CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Side-by-side racing, a dramatic, decisive pass near the end for the win and even an old-style, on-track fight: NASCAR couldn't be happier with what it saw at the All-Star Race.
"As an official, but also as a race fan, it was super exciting to watch," said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president for competition. "I can't wait for 600 miles of that next week" at Charlotte Motor Speedway in NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.
Kyle Larson got a thrilling push from Kevin Harvick after slipping between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano on a restart in the final stage to hold on for the win Saturday night. When it was over, Clint Bowyer rushed at Ryan Newman in his car, raining rights and lefts through the window like an out-of-control windup toy.
NASCAR experimented with technical changes it expects will be part of the Gen-7 car scheduled for 2021. The first was a single-piece carbon fiber splitter/pan it hoped would improve ride height and create more consistent performance in traffic. The cars also had a radiator duct that exited through the hood instead of the engine compartment, designed bring parity to aerodynamics and reduce temperatures in the car.
NASCAR called it a glimpse at the future. The changes, in part, led to many crowd-pleasing moments of the sort fans have clamored for the past few seasons.
The biggest one came 12 laps from the end when Larson, restarting sixth after a caution, found a gap just wide enough to get between Busch and Logano. He vaulted forward when Harvick got on his bumper until he was out front and held on from there.
Busch and Harvick came close down the stretch and were often alongside each other in Larson's rearview during the final laps. But Larson held on for his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2017.
Before Saturday night, Larson's most noteworthy moment this season may have been going airborne on a last-lap accident at Talladega last month.
"Gosh, after the year we had, I would not have guessed that we'd get our first win at the All-Star race," he said. "But I think the way the format is and how crazy the race is, it kind of helps out us. We always seem to run good this weekend. It just feels like a big relief to finally get a win."
There were no points attached, but Larson gets a $1 million first prize and the feeling that things are turning around for his team.
Larson's crew chief, Chad Johnston, was reserving judgment on the effect NASCAR's changes may have had on racing. He said Larson's team had the advantage of running — and winning — in the Monster Energy Open earlier Saturday to advance into the All-Star Race. That gave the Chip Ganassi Racing team more time to adjust that other teams did not have.
The tight racing no doubt played a part in Bowyer and Newman's fight. The two connected on track several times and neither wanted to let it rest after the cool-down lap. Bowyer sprinted to Newman's car and began throwing punches until crew members and officials stepped between.
Newman said Bowyer should be "embarrassed " for punching someone with a helmet on. Bowyer countered that according to his upbringing, Newman's on-track antics deserved a punch in the nose. "And that's what he got," he said.
Both were called to the NASCAR hauler and Miller believed the message to calm down got through. Still, Miller said NASCAR will monitor the situation this week in Charlotte when racing picks back up with practice and qualifying on Thursday.
"A lot of passion, it's not what you want but out of a night like tonight ... you kind of expect some tempers to flare," Miller said. "So that's what we had. I think we're in a pretty good place with it."