North Wilkesboro Speedway, North Wilkesboro, NC — May 20, 2023
To help celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, the sport is going back to its roots at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Deemed the ‘Field of Dreams of Racing,’ this will be the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has returned to North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996. It will also be the first time the NASCAR All-Star race and the All-Star Open will take place at the 0.625-mile paved oval located just five miles outside North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Yes, racing is back at North Wilkesboro, and there is over $1 million dollars up for grabs.
The starting grid was set by two 60-lap heat races on Saturday night at the famous oval, with the front stretch running downhill and the backstretch climbing back up.
The “Open” run just before the All-Star race acted as a last-chance qualifier for those drivers who did not earn a spot in the feature. Josh Berry(48), subbing for the injured Alex Bowman, and Ty Gibbs staged a back-and-forth battle over 100 laps to earn spots in the big-money race. Berry took the checkered flag.
Noah Gragson won the fan vote to claim the final spot in the field.
The NASCAR All-Star Race was introduced in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the first All-Star race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond. Waltrip led 27 laps in the 70-lap inaugural All-Star event en route to the win driving the No. 11 for Junior Johnson. It was Waltrip’s only career All-Star win.
The second NASCAR All-Star Race in 1986 was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and the event was dominated by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. Who set the record for the most laps led in a NASCAR All-Star Race by a driver that won the event, leading 82 of the scheduled 83 laps. Elliott started the event in the second starting position. Twice the NASCAR All-Star Race has been led by one driver flag-to-flag, and both occurred at Charlotte; Dale Earnhardt led all 70 laps in 1990, and Davey Allison led all 70 laps in 1991.
The next 33 All-Star events would be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway until the 2020 season. Due to the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the race was rescheduled and moved to Bristol Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott grabbed his first NASCAR All-Star Race win at Bristol that season. The win made the Elliotts (Bill and Chase) the second father-son duo to win the NASCAR All-Star Race all-time, joining the Earnhardts (Dale and Dale Jr.).
Then in 2021, the special non-points event was moved to Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. And for the second straight season, the NASCAR All-Star Race was won by a Hendrick Motorsports driver – Kyle Larson. Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Cup Series in NASCAR All-Star race victories with 10 wins among five drivers – Jimmie Johnson (four: 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013), Jeff Gordon (three: 1995, 1997, 2001), Terry Labonte (1999), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).
It also was the second consecutive season the NASCAR All-Star Race winner went on to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the same season. The feat has occurred 12 times since the inception of the All-Star race in 1985 by seven different drivers – Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001), Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).
Last season’s NASCAR All-Star race at Texas Motor Speedway was won by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. Blaney dominated the event once, leading 84 of the 140 scheduled laps. It was his first victory in the special non-points event and the fourth for Team Penske – Blaney (2022), Joey Logano (2016), Kurt Busch (2010), and Ryan Newman (2002).
This weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race will be the 39th running of the prized exhibition race, and North Wilkesboro is the fifth different track to host the event. Joining Charlotte Motor Speedway (34 All-Star races: 1985, 1987-2019), Atlanta Motor Speedway (1986), Bristol Motor Speedway (2020), and Texas Motor Speedway (2021-2022).
|Rank||Active All-Star Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|1||Kyle Larson||2||2021, 2019|
|2||Kevin Harvick||2||2018, 2007|
NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers in North Wilkesboro Speedway history, will serve as co-Grand Marshals for the prestigious race. Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who won the last NASCAR Cup Series race held at North Wilkesboro in 1996, and his then crew chief, Ray Evernham, will also serve in special roles — as honorary Pace Car driver and Honorary Starter — to help get the NASCAR All-Star Race underway on Sunday evening.
Settle in for 200 laps of racing, no stages, just good old-fashioned short-track racing.
Daniel Suarez(99) took off at the drop of the green flag, with Joey Logano(22) following him into turn two. Denny Hamlin(11) worked his way past Logano just before the first caution of the race was displayed on lap 15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came out of turn four too high and cut across the front bumper of Erik Jones(43). A slight bump was enough to send Stenhouse spinning.
Several cars at the rear of the pack to the opportunity to come in and change tires. With only three sets allotted to each team, having a set of scuffed tires could be a valuable asset at the end of the race. Kyle Larson(5) was too fast off pit road and had to restart at the rear of the field.
Back to racing, Suarez is still out front. Followed by Hamlin, Logano, Chase Briscoe(14), and Chase Elliott(9). Getting fresh Goodyear rubber was key for Larson. By lap 40, he had driven his way into the top ten. Hugging the bottom side of the track, just like he did in winning the Craftsman Truck on Saturday.
At lap 45, Larson was in the top five. By lap 50, Larson had moved to third. From worst to first. Larson moved to the top spot on lap 55. Larson quickly built a five-second interval on second place and began lapping cars at the rear of the field.
Bubba Wallace, another driver who stopped early for fresh tires, drove to fourth place by lap 85. The whole field will have a chance to pit and make adjustments when NASCAR throws a competition caution at lap 100.
At lap 95, Larson’s lead was 12.5 seconds. Only 16 cars remained on the lead lap, before the caution break, and Wallace had moved to second place. Suarez, Logano, and Briscoe rounded out the top five. Martin Truex Jr.(19) will get the lucky dog free pass to get back on the lead lap for the second half of the race.
The Final 100 Laps
Larson, Wallace, Suarez, Tyler Reddick(45), and Briscoe were the first five off pit road. With the choose rule in place, it will be interesting to see how the leaders line up with the inside line providing a huge advantage on the restart.
Logano and Ross Chastain were penalized for infractions on pit road and will have to restart at the rear. Suarez started on the outside of Larson. By the time he got into the lower line, Suarez was running fourth.
With laps running down and a lot of money on the line, the pushing and shoving picked up among drivers scrambling for positions. No worries for Larson. He continues to pull away from the pack. Extending his lead over Wallace on every lap.
By lap 150 of the 200 to be run, Larson led Wallace by 3.2 seconds. Kyle Larson led 145 of the 200 laps in taking the win. His third in an All-Star race. Interestingly, he is the only driver to win the All-Star event at three different tracks.
After finishing last in his heat race, Michigan’s Erik Jones put in a credible effort ending up in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish.
Results of the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race from North Wilkesboro Speedway
|14||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-1||199|
|24||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-4||196|