Nobody ever said it was easy to become a millionaire. Just ask Ryan Blaney. For a moment, he thought he had taken the checkered flag and claimed his first All-Star million dollar victory. But then, he had to do it all over again in one of the more bizarre finishes that NASCAR's All-Star Night has ever seen.
After the caution flag came out as he was coming to the checkered flag, Ryan Blaney had to hold off Denny Hamlin and teammate Austin Cindric on an overtime restart. Despite having to make a hasty attempt to re-fasten his window net under caution, Blaney was able to hold off Hamlin to win the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway for the first All-Star victory of his career.
The bizarre, controversial circumstances of the finish capped an All-Star night filled with confusion and attrition.
NASCAR All-Star Race unofficial results
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #11 - Denny Hamlin
- #2 - Austin Cindric (R)
- #99 - Daniel Suarez
- #22 - Joey Logano
- #48 - Alex Bowman
- #16 - A.J. Allmendinger
- #17 - Chris Buescher
- #6 - Brad Keselowski
- #20 - Christopher Bell
The 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race, for better or worse, will forever be remembered for its finish. Here's exactly what happened, because there's a lot to digest.
Unlike points-paying events on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, the All-Star Race has its own unique race format and unique race rules geared towards making for the most entertaining show possible rather than a pure test of man and machine. It's made for some fantastic action and exciting moments over the years, but this year generated an entertaining finish for arguably the wrong reasons.
As Ryan Blaney came off Turn 4 for the final time to take the checkered flag, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slid up the track and hit the wall coming out of Turn 2. Although Stenhouse -- who was at the back of the pack -- only made minor contact, was able to keep going, and was not in harm's way, NASCAR opted to throw the caution with Blaney just a few yards from the finish line. The caution triggered a stipulation in the All-Star Race rules stating that the race must finish under green no matter what, necessitating the field be bunched back up for an Overtime restart.
Not realizing the race was not yet over, Blaney began taking his window net down in celebration, only for his crew to inform him that there would be another restart. Blaney attempted to put his window net back up, but fastening and securing the window net is not easily done from the driver's seat. As a result, Blaney was only able to get his window net put back up in a haphazard and loose fashion.
Although NASCAR requires the window net on each car to be secure for safety purposes, they opted to allow Blaney to complete the Overtime restart with his window net as-is. In normal race conditions, Blaney would have been black-flagged, but there was no call in this instance.
"I do want to thank NASCAR for letting me kind of fix it and not make us come down pit road. That was really tough, and then having to do it all over again after trying to get the window net back up there," Blaney told Fox Sports. "... This is cool. I know it's not a points-winning race, but it's gonna be a lot of fun. Party's gonna be pretty big."
Blaney was able to laugh it off, but many afterwards were upset with either NASCAR's call to throw the caution, their decision to allow Blaney to keep going with his window net loose, or both. Belonging to the latter category was Denny Hamlin, who called out the window net situation for being patently unsafe and felt NASCAR should have black-flagged Blaney.
"Whatever the rule is, let's be consistent and play by the rule," Hamlin told reporters on pit road. "It's unfortunate, because he made a mistake. He should have won the race, he's a hundred yards from winning the race. ... Where NASCAR really got away with one is we nearly crashed off of (Turn 2), and so when I send him head-first into traffic and the window net's down, I don't know. Then they've got a lawsuit on their hands.
"... I don't know whether it's a moral problem that they had, they were like 'Well, we cost him the win because we threw the caution, and we hate to take away that.' I think they just had a moral dilemma instead of just playing by the rules like they're supposed to."
Speaking to the media, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller admitted fault on NASCAR's behalf, explaining that they prematurely called the final caution. As for the no-call on Blaney's window net, Miller cited circumstantial evidence that Blaney's window net may have been adequately fastened.
"Coming to green, he was warming his tires on the back straightaway, you could clearly see both hands on the wheel warming the tires up. The window net was up -- No way for us to know if he got it 100 percent latched or not," Miller told reporters. "And at that point in time, no way we can be certain that he didn't get it latched. So there's no way we could call him down pit road at that time.
"... If he couldn't get it to where it was up and we had some doubt that it was latched, then we would have had to do something with it. Because we wouldn't have allowed him to start if it was just laying down on the door."
Influencing the reaction to the finish based on safety concerns was a massive crash that occurred in Stage 2. While leading the race, Kyle Busch had a right rear tire go down coming off of Turn 4, and slowed well off the pace on the front straightaway as he tried to get out of the narrow racing groove and out of harm's way. As Busch attempted to go low to get out of the way, Ross Chastain miscalculated where Busch's car was going to go and ran into the left rear of Busch's car at nearly full speed.
The impact launched Chastain's car up into the air and onto its side before it came back down onto all four wheels and collected Chase Elliott, who spun and pounded the outside wall. All drivers involved were uninjured.
"I saw Kyle have an issue like a tire down. I guessed left, and I should have guessed right," Chastain told Fox Sports. "Big hit into Kyle. Didn't think the wall would hurt as bad as it did when I did hit the wall, but I'd already hit the 18 and the 9."
Other drivers found the wall either by way of tire failures or by treacherous Turn 4. Kyle Larson's bid for three-straight All-Star wins ended when he had a right front tire go down, sending him hard into the Turn 4 wall. Christopher Bell looked to have a car capable of running down Blaney's but he ended up spinning and hitting the wall, suffering damage that ended his chances. Other drivers to either crash or have tire problems included Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse, and Bubba Wallace.
While it came at a cost, the attrition level and controversial finish likely spared NASCAR from grumbling about a lackluster on-track product. With only one truly useable groove at Texas, passing was at a premium throughout the night and much of the race was run with the field spread out as green flag runs progressed. NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. quipped that Stage 1 was "about as fun as a rice cake," and Kyle Larson also let his frustration with the racing be known.
"I feel like our car was good enough depending on restarts since you can't pass at all -- especially the leader, anyways," Larson said shortly before Kyle Busch's crash. "I think it's Kyle's race to lose at this point. It's pretty impossible to pass."
With All-Star Weekend now out of the way, NASCAR will go to its epicenter in Charlotte, North Carolina for its longest race and one of its crown jewel events, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway next Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.