Josh Berry along with rookies Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson completed the starting grid for the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race after all three transferred from the NASCAR All-Star Open at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Sunday, May 21.
Berry and Gibbs, both of whom started on the front row for the Open, raced their way into the main event after finishing first and second, respectively, during the Open while Gragson was revealed as the Fan Vote winner after rallying from a multi-car wreck to finish seventh on the track, thus claiming the final spot of the 24-car grid for the All-Star event that will follow suit.
The starting lineup for the event was determined through the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge that occurred on Friday, May 20, with the drivers’ qualifying time determined based on their respective crew’s pit stop time through a four-tire pit stop and the timing lines being established one box behind and ahead of the designated pit box.
Following the Pit Crew Challenge, rookie Ty Gibbs was awarded the pole position after his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew delivered the fastest pit stop overall at 13.012 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Josh Berry, an interim competitor for the injured Alex Bowman whose No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports pit crew posted a fast pit stop service at 13.677 seconds.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Ty Gibbs launched ahead in his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry with the lead on the inside lane as Michael McDowell made a bold three-wide move to the outside of the field as he tried to launch forward through Turns 1 and 2. McDowell, however, lost grip just as he cracked the top five and slipped back into the top 10 as Gibbs proceeded to lead the first lap. Behind, Berry maintained second in front of Justin Haley, Corey LaJoie, Todd Gilliland and Aric Almirola while McDowell fell back to seventh.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Gibbs was leading by nearly nine-tenths of a second over Berry, who had Haley closing in for second place while Todd Gilliland and Aric Almirola were running in the top five. Gibbs then extended his advantage to more than a second as the event surpassed its Lap 10 mark.
At the Lap 20 mark, Gibbs continued to extend his advantage by more than two seconds over Berry while third-place Haley trailed by more than three seconds. Almirola moved up in fourth followed by Gilliland while Harrison Burton, McDowell, Chandler Smith, Ryan Preece and AJ Allmendinger were in the top 10. Behind, Ryan Newman was in 11th while rookie Noah Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Josh Bilicki, JJ Yeley and Ty Dillon rounded out the field of 16 competitors currently running on the track.
By Lap 30, Gibbs retained the lead by more than three seconds over Berry while Almirola overtook Haley for third place. Behind, Gilliland retained fifth ahead of teammate McDowell and Burton while Chandler Smith, Preece and Allmendinger occupied the rest of the top 10 on the track.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 40, Gibbs had maintained the lead by more than three seconds over Berry while Almirola, Haley, Gilliland, McDowell, Allmendinger, Burton, Chandler and Newman were in the top 10. By then, Ty Dillon was lapped, but he received the free pass to cycle back on the lead lap.
During the competition caution period, the entire field led by Gibbs pitted for fresh tires, fuel and adjustments. Following the pit stops, Berry assumed the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Gibbs, Almirola, Gragson, Haley and Gilliland. Amid the pit stops, Harrison Burton, who exited pit road in eighth place, only opted to have his rear tires changed on his No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Ford Mustang.
When the race restarted on Lap 47, Berry and Haley dueled for the lead as the field fanned out and battled in tight formation through the first two turns and the backstretch. During the following lap, however, Berry managed to pull ahead and assume the lead with a clear racetrack followed by Gibbs and Almirola while Haley fell back to fourth in front of McDowell.
Two laps later, the caution returned when Gragson, who was running sixth and ran into the rear of McDowell entering Turn 1, went too low and hit the inside wall before his No. 42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 shot back across the track and into the path of Gilliland as Gragson collided into the Turn 1 outside wall head-on along with Gilliland as Chandler Smith, Allmendinger and Newman were also collected. As Chandler Smith and Gilliand retired, Gragson managed to continue along with Allmendinger and Newman.
With the race restarting with 44 laps remaining, Haley challenged Berry for the lead on the outside lane while McDowell battled Gibbs for third place. Not long after, however, the caution quickly returned when McDowell, who tried to move in front of Gibbs for third place through Turns 3 and 4, got squeezed by Gibbs as he then made contact with Haley for second as both competitors went up the track and slapped the outside wall in Turn 4 hard.
During the following restart with 37 laps remaining, Berry and Almirola battled dead even for the lead until Berry muscled ahead on the inside lane. Behind, Almirola, who was stuck on the outside lane, was overtaken by Gibbs for second as Almirola tried to fend off teammate Preece and Allmendinger for more.
With 32 laps remaining, Gibbs reassumed the lead from Berry as Preece started to challenge Berry for second. In the midst of the battles at the front, Allmendinger and Almirola joined the battle in fourth and fifth while JJ Yeley and Gragson trailed behind in sixth and seventh.
Then with 23 laps remaining, Gibbs, who had maintained a steady lead over Berry through the backstretch, got held up and ran towards the apron by McDowell’s No. 34 Fr8Auctions Ford Mustang through Turns 1 and 2 before he then got shoved towards the inside wall through Turns 3 and 4 as McDowell expressed his on-track frustration to Gibbs over the late contact that eliminated McDowell and Haley from contention. This allowed Berry to reassume the lead in his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through the frontstretch while Gibbs managed to fend off Almirola for second place. In the process, McDowell, who lost a lap for repairs during the initial caution period, went two laps down.
With less than 20 laps remaining, Berry was leading by three-tenths of a second over Gibbs and Almirola while Preece and Allmendinger remained in the top five.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Berry, who lapped McDowell for a third time, continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over Gibbs with Almirola trailing by a second and trying to close in on Gibbs for a transfer spot to the All-Star Race.
With five laps remaining, Berry maintained the lead by more than a second over Gibbs as third-place Almirola cut his deficit to Gibbs by less than three-tenths of a second. Meanwhile, Preece and Allmendinger trailed the leaders by four seconds while Yeley maintained sixth as he trailed by more than eight seconds.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Berry remained as the leader by six-tenths over Gibbs as Almirola tried to ignite a final lap charge in his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang on Gibbs for second through Turn 1. Almirola, however, could not execute the pass or bump on Gibbs to gain the spot as Gibbs pulled away. Back at the front, Berry managed to cruise away from the field and claim both the All-Star Open victory and a transfer spot to the 2023 All-Star Race by half a second over Gibbs.
With his accomplishment, Berry, a NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time competitor for JR Motorsports who led three times for 46 laps, achieved his first checkered flag of any type in NASCAR’s premier series. This year’s All-Star weekend marks Berry’s fourth start as an interim competitor of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports entry in place of the injured Alex Bowman and ninth overall for HMS as he will contend for his first opportunity of winning a million dollars. Berry’s Open victory also enabled all four Hendrick Motorsports entries to make the All-Star feature.
“I feel so relieved,” Berry said on FS1. “These guys deserve to be in this race so bad. Thank you so much to Hendrick Motorsports for believing in me and giving me this opportunity under circumstances. This is really cool. We were able to get the lead and stretch it out a little bit, and just kind of maintain it. I think the two best cars made it [to the All-Star Race]. We’ll just see what tonight gives us.”
Behind, Gibbs, the reigning Xfinity Series champion who led twice for a race-high 53 laps, fended off Almirola to finish second and race his way into his first career All-Star Race. Gibbs’ accomplishment enabled all four Joe Gibbs Racing competitors to make the main event.
“It’s really cool,” Gibbs said. “I feel like I’m kind of back here at Hickory Motor Speedway, honestly. It’s a worn-out racetrack, for sure. Just kind of looking for patches, looking for grip. I kind of understand [McDowell]’s frustration, but at Martinsville [Speedway], we were running 18th and they clobbered us and about wrecked us, so I think it’s, honestly, fair game. We got in [to the All-Star Race]. That’s all that matters.”
Lastly, rookie Noah Gragson, who recovered from his wreck nearing the halfway point to finish seventh, was awarded the 24th and final transfer spot to the All-Star Race by virtue of being the Fan Vote winner. The accomplishment marks Gragson’s first appearance in the All-Star Race as both Legacy Motor Club competitors will compete in the main event.
“It’s kind of bittersweet right now,” Gragson said. “[I] Got the Fan Vote so we can go racing. We want to race our way in, but grateful for the whole Legacy Motor Club team. Thank you fans for all the support and everything going into this. Voting, the cheers, everything. We fire and feed off your guys’ energy, so thank you. Unfortunate for our team [with the damaged car]. We’re gonna try to get [the car] back together and put a show for the fans. We’re gonna try and get up there.”
Aric Almirola finished the Open in third, but was among the remaining 13 competitors who did not make the 2023 All-Star Race along with Ryan Preece, AJ Allmendinger, JJ Yeley, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Josh Bilicki, Harrison Burton, Ryan Newman, Michael McDowell, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland and Chandler Smith.
There were five lead changes for three different leaders. The race featured three cautions for 18 laps.
1. Josh Berry, 46 laps led
2. Ty Gibbs, 53 laps led
3. Aric Almirola
4. Ryan Preece
5. AJ Allmendinger
6. JJ Yeley
7. Noah Gragson
8. Ty Dillon
9. Corey LaJoie
10. Josh Bilicki
11. Harrison Burton
12. Ryan Newman, three laps down
13. Michael McDowell, three laps down
14. Justin Haley – OUT, Accident, one lap led
15. Todd Gilliland – OUT, Accident
16. Chandler Smith – OUT, Accident
The 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway will follow suit on Sunday, May 21, at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.