Intense Sprint Showdown sets scene for Saturday night’s All-Star Race – USA TODAY

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CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR’s last-chance race for spots in Saturday night’s All-Star Race was so thrilling, the main event might have trouble matching it.

Five additional drivers became All-Stars after the Sprint Showdown, which was run Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway after being postponed from Friday night. It set the field for the 20-driver All-Star event, but not without some fireworks between NASCAR’s young guns.

After Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle won the first two segments, respectively, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott slammed doors and rubbed sheet metal all the way to the finish line in Segment No. 3.

Larson, desperate to race his way into the $1 million event and knowing he wouldn’t win the fan vote as a fallback, did whatever he could to keep Elliott behind him and ultimately prevailed. But Elliott made the All-Star Race anyway based on the fan vote and joined Danica Patrick as the final two drivers in the field.

The Elliott/Larson incident came during a week when Larson has been under scrutiny for how cleanly he battled Matt Kenseth at the finish of Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway. While the third-year driver was praised by many for his classy driving, some fans and media said Larson could have driven a bit harder with his first career win – and a playoff berth – on the line.

Then came Saturday, when Larson basically did the opposite.

“I guess it’s pretty ironic, huh?” Larson said. “Last week, I raced with all the class in the world. Today, definitely don’t teach your kids at home to drive like that at the racetrack.

“Hey, it’s a non-points race. I know there was probably more at stake last week, but for whatever reason, I wanted it pretty bad. I knew I wouldn’t be in had I not done that, so I just had to drive hard.”

Larson said he didn’t just drive Elliott into the outside wall, so he at least left the rookie driver a lane. He cited last year’s Truck Series race finish between Kasey Kahne and Erik Jones (“They pretty much did the same thing”) and the Cup Series finish between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway.

“I knew if I got sucked to him, it would at least slow his run down and maybe I’d luck out and get a nose out in front of him,” Larson said. “It worked out, so I’m happy about that. Hope he’s not too mad.”

Elliott wasn’t mad at Larson, but was visibly frustrated with himself for making mistakes during the course of the Showdown. His car was damaged and he said “no damage is easily fixable,” but the team had several hours to fix it before qualifying.

“I’m irritated at myself more than anything,” he said. “Just made a lot of dumb mistakes. Had some terrible restarts, about as bad of restarts as you can possibly have.”

The finish of Segment 3 wasn’t the only notable moment of the Showdown.

With four laps to go in the first segment, Michael McDowell spun through the grass and caused a caution that set up a restart.

Ryan Blaney, starting second, was judged to have jumped the restart ahead of Elliott, who was leading the race. Blaney was then black-flagged as Bayne shot through the middle of the leaders to get out front, pull alongside Elliott at the finish line and win the segment by a nose.

“There was a tiny hole,” Bayne said. “I saw a little hole, and somehow we made it through without getting our car beat up.”

In Segment 2, Biffle became the second Roush Fenway Racing driver to transfer into the All-Star Race. He passed Austin Dillon about halfway through the 20-lap run, which was all green.

“We’ve been getting better and better, just don’t have any results to show for that,” Biffle said. “… Everything went great today and we’re in the big race tonight.”

That left a final segment of 10 laps to decide the last transfer spot. Larson and AJ Allmendinger started on the front row, and Elliott – who had fallen back – had a massive charge on four fresh tires to get into contention.

Elliott had already taken one shot at passing Larson – and missed – before the final lap. With Blaney closing quickly, Elliott took the high line from Larson and looked to be making the winning move coming off Turn 4.

But Larson made contact with Elliott as the No. 24 car started to pass, and the two cars gave off smoke as they roughly raced toward the line.

Intense Sprint Showdown sets scene for Saturday night’s All-Star Race – USA TODAY

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