CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Daniel Suarez is thrilled to be competing in the NASCAR All-Star race after struggling in his rookie season.
The 25-year-old Mexican driver raced his way into the $1 million race Saturday night along with Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer by winning stages of the qualifying race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
They'll be joined in the 20-car field by Chase Elliott, the winner of a fan vote.
''Now we go with the big guys, so it's going to be fun,'' Suarez said. ''I felt like we learned quite a bit in the first 50 laps. Definitely we have to make some adjustments to be strong, but the race track is going to change a lot (at night). We'll see, let's see what we got.''
The final 10-lap segment was the most competitive and provided the most drama.
With Suarez and Elliott battling for the lead, Erik Jones came from behind and tried to pass low with three laps to go but ran out of room. He ended up in the grass, drawing damage to the bottom of his car causing his engine to erupt in smoke.
''I got a good run and tried to go to the top and there wasn't any room on the top so I went to the bottom and couldn't really see behind the 24 (Elliott) where the grass began,'' Jones said. ''So I just hoped there was enough pavement down there to make a move and get clear, but unfortunately there wasn't and that was the end of our day.''
Suarez got the lead on the restart and pulled away for the victory.
Bowyer started the qualifying race from the pole and dominated the first stage by leading all 20 laps and winning by 3.6 seconds to reach his eighth All-Star race. Blaney duplicated the feat in stage two, leading all 20 laps to punch his ticket to the $1 million exhibition race.
Bowyer was glad to put the qualifying race behind him.
''Now I can focus on running with the big boys and winning a million bucks,'' Bowyer said.
Blaney felt he could have ran better but said of his stage win, ''it wasn't pretty, but we're in.''
Elliott won the fan vote for the second straight year and will appear in his second All-Star race.
Danica Patrick had won the fan vote three times in the past, but it didn't happen this year.
''I've been blessed with many years of winning the fan vote, but Chase is going to put on a good show,'' Patrick said. ''I wish I was in the race. I do. I'm not going to lie.''
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