Matt DiBenedetto checked out in the final stage to win the NASCAR All-Star Open on Wednesday night, joining stage winners Aric Almirola and William Byron in clinching starting spots in the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
DiBenedetto led all of the final 15-lap stage in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford.
“Oh, man. I was hanging on for dear life,” DiBenedetto said. “We were so loose on entry. I was right on the ragged edge, so just thankful to the team for battling back. My gosh, we had big damage there at the start and had to fix it. That’s battling back. That’s been this team lately. We’ve been fighting so hard.”
Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford led 25 of the 35 laps in the opening segment. Byron led every lap in the second 35-lap stage in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet.
“It was good – always good to advance in an All-Star Race and have a shot to go for a million dollars,” Byron said. “The guys did a good job with this car. A little bit different Axalta look for us this week. It needs a little bit of love on the left-rear quarter panel, but hopefully we can get that fixed up and just be ready to go. This is one of my favorite tracks, so it’s pretty awesome to see the fans here and everything.”
All three drivers clinched spots in the NASCAR All-Star Race. The final All-Star starting spot went to Clint Bowyer, who was the top eligible vote-getter in fan balloting, which closed Tuesday.
“You hate to lean on them (the fans), but it damn sure feels good to have the fans back at the track,” Bowyer said. “Thank you, guys! We’re gonna go out here and see if we can make some more noise. It’s fun to be around this place. You want to talk about an All-Star event, this is the right track to do it. It’s only gonna get better as we go here. We’ve already seen sparks flying, tempers flaring. I think you’re gonna see more of it. We’ve got a little bit of work to do on our car, but we’re in it. I watched my buddy, Kasey Kahne win it one time off a fan vote — maybe we can do the same thing.”
The overall top five in the Open were DiBenedetto, Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.
Byron finished second in the first stage, followed by Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Buescher to complete the top five.
In Stage 2, Byron was followed to the start-finish line by DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Bowyer and rookie Christopher Bell in order.
The first stage was marked by an incident between pole-sitter Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace who made contact that spun Wallace’s car and ended Wallace’s day in last place after heavy damage to the No. 43 Chevrolet. Wallace later said he didn’t need to see a replay because he knew McDowell’s contact was intentional.
“Just disrespect. When you get hooked into the wall, I don’t even need to see a replay,” Wallace said. “What a joke he is.