If Cole Custer was going to compete in this year's NASCAR All-Star Race, it appeared he'd either have to win one of the three stages of the All-Star Open, which provides an opportunity for drivers who didn't already qualify, or hope to win the All-Star Fan Vote.
However, the 22-year-old no longer needs to do either of those.
On Sunday, he notched his first career Cup Series victory, pulling off an impressive last-lap move to win at Kentucky Speedway. The rookie became the 16th driver to qualify for this year's All-Star Race, taking place Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
All race winners from the 2019 and 2020 seasons are included, as well as former Cup Series champions and past All-Star Race winners.
That leaves 22 other drivers who will compete on Wednesday prior to the All-Star Race. The All-Star Open will feature three stages (two 35-lap stages and a final 15-lap stage), with the winners of each stage advancing to the All-Star Race. The victors of the first two stages will drop out after winning.
The All-Star Race is unique this year, as it's the first time it will take place at Bristol. It's only previously been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway (1985, 1987-2019) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (1986).
Here's a look at Wednesday's schedule, starting lineups for the All-Star Race and All-Star Open and the top contenders to advance from the preliminary qualifying race.
NASCAR All-Star Race Schedule
All-Star Open, 7 p.m. ET on FS1
All-Star Race, 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1
NASCAR All-Star Race Starting Lineup
The three stage winners from the All-Star Open will start 17th, 18th and 19th, while the All-Star Fan Vote winner will start 20th.
NASCAR All-Star Open Starting Lineup
Top Contenders to Advance from All-Star Open
Bristol hasn't been Aric Almirola's best track during his Cup Series career. He's finished 29th or worse in each of his last four races at the half-mile oval.
However, there are reasons to believe the 36-year-old might fare well enough on Wednesday to make it into the All-Star Race for the third time in his career and for the second straight year.
Almirola is starting second in the All-Star Open, which is the same place he started in the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol on May 31. And although he ended up 29th in that race, he was fourth at the end of the first stage, which lasted 125 laps. With two 35-lap stages and a final 15-lap stage in the All-Star Open, he will just need to get out front and stay there for a short time.
Also, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has had a solid 2020 season. He's eighth in the Cup Series standings (highest among All-Star Open competitors) and has five top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 17 races.
If Almirola jumps out front ahead of pole sitter Michael McDowell to begin the All-Star Open, it wouldn't be surprising to see him dominate the first 35-lap stage to advance to the All-Star Race.
Clint Bowyer is no stranger to the All-Star Open. He's advanced from the race three times (2014, 2015 and 2017) in his career. And the fact that it's at Bristol this year should only improve his chances of winning one of the three stages and advancing once more.
In his past five races at the track, the 41-year-old has finished no worse than eighth, which includes a second-place finish there in May. Although he has never won at Bristol, he owns eight top-five finishes and 16 top-10s in 29 career starts at the track.
Bowyer is starting ninth in the All-Star Open, so he'll need to make some quick moves to get in position to win one of the three stages. But he's never been a strong qualifier at Bristol, so it won't be anything new for him to have to potentially work his way through some traffic.
With a pair of top-fives and five top-10s this season, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has shown he's still capable of solid performances despite being one of the older competitors in the Cup Series. Don't be surprised if he works his way into his 11th career All-Star Race.
Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson are all already in the All-Star Race field, and William Byron will be looking to join his Hendrick Motorsports teammates by winning one of the three stages of the All-Star Open.
The 22-year-old made his All-Star Race debut last year, and he made it into the event by winning the first stage of the All-Star Open. This year, he'll be starting seventh at Bristol, which is a track he's had some decent showings at early in his Cup Series career.
In May, Byron finished eighth at Bristol, notching his best finish through five career Cup Series starts at the track. He's also been consistent since that race, as he's finished 11th or better in seven of the past nine races, which includes additional top-10s at Martinsville, Homestead-Miami and Pocono.
Hendrick Motorsports has won 11 races at Bristol, with six different drivers going to Victory Lane. So, don't be surprised if Byron has a strong car that he's able to get to the front of the field by the end of one of the three stages.