Kyle Larson cruises to third NASCAR All-Star win

AP photo by Matt Kelley / Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson celebrates in victory lane at North Carolina's North Wilkesboro Speedway after winning the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday night.

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Kyle Larson didn't mince words after his third NASCAR All-Star Race victory in five years.

"That was an old school (butt)-whipping, for sure," Larson said.

Larson turned in a dominant performance to run away with his third victory in the exhibition that doesn't award Cup Series season points, earning $1 million Sunday night in the circuit's return to North Wilkesboro Speedway after a 27-year absence.

He became only the fourth driver to win the NASCAR All-Star Race at least three times. Jimmie Johnson's four victories are the record, while Larson, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon have three wins. Larson is the first to win it at three different tracks, also having won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2019 and Texas Motor Speedway in 2021.

The 2021 Cup Series champion celebrated his success with a full lap of burnouts in his No. 5 Chevrolet around the .625-mile track as Hendrick Motorsports won the event for the 11th time.

Bubba Wallace finished second in the 200-lap race, followed by 23XI Racing teammate Tyler Reddick in another Toyota, Chase Briscoe in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and Chase Elliott in another Hendrick Chevy.

But only Larson collected prize money in the winner-take-all event.

Wallace joked he won the "best of the rest."

"Larson was lights out, so congrats to him," Wallace said. "They have been hitting it on the head all season, so to run second to them is not a bad thing. But to run second in the All-Star Race sucks because you go home with nothing."

Larson overcame an early speeding penalty on the 24th lap and ran away from the field. After being sent to the back of the field, he blew past 16 cars on fresh tires, including Daniel Suarez, who started in pole position, on the 56th lap to take the lead. Larson went on to build an 11-second advantage before the first competition caution at the 100th lap.

That didn't slow Larson, who was never seriously challenged in the second half of the race.

"We had a great car in the long runs, and I was thinking that for sure there was going to be a caution," said Larson, who also won the Trucks Series race at North Wilkesboro on Saturday. "I got out to a big lead, and I could see everybody's cars were driving like crap in front of me."

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 in what amounted to yet another short track snoozer in a season where NASCAR has struggled with noncompetitive races.

"It's no secret that everybody in the industry, the fans have been vocal about wanting better short track racing, so I think what happened tonight goes along with what that narrative has been lately," Reddick said. "NASCAR is working on it, and we are all going to put our heads together and try to make short track racing better."

North Wilkesboro Speedway's patched-up asphalt held up fairly well after 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 NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the organization's 75th anniversary season.

Suarez and Chris Buescher started on the front row 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 Sunday, leading the first 55 laps, while Buescher quickly fell off the pace, dropping to 10th place after just five laps when he got stuck on the outside.

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.

There were two crashes in the Open, including one involving Michael McDowell and Justin Haley, who were both running in the top five at the time before Gibbs bumped McDowell.

"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."