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Bowman, Suarez, Allmendinger advance to All-Star Race via Monster Open; Elliott wins fan vote

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger advanced to the Monster Energy All-Star Race through stage wins in the 50-lap Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott advanced via the fan vote for the third consecutive year.

Bowman won Stage 1 after leading the last nine laps of the stage. He started third and passed Aric Almirola on Lap 11. He will compete in the All-Star Race for the first time.

Suarez claimed Stage 2 after leading 18 laps and swapping the lead twice with Elliott, who led two laps. This is his second All-Star Race.

Allmendinger won the final 10-lap stage in a mad last-lap scramble that saw him lead the final two laps, but keep the lead for good after a three-wide pass of Elliott and Erik Jones out of Turn 2 on the final lap. This is his fifth All-Star Race.

“At that point I didn’t lift for the last four laps,” Allmendinger said. “I got a run down the front straightaway there and Chase and I think it was Erik were side-by-side and I knew my only shot was Chase was going to need to kind of get loose and check ‘em up.  I came off the corner and saw just enough there and held them off.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. led seven of the stage’s 10 laps and finished 11th.

There were no cautions in the event.

The All-Star Race is set to begin at 8:16 p.m. ET.

Click here for the results.

Drivers still have questions after Saturday practice session

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CONCORD, N.C. — Even after a 60-minute practice Saturday morning, drivers were still trying to figure out what the racing would be like with the rules package for this evening’s Monster Energy All-Star Race.

NASCAR granted teams an extra session Saturday after much of Friday’s practices at Charlotte Motor Speedway were canceled by rain.

Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s session at 173.305 mph. He and others noted that handling could play a factor in the race for $1 million.

“I felt like early practice I could pass cars pretty easy,’’ Larson said. “But when the track got a little tighter, it was harder to pass.’’

Clint Bowyer, who was next on the speed chart at 173.255 mph, was struck by how the cars reacted in traffic.

“To be dead honest with you, the thing that surprised me was they didn’t pull up near as much as I thought they would,’’ he said. “I don’t know, that’s what I was hoping they would do. I think that’s what everybody was hoping they would do. I was a little bit frustrated with that. I still think you’re going to have that gaggle of cars, you know what I mean? Some excitement within there.’’

Aric Almirola also expressed surprise at what the cars didn’t do during practice.

“I think the biggest thing that surprised me was that the runs weren’t bigger,’’  said Almirola, who starts on the pole for the Monster Open preliminary race. “I thought that when we got in a pack or just even two cars, I thought the idea behind the package was for the trailing car to be able to get a big draft and get up to the lead car and be able to slingshot. I was surprised by that. It’s a little bit more sophisticated than that and the runs we were a little bit slower than I anticipated.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the race track or because of the radius of the corners are tighter, the straightaways are shorter or if it’s actually the package. I was anticipating bigger runs and more ability to do something with a run.’’

So what does that forecast for the racing Saturday night?

“From what I have seen in practice, if you want to win, you have to be in the top three spots,’’ Almirola said. “I think track position will play a part like we have seen in speedway racing the last few years.”

Joey Logano, who won this event in 2016, is certain about one thing with tonight’s race.

We are going to crash some stuff tonight,’’ Logano said. “I think that is pretty apparent. In practice we were all pretty good at giving each other some room and making sure our cars are — at least we have a car for later on.

“I think towards the end of this race is when business picks up, I mean hey, it is the All-Star race. It is the same thing when we come here no matter what package you use. You have nothing to lose and $1 million to gain. I think every driver knows that. That whole caring about things kind of goes out the window. You think about winning the race and winning the money. That is what this is about.’’

Daniel McFadin contributed to this report

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Kyle Larson leads way in busy final Cup practice

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson had the fastest lap in a busy practice session Saturday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR officials added the practice because much of Friday’s sessions were rained out. Some drivers did not run a lap of practice Friday with the new aero package, which is intended to keep the cars closer together and run slower speeds with a restrictor plate.

Saturday’s 60-minute session featured cars in a pack for longer periods of time.

Larson led the way with a lap of 173.305 mph. He was followed by Clint Bowyer (173.255 mph), Kevin Harvick (173.049), Aric Almirola (172.977) and Daniel Suarez (172.656).

Denny Hamlin ran the most laps at 73. He was followed by Larson and Brad Keselowski, who each ran 62 laps.

Larson also had the best average for 10 consecutive laps at 171.756 mph. He was followed by Suarez (171.593) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (171.448)

Click here for practice report

Starting lineup for Monster Energy Open

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Rain forced the cancellation of qualifying for tomorrow’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The lineup for the 50-lap event prior to the All-Star Race has been set by owner points, giving Aric Almirola the pole.

He will be joined on the front row by Erik Jones.

Alex Bowman will start third and Chase Elliott starts fourth.

The Open is broken up into three segments. The first two are 20 laps in length and final segment is 10 laps.

The winner of each segment will advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will advance via a fan vote.

Click here for the lineup.

Friday 5: Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on same page about Roush cars

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The sample size is small, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said Matt Kenseth’s impact already has been felt at Roush Fenway Racing.

In his first race weekend with the team, Kenseth noted similar issues with the car that Stenhouse has had this season.

“Talking with him so far, it’s definitely different than what he had been driving, and he’s got a lot of the exact same complaints and feedback,’’ Stenhouse told NBC Sports about Kenseth’s comments last weekend at Kansas Speedway. “That’s good. Just trying to figure out how to fix those complaints and feedback. That’s the biggest issue.’’

Stenhouse admitted it was reassuring to hear Kenseth’s feedback.

“I think it’s something that I’ve been struggling with in the cars for a while and to hear him reiterate that after one weekend is nice,’’ Stenhouse said. “The biggest thing for me at least confidence-wise is I’m giving the same feedback that he is.’’

Stenhouse said last weekend’s schedule made it difficult to work closely with Kenseth. Two Cup practices were condensed into one session after morning rain impacted the schedule. That didn’t allow for a debrief between the drivers and teams between sessions.

Stenhouse said that today’s schedule — weather permitting — should provide a better chance for both drivers to talk between practices. Both are in the All-Star Race. Kenseth, who won the event in 2004, will be making his 18th start in the non-points race, and Stenhouse will be making his third start.

This is the second of five consecutive weekends Kenseth will drive the No. 6. before Trevor Bayne returns to the car at Sonoma in June.

2. What to expect?

There are ideas, but nobody knows quite for sure with this aero package. Provided weather doesn’t cancel practices, drivers should get an idea what their cars will be like in practice today.

The package is similar to what Xfinity teams ran at Indianapolis last year.

The package this weekend will include:

# A 7/8 inch restrictor plate, marking the first time restrictor plates have been used at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

# Aero ducts. These will be used to push air from the front of the car through the front wheel well to create a bigger wake behind the car. That is intended to help a trailing car close at an easier rate.

# The rear spoiler will be 6 inches high and have 2 12-inch ears on either side to also help create a larger wake for trailing cars.

# A 2014-style splitter. This was done to balance the car aerodynamically with the changes to the rear of the car.

So how will the cars run?

Here’s what Elliott Sadler told Kevin Harvick on Harvick’s SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week:

“Kind of what I learned about it at Indy last year reminded me a lot about driving a Truck where the car is very draggy, and you’re not going to be able to get away from each other a bunch,’’ Sadler said. “It’s not going to be pack racing. But I think the guy leading the race now is not going to be able to pull away because you’re going to be able to draft up to him some. The cars are definitely going to drive easier because of the drag that is in the car and the lack of the speed with the restrictor plates. It’s definitely going to create a different feeling when side by side … the third guy in line is going to get a good draft up to the guys if you’re running side by side.

“What I learned at Indy is it’s not going to make a 20th-place car all of a sudden come win the All-Star Race. The good teams and the good drivers are still going to be the guys to beat. What I learned at Indy was that last restart we had, I restarted 12th and drove all the way to the lead before I got tight, and we fell back to fourth. I would have never done that without that package because it keeps everybody more bunched up. I think that’s what we’re going to see in the All-Star Race.’’

3. Stepping up

With the season a third of the way through (12 of 36 points races), here’s a look at who has made the biggest jump in points from this time last year to this season:

Aric Almirola has improved 15 spots, going from 25th at this time last year with Richard Petty Motorsports to 10th this season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Kurt Busch has improved nine spots, going from 14th at this time a year ago to fifth this season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Joey Logano has improved eight spots, going from 10th at this time last year to second this year for Team Penske.

4. Staying through the end

With the damaged vehicle policy allowing teams six minutes to make repairs or they’re out of the race, it has made it more difficult for drivers to build a lengthy streak of running at the finish.

Joey Logano is the exception. He’s been running at the finish in 31 consecutive races. Next on the list is Alex Bowman and Darrell Wallace Jr. at 12 races each.

5. No traction compound

A Charlotte Motor Speedway spokesperson said track officials have no plans to add traction compound in the corners this weekend.

There was no traction compound added to the track for last year’s All-Star Race, but track officials decided to add it leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 to enhance passing.

It makes sense not to have the traction compound this weekend with the different rule package Cup teams are using. Add too many variables, and it would be hard to distinguish how much impact the aero package has on the racing.