All-Star Open ruffles a few feathers

NORTH WILKESBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 21: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Fr8Auctions Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Open Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 21, 2023 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In an emotionally charged NASCAR All-Star Open, Josh Berry and Ty Gibbs transferred into the main event, but in Gibbs’ case, not without bruising Michael McDowell’s feelings.

Subbing for injured Alex Bowman, Berry beat Gibbs to the finish line in the 100-lap event by .571 seconds, as the top two drivers advanced (along with Fan Vote winner Noah Gragson). But Berry likely would not have held the lead were it not for McDowell.

On Lap 50, contact from Gibbs’ Toyota turned McDowell’s Ford into the Chevrolet of Justin Haley after McDowell had gained positions on the restart following a competition caution. On Lap 78 McDowell got even. As Gibbs attempted to lap the Front Row Motorsports driver, McDowell squeezed the No. 54 Toyota into the inside wall.

The contact broke Gibbs’ momentum and allowed Berry to pass for the lead, which the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet held the rest of the way.

“I kind of understand (McDowell’s) frustration,” Gibbs said, “but at Martinsville, we were running 18th, and they clobbered us and wrecked us, so I think it’s honestly fair game.”

McDowell believes Gibbs has some lessons to learn.

“It’s short-track racing to try to get into the All-Star Race, so somebody’s going to leave with hurt feelings—I guess it’s me,” McDowell said. “I got a great restart there, kind of worked the outside, got a couple of guys and was able to get down, and Ty just plowed into me, just knocked me into the 31 (Haley) and spun us both out…

“All that stuff comes around, man. You can get away with it a few times, but it comes around. I don’t have the budget for the fine. Otherwise, I would not be standing here. I’d be standing down there (confronting Gibbs on pit road).”

Unable to get to Gibbs’ bumper in the closing laps, Aric Almirola finished third in the Open. Ryan Preece was fourth, followed by AJ Allmendinger, J.J. Yeley and Gragson.