NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson turned in a dominating effort to win his third All-Star race and earn $1 million Sunday night in the Cup Series’ return to North Wilkesboro Speedway following a 27-year absence.
Larson became only the fourth driver to win the All-Star race at least three times. Jimmie Johnson has the most with four victories, while Larson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt have three.
Larson is the first to win the All-Star race at three different tracks, also having won in Charlotte in 2019 and Texas in 2021.
He celebrated with a full lap of burnouts around the .625-mile track as Hendrick Motorsports won its 11th All-Star race.
Bubba Wallace finished second in the 200-lap non-points exhibition race, followed by Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Chase Elliott.
But only Larson collected prize money in the winner-take-all event.
Larson overcame an early speeding penalty on lap 24, and ran away from the field.
After being sent to the back of the field on lap 24, he drove his No. 5 Chevrolet blowing past 16 cars on fresh tires, including polesitter Daniel Suarez on lap 56 to take the lead. Larson went on to build an 11-second lead before the first competition caution at lap 100.
The competition caution didn’t slow Larson, who was never seriously challenged in the second half of the race.
If fans came to see wrecks, they walked away disappointed.
There were none.
And the only pass they saw for the lead was Larson moving past Suarez.
North Wilkesboro Speedway’s patched-up asphalt track held up fairly well following a week of racing despite not having been paved in more than three decades.
The track, which sat mostly dormant and became overgrown with weeds, was restored with help of Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for NASCAR’s 75th year anniversary season.
Suarez and Chris Buescher started on the front row for the All-Star race after winning their 60-lap heats Saturday night, when NASCAR experimented for the first time with wet weather tires on Cup Series cars.
Suarez dominated early, leading the first 55 laps of the race, while Buescher quickly fell off the pace early, dropping to 10th place after just five laps when he stuck on the outside.
Kevin Harvick, who is set to retire after the season, drove the throwback No. 29 car with the white paint scheme one last time.
It’s the same car the two-time All-Star winner began his career in after taking over Dale Earnhardt’s spot with Richard Childress following Earnhardt’s death at the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Harvick normally races the No. 4 for Stewart-Haas Racing, but SHR worked out a deal with RCR to allow him to run the No. 29 car.
Earlier in the day, Josh Berry won the All-Star Open to advance to the All-Star race along with second-place finisher Ty Gibbs and fan vote winner Noah Gragson. Berry took the lead with 23 laps remaining when he passed Gibbs on the apron on the inside of the track.
“It’s pretty cool, pretty special to be here,” Gibbs said. “I wasn’t alive when they raced here, but it’s really cool. It’s a worn out race track, but it’s fun. Just kind of looking for patches, looking for grip.”
There were two crashes in the Open race, including one involving Michael McDowell and Justin Haley, who were both running in the top five at the time before Gibbs bumped McDowell.