Notes of Interest

● The NASCAR Cup Series recently competed at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, which bills itself as the Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR. But the throwback of all throwbacks comes this weekend at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. The .625-mile oval located in the hills of Wilkes County, North Carolina, had sat dormant for 25 years, save for a one-year respite in 2010 when local investors cleaned it up enough to host a handful of grassroots Late Model racing series. The track closed again in the spring of 2011, reverting back to its Scooby-Doo haunted mansion vibe. Once a staple of the NASCAR Cup Series when Winston cigarettes was its title sponsor, North Wilkesboro was cast aside, despite being a NASCAR original and hosting 93 points-paying Cup Series races since 1949, the last of which came on Sept. 29, 1996, when Jeff Gordon beat Dale Earnhardt by 1.73 seconds to win the Tyson Holly Farms 400. But thanks to an $18 million cash infusion from the state as part of the American Rescue Plan, as well as another seven-figure spend by track operator Speedway Motorsports, North Wilkesboro was revived. It had a soft opening in August 2022 with Modified and Late Model racing before its grand reopening last May with five days of racing, from the CARS Late Model Stock Tour to the NASCAR Truck Series and, finally, the Cup Series via the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race. The track Enoch Staley built in 1946 – first as a five-eighths mile dirt oval where whiskey runners displayed their skill behind the wheel, along with their mechanical acumen for building cars that were faster than those of the revenuers, and two years ahead of NASCAR’s first season and three years before the first Strictly Stock (now Cup Series) race was held – was back, and the resto-mod of racetracks is ready for another chapter of the NASCAR All-Star Race.

● DYK? The frontstretch of North Wilkesboro Speedway runs downhill and the backstretch runs uphill. This forces drivers to change their approach to each corner of the racetrack, as they’re carrying more speed entering turn one than they are going into turn three.

● This year marks the 40th running of the NASCAR All-Star Race. Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway hosted the first All-Star Race and 34 in total. The All-Star Race debuted on May 25, 1985, at Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval and it was won by Darrell Waltrip. Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted the second All-Star Race in 1986 before returning to Charlotte for a 33-race run. The 2020 All-Star Race was held at the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway – the first time the All-Star Race wasn’t held at a 1.5-mile oval. The All-Star Race returned to a 1.5-mile oval in June 2021, when Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth began hosting the event for a two-year stretch. When North Wilkesboro hosted the All-Star Race for the first time last year, it became just the second track other than a 1.5-mile oval to host the specialty event.

● For all the talk about the All-Star Race, Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates are focused on the NASCAR All-Star Open. The 100-lap race is for drivers not qualified for the All-Star Race, and Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas brethren fall into this group. Only drivers who have won a points race in either 2023 or 2024, drivers who have previously won the All-Star Race and still compete fulltime, and drivers who have won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and compete fulltime are eligible for the All-Star Race. Briscoe is one of 20 drivers looking to race their way into the All-Star Race via the Open, but only the top-two finishers in the Open will advance to the All-Star Race. However, a third Open driver will get into the All-Star Race via a fan vote, which will remain live until 5:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, when the green flag waves for the Open.

● Briscoe has been a part of two All-Star Races, and he didn’t need to run the All-Star Open to make the main event. After winning the NASCAR Cup Series rookie-of-the-year title in 2021, Briscoe won in just the fourth start of his sophomore season. On March 13, 2022 at Phoenix Raceway, Briscoe took the checkered flag in his 40th career Cup Series start. The victory secured Briscoe’s place in the NASCAR Playoffs and earned him the honor of being the 200th Cup Series winner in NASCAR history. It also gave Briscoe automatic entry into the All-Star Race in 2022 and 2023. In those two races, Briscoe finished 18th and fourth, respectively.

● A touch of the champagne-sipping realm of Formula One comes to the moonshine-imbibing world of North Wilkesboro when drivers competing in both the All-Star Open and the All-Star Race get a choice of tire compounds. In Formula One, teams get an allotment of soft, medium and hard tires from supplier Pirelli that they must use throughout the race weekend. At the All-Star event weekend, tire supplier Goodyear is bringing a “prime” tire, which is a slick racing tire, an “option” tire that is also a slick but with a softer, faster-wearing compound, and a rain tire should weather conditions warrant its use. The lettering on the prime tires will be yellow, the lettering on the option tires will be red, and the lettering on the rain tires will be white. In theory, the prime tire will last longer but provide less grip, therefore compromising speed. The option tire will provide maximum grip at the beginning of a run, allowing drivers to make significantly more speed, but their high-degradation rate means that speed will be short-lived. The rain tire will only be used in wet or damp conditions. Here are some additional details pertaining to tire usage at North Wilkesboro:

●  Teams will be allotted nine sets of tires for the weekend.

​●  Teams will be allotted three sets of prime tires and two sets of option tires for practice, qualifying, the heat races and the All-Star Open.

​●  Teams will have two sets of prime and option tires for the All-Star Race.

​●  All four tires on the car must be the same type at all times.

​●  Only the prime tire will be used during qualifying.

​●  Teams will have the option to start on any type of tire for practice, the heat races and the All-Star Open.

​●  All teams will start on the option tire for the All-Star Race.

● Back with Briscoe this weekend at North Wilkesboro is HighPoint.com, a leading provider of technology infrastructure solutions. HighPoint has been a partner of Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing since 2020 when the company supported Briscoe’s NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign, a collaboration that netted a season-best nine victories and earned Briscoe a promotion to the NASCAR Cup Series. HighPoint has climbed the NASCAR ladder with Briscoe and has helped Stewart-Haas maximize its IT investments. Said Briscoe about the partnership: “Even though we race stock cars, there’s nothing stock about what we do. The science of our cars is impressive, but the technology that goes into building our Ford Mustangs and then making them perform is even more advanced. Our IT needs are pretty complex, and we demand a lot from our technology every day, whether it’s at the shop or at the track. HighPoint provides efficiency and security. They’re more than just a sponsor – HighPoint is a partner that helps us perform.” As an IT Solutions Integrator focused on all things that connect, HighPoint helps its customers with the selection and supply of network infrastructure, mobility, collaboration, data center, security solutions and the risk-mitigated implementation and management of their technology. The company, founded in 1996, is a minority-owned business headquartered in Sparta, New Jersey. HighPoint serves markets in its nearby Tri-State Region (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware) and the southeastern United States via its presence in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as globally with offices in Amsterdam and London. To learn more about HighPoint’s solutions, please visit HighPoint.com.

The story of how HighPoint.com came together with Briscoe and Stewart-Haas is one that could’ve been scripted in Hollywood. In November of 2019, while walking to dinner after attending the SEMA show in Las Vegas, Kevin Briscoe was stopped by a stranger who noticed his No. 98 Stewart-Haas hat. The man was Mike Mendiburu, founder and CEO of HighPoint.com, and he said he was a big fan of Chase Briscoe, then a young NASCAR Xfinity Series driver from Mitchell, Indiana. Kevin informed Mendiburu that Chase was his son and the two carried on a conversation like they were old friends. The two walked away with Kevin accepting Mendiburu’s business card, just in case the Briscoes ever needed anything. Months passed and Chase Briscoe was told that he may not have a ride in the No. 98 for the 2020 season if funding couldn’t be found. So, Stewart-Haas was given Mendiburu’s information and an agreement was reached for HighPoint.com to sponsor Briscoe. That chance encounter in Las Vegas led to a nine-win season in 2020. In October of that year, midway through the playoffs, Briscoe arrived at Tony Stewart’s house in Indiana for what he thought was a discussion with his team owner about whether HighPoint.com would be returning as his sponsor for the next season. The group sat down for dinner and Briscoe, joined by his parents, was informed a decision had already been made – he would be leaving the No. 98 Xfinity Series program to become the next driver of the team’s No. 14 Cup Series entry, the car Stewart himself wheeled during his driving tenure at Stewart-Haas. “I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for Mike and everyone at HighPoint.com,” Briscoe said. “Going into 2020, I was going to be done. They literally came in fourth quarter with 30 seconds left and kept things going. Without them, I think my career would’ve been over.”

Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang

When North Wilkesboro ran its last points-paying NASCAR Cup Series race in 1996, you weren’t even 2 years old. So when NASCAR returned to North Wilkesboro last year for the All-Star Race, did you have an understanding of its history, or was it just another track where you had to go out and compete?

“I knew it was a track that they used to run at, but even last year, I was talking about the how the significance of it really wasn’t there for me. I don’t remember watching races there, and I don’t remember when NASCAR used to race there. I didn’t even know where it was. I didn’t even know it was in North Carolina, to be honest. I definitely would say it didn’t have as much significance for me, growing up a dirt guy, as it would a John Hunter Nemechek or somebody who grew up pavement racing. It probably meant a little bit more to them. Regardless, it was still cool to go there and see a track come back to life. As a motorsports fan, you never want to see tracks die, and it’s cool to see a track get revived like that.”

You competed in the past two All-Star Races, but this year you have to race your way into the main event. Did you have an appreciation for being a part of the main event, and does that make you want to get back into the All-Star Race that much more?

“For sure. The last two years, I’ve been able to just be locked into the All-Star Race and I didn’t have to do anything to get into it as far as the weekend itself. This time, it’ll kind of be like going back dirt racing where you have heat races, and if you don’t make the transfer, you’re done. You’re loading up and going to the house. It definitely makes you appreciate it a little bit more, being locked into it. I would obviously love to go there locked into it. It just makes it that much more important to go there and run good because that’s a race that you want to be a part of. The All-Star event itself, it’s nice to be able to have your name attached to that event, and obviously to be racing for a million bucks is super cool, too. So that’s definitely one you put a lot of emphasis on throughout the year, and obviously you know that when you do get a win that you’re locked into the All-Star Race, and that’s one of the perks of it.”

North Wilkesboro has been completely repaved. How much of a game-changer is that compared to what you experienced last year?

“It’ll be like going to a new track. Last year, it was extremely slick and it was really, really worn out, so I feel like everything I learned last year will probably be thrown out the window. It’s still the same racetrack, but it’s going to drive totally different. Lap times, I would expect, are going to be much, much faster now, and just the way the race plays out is going to be totally different. There’s not a whole lot you can take from it. Even from a car setup standpoint, I feel like there’s probably not a whole lot you can take from it. It’ll be interesting because it’ll be a clean slate for all. Hopefully, we can be one of the teams that can go there and hit it right.”

How do you prepare for a repaved North Wilkesboro, and how much does the simulator help you when it comes to adapting to new pavement at a venue you’re already familiar with?

“I’ve never really had to do it before, so I don’t know how it’ll go. The simulator, I’m sure they have data from when I think (Joey) Logano was the Ford car who went there and tested, so they have some type of data, and that’s where, from an OEM standpoint, the manufacturer’s done a good job of translating the data and also sharing the data amongst all the teams. But, yeah, it’ll be a little bit of an interesting spot. In the past when I’ve gone to a repave, it was kind of the first race for everybody. Texas was the last one I can think of that stands out. When I went to run at Texas for the first time, that was my first-ever time at Texas, so even with the repave, I didn’t know any differently. This track I’ve actually gone to before the repave and now after the repave, it’ll definitely be interesting just to see how it all works out.”

You’re in the Open this year. Knowing a top-two finish gets you into the All-Star Race, how hard do you expect the racing to be to earn one of those transfer spots?

“It’ll be cut-throat, for sure. There are no points on the line, so it’ll be extremely aggressive. Only the top-two move on. Everybody knows that going into it, so if you’re in second, or even if you’re in the lead, you’ve got to be on it and just be ready for anything. It’s one of those tracks where you would think with the repave it would be a little bit of a challenge to pass on, and it’s where qualifying is going to be extremely important. Fortunately for us this year we’ve been really good in qualifying, so hopefully that’ll translate into the All-Star weekend and we can start up front in the Open and race our way in.”

What was the vibe for last year’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro?

“I would say that race definitely had a totally different vibe just from the atmosphere and just how excited everybody was. It honestly reminded me a lot of the Chili Bowl, just like how on Saturday night where fans of the Chili Bowl wait all year for that one race, that one night. North Wilkesboro had been waiting on that since 1996 and it was just a very similar vibe. Everybody was fired up to be there. It’s a hard ticket to get and they were all super rowdy, and it just reminded me a lot of the Chili Bowl on Saturday night. That atmosphere and that intensity is hard to come by, and the All-Star Race certainly brought that.”

HighPoint is back on your car at North Wilkesboro, and it’s a good reminder that if it weren’t for HighPoint and its founder and CEO, Mike Mendiburu, your racing career may have ended in the Xfinity Series. How crucial was that support, and what’s your advice to someone who’s been grinding away and just needs a break to get to the next level?

“Without Mike and HighPoint, I’m definitely not in the Cup Series and my career probably would’ve been over in 2020. That was the year when I leaped up into the Cup Series. It’s always special for me to have the HighPoint colors on my car, just because of what that family’s done for me and what that company’s done for me. It’s just special every single time. My advice for someone grinding away trying to make it all work would be to just keep your eye on what you want to achieve because you never know when that opportunity’s going to come. There have been multiple times when I thought my career was over, and then another door opens. You just have to trust the process. It’s not always going to be open doors because there are going to be a lot of closed doors, but it just takes those few open doors that you get and being able to capitalize on them. Fortunately, I’ve been very blessed to be able to do that.”

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