Last weekend’s race in Kentucky marked one year since Busch scored his first ever victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, edging his brother Kyle Busch in a dramatic finish. He arrived at the All-Star Race 10th in points, having finished inside the Top Ten in all but seven of his 17 starts in points races this year. He finished 5th in his return to Kentucky for his fourth top-five finish, joining a 3rd in Fontana, 3rd in Darlington’s Sunday race, and a 5th in the mid-week Charlotte event.
The All-Star Race’s move from Charlotte to Bristol must have excited Busch, who had scored six wins in Cup races at the track, but only once claimed the Charlotte All-Star in 2010. Monster Energy would again sponsor his Chevrolet, which not only had the #1 moved back in front of the rear tires, but also a yellow chassis light under the rear end to identify his car among the other Chevrolet teams. Busch drew the 7th spot in the original field of 16 locked-in entrants, which grew to 20 after Open transfers Aric Almirola, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, and Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer’s “Fan Vote” gave him the last spot on the grid in the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, but he was soon joined by Martin Truex, Jr., who drew the pole, but twice failed inspection in his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota. Truex pulled ahead of Bowyer at the start, and the #14 trailed the leader by 2.068 seconds at the green flag.
Busch entered the last-place battle early. On Lap 8, he was spun in Turn 1 by contact from Brad Keselowski’s #2 Discount Tire Ford. Busch spun up the track and appeared to make light contact with the right-rear corner. From there, however, Busch’s car would fight a serious tight condition, then become loose in the final stages, keeping him in the back of the pack the rest of the night.
On Lap 16, Busch dropped Justin Haley to last in Spire Motorsports’ #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet. This happened to be Haley’s first Cup start with Spire since his upset win with them at Daytona last July. Haley held the spot until Lap 19, when Matt DiBenedetto’s damaged #21 dropped to last. Haley and Busch then engaged in a tight battle for 18th and 19th, allowing DiBenedetto to catch up and drop Busch back to last on Lap 30. Haley took last on Lap 33, Kurt again on Lap 40, and on Lap 46, leader Ryan Blaney put Busch one lap down off Turn 2. This gave Busch the Lucky Dog when Stage 1 ended on Lap 55.
Early in Stage 2, Ryan Newman took last when his #6 Oscar Mayer Bacon Ford broke loose off Turn 4 and made light contact with the inside wall. Newman’s pit stop gave him last on Lap 60, but he passed DiBenedetto on Lap 66 before Kurt again took last on Lap 67. Once again, Busch struggled with the handling on his car, and once again, he lost a lap to the leader on Lap 88. The second stage ended on Lap 90, and Busch earned his second Lucky Dog of the evening.
In Stage 3, Busch set to work on his teammate Matt Kenseth, who was also struggling with his #42 McDonald’s McDelivery Chevrolet. Kenseth had tumbled to 19th, and Busch passed him on Lap 93. Then came the familiar pattern – Haley dropped to last on Lap 95, followed by Kurt on Lap 99. This time, Busch managed to stay on the lead lap with the rest of the field, though he would still be in last place for Stage 4’s final 15-lap sprint to the finish. While Kenseth managed to climb to 18th with Haley improving to 14th, Kurt Busch remained last at the finish.
This was Kurt’s second last-place finish in the All-Star Race - his first since May 20, 2006, when his #2 Miller Lite Dodge lost the engine after 33 laps. He joins Carl Edwards, Kyle Petty, Greg Sacks, and Rusty Wallace as the only driver to finish last in more than one running of the All-Star Race.
*This marked just the third time in the history of the NASCAR All-Star Race that every one of the starters finished under power. Curiously, the first time was in 1986, the only previous time the race was held at a track other than the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Held on May 11, 1986 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Greg Sacks finished one lap down in his #10 DiGard Chevrolet. The other time was in Charlotte on May 16, 2015, when Danica Patrick’s #10 Mobil 1 / Aspen Dental Chevrolet finished 32 laps down.
*This was also the first time that every one of the starters in the All-Star Race finished on the lead lap – including the last-place finisher. Such a thing is not unprecedented, at least in exhibition races. The Busch Clash at Daytona was for many years a 20-lap sprint, and on eight occasions saw the entire field complete the full distance, most recently in 1997. This also technically happened in the All-Star Open on May 19, 2018, when Reed Sorenson was classified last, though the race’s two stage winners – Alex Bowman and Daniel Saurez - had parked their cars earlier in the event.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in the All-Star Race since May 21, 2005, when Martin Truex, Jr.’s #1 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet crashed out after 35 laps.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
20) #1-Kurt Busch / 140 laps / running
19) #6-Ryan Newman / 140 laps / running
18) #42-Matt Kenseth / 140 laps / running
17) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 140 laps / running
16) #41-Cole Custer / 140 laps / running