Action will heat up Wednesday evening when a field of talented Cup Series drivers battle for three available NASCAR All-Star Race starting spots during the 85-lap NASCAR All-Star Open at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It promises to be quite a race for those not already qualified for the NASCAR All-Star Race and there’s a stellar group of contenders vying for three spots. Stage 1 and 2 winners and the overall race winner of the Open will advance to the All-Star Race and a chance to race for the $1 million prize. The race stages should be exciting with 35 lap battles in both stages 1 and 2 and then a 15-lap shootout in the finale.
William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson transferred from last year’s Open to the All-Star Race with Larson going on to win the race.
Larson became the third driver in history to transfer from the All-Star Open and win the All-Star Race, following Michael Waltrip in 1996 and Ryan Newman in 2002. Kasey Kahne won the 2008 race after winning the fan vote.
Byron and Wallace look to repeat that Open success, while there are several others who could claim the Open spots.
Byron was the winner of the Food City Showdown iRacing event on the virtual Bristol Motor Speedway and that translated to his first top-10 finish in five starts on the actual track. Driving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Byron finished eighth in the Food City Supermarket Heroes 500 on May 31.
The 22-year-old driver has shown speed, winning five pole positions in 2019. The short runs with the All-Star Open fits right into his hard-charging style.
Wallace, driving the iconic No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, also is coming off a top-10 finish at the last Bristol race. He finished 10th in May, but Wallace has visited Bristol’s victory lane before. He won the Super Late Model portion of the inaugural Short Track U.S. Nationals in 2017.
“There were ups and downs, back and forth,” Wallace said about his most recent Bristol race. “It was wild and that race had pretty much everything. That’s Bristol Motor Speedway for you.”
While those two are fast, the Open favorite has to be Clint Bowyer, coming off a second-place finish at the last Bristol race. Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, is a veteran on the high-banked short track with 16 top-10 finishes in 29 starts.
He had his sights on race winner Brad Keselowski at the end of the last Bristol race. Keselowski’s contact with Ryan Newman earlier in the race caused handling problems for Bowyer.
“The 2 car hit the 6 car into me and clobbered my whole left side,” Bowyer said. “I needed that 2 car to be a little closer. I wasn’t going to feel bad about moving him, but it just didn’t materialize.”
In addition to his Cup Series record, Bowyer scored a win in the 2008 spring XFINITY Series race, which he backed up with a third-place finish in the next day’s Food City 500.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has two runner-up finishes and four top-five finishes in 15 starts at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile and has said often how much he loves racing at Bristol. However, the driver of the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet has struggled on the challenging short track as of late with finishes of 33rd, 33rd and 34th.
In his favor, Stenhouse has shown speed throughout the 2020 season. He started off the year by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 and came up inches short of winning at Talladega.
The sentimental favorite is Matt DiBendetto. He came up 12 laps shy of a first career victory the last time the Cup Series raced at Bristol under the lights. After that inspiring run in the 2019 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, DiBendetto signed with the famed Wood Brothers organization for this season.
Driving the No. 21 Ford for one of NASCAR’s charter teams, DiBenedetto has posted some strong runs. He matched the career-best with a runner-up at Las Vegas and finished seventh at the series’ other half-mile track in Martinsville.
Austin Dillon, driver of another iconic ride in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, has a history of winning big events like the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600. He had a strong start to the 2020 season with four finishes of eighth or better in the first 12 events.
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of Dillon’s favorite tracks, a place where he won the 2016 Food City 300 in the XFINITY Seires. He’s coming off a sixth-place finish in the Cup Series’ last visit to Bristol and was battling with eventual race winner Brad Keselowski in the late stages.
“I can’t believe the 2 car won. It just shows you have to stay in these races until the end,” Dillon said. “We were racing with him right before the last caution and he goes off and wins the race.”
A pair of talented rookies with sprint car backgrounds could also be in the mix.
Tyler Reddick, a teammate of Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, won the 2019 Food City 300 on his way to a second straight XFINITY Series championship. He also posted a runner-up finish at Bristol in the spring. Reddick will be driving a special Food City sponsored No. 8 Chevy during the race.
He has quickly adapted to the Cup Series behind the wheel of the bigger and heavier car and recently posted a top-five finish at Homestead. His first time at Bristol in a Cup car yielded a disappointing result, finishing 36th after getting caught up in a multi-car crash.
Christopher Bell won the spring XFINITY Series race at Bristol in 2019, making the move to the lead past then teammate Brandon Jones with 18 laps to go. At the controls of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry in the Cup Series, Bell posted a solid ninth-place finish when the Cup Series raced at Bristol in May.
A short-track master, whose background includes a pair of wins in the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, Bell is proving to be a quick study in the Cup cars. He finished fourth in the first race in a Pocono doubleheader in late June and then finished 12th at Indianapolis on July 5th.
He expects the action to be intense among the 18-plus drivers battling for the three transfer spots during the All-Star Open.
“It’s going to be physical and there will be a bunch of young bucks trying to make their way into the main race,” Bell said. “It’s going to be a fun one to watch. Bristol is a place where you have to attack all the time, especially with those short runs in a short race. At Bristol, 35 laps goes by really quick. You’re going to be on the attack, but you can’t get yourself in trouble. It’s definitely a nice edge.”
The NASCAR All-Star Open starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by the NASCAR All-Star Race at approximately 8:30 p.m. The racing action will be broadcast by FS1, MRN Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio starting at 7 p.m.