FORT WORTH, Texas — The checkered flag was already waving for Ryan Blaney when the hazard lights came on just yards before he hit the line to win the NASCAR All-Star race and $1 million. He had to put his window net back in place and do two more laps.
NASCAR later acknowledged that it “probably prematurely called” that last yellow flag.
Blaney’s crew were already celebrating in the pits, and the driver had already lowered the window net of his #12 Ford after crossing the start-finish line. But the All-Star race must end under the green.
“That rule never got passed down to us. I’ve already lowered my window net and everything. My left arm is worn out from trying to get the damn thing back up,” Blaney said. “I rigged it enough to stay midway.”
After the warning period, as Blaney played with the net while having to maintain his speed, he stayed in front thanks to a green-white checkered finish. Pushed by Penske teammate Austin Cindric on the restart, Blaney was able to stay ahead and hold off Denny Hamlin, who was 0.266 seconds behind.
“I appreciate NASCAR for not dragging us down pit road to fix it and letting me put it back up where we could stay over there,” Blaney said.
Hamlin said NASCAR was wrong on both fronts, first for even calling the warning for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entering the wall on the back right at the back of the field.
“Never should have been a yellow in the first place. They put Blaney in the situation he was in. To compensate, they let him break a rule. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Blaney W, NASCAR L,” Hamlin tweeted minutes after the race.
“Obviously I think everyone knows that we probably called that yellow flag prematurely,” Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president for competition, told reporters. “The way it works in the tower…we all look and we saw the car and mentioned the car against the wall, riding the wall at the back right away. The race director looked up, and I I’m not sure what he saw but he immediately turned it off I wish we hadn’t done that.
Blaney, who said he could understand Hamlin’s frustration, said NASCAR deemed the net safe when he was on the straight ahead of the final restart. Blaney said the net was locked and he had both hands on the wheel.
Miller said the window net was in place and there was no way for NASCAR to know if Blaney had 100% locked it, but he also couldn’t be certain at that time. if he hadn’t.
Cindric was third and Joey Logano, another Team Penske rider, was fourth. Daniel Suarez, who entered the main event as Stenhouse through a 16-car open qualifier earlier in the day, finished fifth.
Former NASCAR All-Star winners Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson all crashed on stage two.
It was the fourth victory in the All-Star race for Roger Penske’s team. The last was Logano in 2016.
“That Mustang was a rocket ship,” Blaney said. “I’m really glad we ended up winning after that last caveat. … Tonight will be fun.”
Busch, the pole-sitter and 2017 winner, was in the lead when he suffered a punctured rear right tire coming out of turn four on lap 48 at the end of stage two. He was slowing down and heading down the front stretch when he was hit from behind by Ross Chastain, who was traveling at around 185 mph.
Chastain’s #1 car went nearly all the way on its left side after the collision, before dropping back onto all four tires and then heading off the track and into the 2020 All-Star winner, Elliott.
“I saw Kyle having a problem with a flat tire. I guessed left and I should have guessed right,” Chastain said.
Elliott said he saw Busch struggling and that Chastain hit him really hard.
“I just didn’t give him enough room. I knew he was going to go straight, I just didn’t know he was going to go this far and this fast. I just misjudged him,” he said. Elliott said. “It was really avoidable on my end. I just got it wrong and couldn’t close the gap fast enough.”
Busch was the poleman and had led all but one of the first 48 laps before the sinking. His #18 car rocked out of the fourth corner due to a right rear tire puncture, before slowing down on the front stretch.
It only happened a few laps into stage two after Larson, who had won his two previous All-Star starts (2019 and 2021), broke away at turn four and slammed into the wall hard before sliding through the grassy infield. Larson had not changed tires and had a flat front right tire.
“He just let go in the middle and took off,” Larson said. “I hate that it happened. I feel like our car was pretty good, depending on the restarts, because you can’t pass at all, especially the leader anyway.”
Busch had led the 25 laps in a first stage without warning after starting from pole.
Cindric was first at the end of the second segment. Blaney finished second, just as he was at the end of the first stage after starting the race there. Blaney won the 25-lap third stage and started the final 50-lap race up front with Penske teammates Cindric and Logano, whose team made the fastest pit stop between second and third step.
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway next Sunday will begin the second half of the 26-race regular season before the start of the 10-race playoff pursuit. This will be the 14th points race this season.