Notes of Interest

● 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, Noah Gragson 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 Gragson 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. Gragson 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.

● The fan vote is what got Gragson into last year’s All-Star Race. He finished seventh in the Open but took the highest tally in the fan vote to earn a spot in the All-Star Race. Gragson started last in the 24-driver field and finished 23rd.

● 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.

● DYK? The frontstretch of North Wilkesboro 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.

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Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Ford Mustang Dark Horse

When North Wilkesboro ran its last points-paying NASCAR Cup Series race in 1996, you weren’t even born. 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?

“For me, it was probably just go out and compete. It’s another challenge and trying to figure out another track. Obviously, you hear the stories from everybody who was around at that time and they all have their story about how they saw Richard Petty go around that place, Dale Jarrett, Dale Sr., Rusty Wallace. They all have their story and how much that place means to them. I might not share that same sentimental value, but I do appreciate it the same as when we go to Martinsville. The first time you go to Martinsville, you think, ‘Man, this is grassroots!’ It’s cool. It’s different. I thought that was pretty cool about it, but to me it’s another racetrack where I have an opportunity to go out and compete and try to be the best driver that I can be.”

You advanced from the Open to the All-Star Race in your first All-Star Race weekend. Not everyone does that. Did you have an appreciation for being a part of the main event?

“I think the coolest thing was being a part of driver intros for the All-Star Race. I would’ve liked to have seen what it was like at Charlotte back in the day. There were a lot of people at North Wilkesboro, but there were a lot more people at Charlotte. I used to watch the All-Star Race growing up when it was at Charlotte. It was a different atmosphere. But it was definitely a privilege to be a part of the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro and something that I’m very thankful for. It’s what I grew up watching, and to be a part of that All-Star lineup, and to have the support from the fans, it meant the world to me to be voted in. It wasn’t my best weekend as a driver, but the fans definitely pulled through and, hopefully, we can transfer into the race this year. But if not, we need all the votes we can get, and it doesn’t go unnoticed that the fans are what continues to drive me week in and week out, so it’s definitely special to be a part of that race.”

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

“It’ll be quite a bit different. You just didn’t have any grip (last year), so if you were a little bit off, you were a lot off because the delta on that was a big difference. You saw Kyle Larson lap the whole field, pretty much, driving from last to the front and still lapping guys. His stuff was really good. I think it’ll probably be a lot closer, and it’s a new challenge for us, so I’m excited for it.”

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

“We’re trying to become an All-Star, right? So it’s not as challenging as if you’re racing all 35 guys on the racetrack. But at the same time, it is a challenge to just do it and have a good car and understanding the track and getting a good finish.”

Describe the vibe of last year’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro.

“It was definitely a different vibe than normal, and I think the excitement level leading up to it – everybody was very excited, so that was super cool and it just carried throughout the whole weekend. I ran a Late Model race there, as well, so I was up there the whole week and everybody was pretty fired up and pumped up. It was a good time.”