Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – NORTH WILKESBORO, NC – Simplicity will be the watchword when NASCAR Cup Series stars take to the track on Sunday in the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
That’s true, at least, of the format for the 39th running of the exhibition race that pays $1 million to win. Keep the format simple and shine the spotlight on the drivers—a spotlight they must share with the unlikeliest and perhaps most exciting of All-Star Race venues.
It’s well-documented that the NASCAR Cup Series will race at revitalized North Wilkesboro for the first time in 27 years. After Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag in the second race of 1996, NASCAR left the .625-mile short track for the ostensible greener pastures of Texas and New Hampshire.
But as NASCAR revisits its past during its 75th anniversary celebration, it’s fitting that North Wilkesboro should be reborn as the site of one the sport’s most lucrative races.
Once again, appropriately, Sunday will feature no gimmicks, no inversions and no other imaginative wrinkles that can be confusing to fans and competitors alike.
Judging from the Super Late Model races that served as All-Star week appetizers on Wednesday, there will be plenty of action and plenty of worn-out bumpers as the Cup stars chase the million bucks.
The race itself will be contested over 200 laps, with a competition caution at or around Lap 100. Teams will receive four sets of tires but can only change once after the competition caution.
All drivers with at least one Cup Series victory in 2022 or 2023 are eligible for the race, in addition to previous All-Star Race winners (Ryan Blaney) and former series champions (Brad Keselowski). The top two finishers from the 100-lap All-Star Open, which precedes the main event, will be added to the field, as will the winner of the Fan Vote.
William Byron, who collected his series-best third victory of the season last Sunday at Darlington, is doing triple duty at North Wilkesboro. He finished second in Wednesday night’s ASA Stars National Tour Super Late Model Race and will compete in both Saturday’s NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series event as well as the All-Star Race.
“I’m excited for it, for sure,” Byron said. “The track looks gorgeous—it just really looks nice. The whole layout of the place has that feel of kind of a Wrigley Field or just a historic place that has a newness to it.
“I think the late model race will get me ready, running the Truck race after that and running the Cup race on Sunday.”
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Trucks set for return to North Wilkesboro
To say the least, the return of the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series to North Wilkesboro Speedway has attracted a stacked field.
NASCAR Cup Series regulars Kyle Larson, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain will be preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race by competing in Saturday’s Tyson 250 (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Chastain, who has four career Truck Series wins to his credit, would like nothing better than to collect another victory at the venerable track.
“It’s going to be a historic weekend with NASCAR returning to North Wilkesboro Speedway,” Chastain said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to run the No. 41 WWEX Racing Chevrolet Silverado for Niece Motorsports and get as many laps as possible at this bucket-list track.”
Truck Series driver standings leader and reigning champion Zane Smith, however, is equally motivated.
“There are races that you really want to win,” Smith said. “This is certainly one of them. It’s really cool to have the sport come back to such a historic track and make history come alive again.”
If momentum matters Christian Eckes has to be highlighted as a potential winner. The McAnally Hilgemann Racing driver picked up his second victory of the season last weekend at another track steeped in the lore of the sport—Darlington.
“There’s so much history at Wilkesboro, and it’d be awesome to join that list of winners, too,” Eckes said. “Tire management is going to be the big key to getting it done this weekend.
“Whoever can keep the tires under them the best is probably going to come out on top, so we’ll try to do everything we can to save tires and be up front at the end.”