Whichever driver emerged victorious in Saturday's All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was sure as heck going to earn it.
It was the perfect cocktail of chaos for NASCAR: a new, less-stable rules package; a lack of practice time with said package, thanks to rain in the area on Friday and — oh yeah — a massive wreck that trashed more than a third of the field.
So no problem at all, right Kevin Harvick?
Even though Saturday's race didn't count for playoff points, Harvick showed the same dominance he has all season in winning his second career All-Star Race (the other coming in 2007). Harvick's five wins in 12 races this year has been impressive, but coming away with the $1 million prize ranks up there with his most impressive feats.
Harvick began the race well, leaping out to the lead in Stage 1 before falling back to the middle of the pack. Then he surged again in Stage 3, bypassing "The Big One" on Lap 75 and sneaking past Daniel Suarez for a second stage win. From there, he raced way out in front again in the 10-lap shootout that is Stage 4, eventually holding off Suarez for the win.
For every other driver, a win like that would have been the highlight of the year so far. For Harvick? Business as usual.
Stage 1: It took nine laps for Matt Kenseth to fall all the way from the pole to the back of the pack, ceding the lead to Kevin Harvick. Harvick went on to win the first stage, but the story of the first 30 laps was A.J. Allmendinger, who surprisingly surged from the back of the field to fourth.
Stage 2: Where Harvick jumped out to an early lead in Stage 1 and led all the way through, the second stage was much more of a competition. Kyle Busch ended up winning the stage, but he had plenty of competition from Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson.
Stage 3: Two cautions for contact sent Stage 3 into overtime, and then in the overtime, we finally got "The Big One" everyone had been waiting on. Truex spun out from the middle of pack, collecting both Busch brothers, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer in the carnage. Harvick would eventually win Stage 3 when racing resumed.
Stage 4: Harvick had some stiff competition from Suarez going into the last two laps, but a bump from Joey Logano pushed him a few car lengths in front — and into a pool of cash.
Three who mattered
Kevin Harvick: As if five wins in 12 races weren't enough, Harvick won three of four stages Saturday en route to his second All-Star Race. Nothing new to see here.
Daniel Suarez: He might have had a chance to pass Harvick on the second-to-last lap, but after qualifying in the Monster Energy Open beforehand, it was still an impressive second-place finish.
Martin Truex Jr.: His name won't show up anywhere decent on the final results sheet, but his wreck at the end of Stage 3 knocked out at least three legitimate contenders, including himself.
▪ Best driver introduction on Saturday easily goes to reigning Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 champion Austin Dillon, who trotted out with a trio of Carolina Panthers: receivers Devin Funchess and Jarius Wright, plus running back Christian McCaffrey. Close second to Jimmie Johnson, who helped a fan propose shortly after he left the stage. (And she said yes!)
▪ Seventeen drivers qualified for the All-Star Race by virtue of their prior accomplishments, but four others qualified in the Monster Energy Open earlier Saturday night. Alex Bowman, Suarez and Allmendinger all won stages to advance to the All-Star Race, and Chase Elliott won the fan vote for the third straight year to advance, as well.
▪ Plenty more local star power in attendance Saturday: Former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, current coaches Ron Rivera and Norv Turner, businessman Felix Sabate, and a handful of others.
They said it
“Is there any race he can't win right now?” – Jeff Gordon on Harvick after the race.