Busch and team need to put last week's poor performance behind them and resume their work toward the playoffs and a potential run at the season finale. Busch is a prior 600-mile race winner at Charlotte. He also finished in the top five in five of the last six races at the oval.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR Barometer: Larson Redeems Himself at Indy
NASCAR Barometer: Larson Redeems Himself at Indy
NASCAR DFS: Brickyard 400 Presented by PPG
NASCAR DFS: Brickyard 400 Presented by PPG
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Pennzoil 250
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Pennzoil 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  TSport 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: TSport 200