Notes of Interest

● Where We Stand: The New Jersey native will take a break from points racing this weekend at North Wilkesboro. He sits second in the driver standings with 456 points, 30 behind leader Kyle Larson. Three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) entries are currently inside the top-10 in the standings as Denny Hamlin sits third and Ty Gibbs seventh. The series heads back to points-paying races on Memorial Day weekend with the annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

● The NASCAR Cup Series competed last weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for the event known 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 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.

● Looking for the First: Truex will make his 13th All-Star Race start at North Wilkesboro on Sunday night and will be looking for his first All-Star Race victory. In 12 All-Star Race starts, which have come at Charlotte, Bristol, Texas, and North Wilkesboro, Truex has a best All-Star Race finish of second back in 2010 at Charlotte, when he raced for Michael Waltrip Racing.

● 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.

● Looking for 35: Truex’s win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last July was his most recent Cup Series win, the 34th of his career, tying him with 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch for 25th on the all-time Cup Series win list.

● Ahead at this Stage: Truex has accumulated 63 stage wins since the beginning of the stage era in 2017. He is the only driver with 10 or more stage sweeps, with his latest sweep coming at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn last August. Truex scored his second stage win of the season at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway last month, leading the field across the line at the end of Stage 1.

Martin Truex Jr., Driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry XSE

What do you think about when you head to a place with as much history as North Wilkesboro?

“I remember watching races from there when I was growing up. For me, it’s neat to be racing on that track where so many legends of the sport did. I remember races of the past and how cool the races were there and what it was like to watch. I expect it to be fun. The All-Star Race is something that’s supposed to be fun. It’s something unique and different and I think it will be. I’m looking forward to working on our car in practice and the heat races and hope we can have a strong run there with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry XSE.”

The repave and addition of different tires are new wrinkles to the All-Star Race this year. What do you expect from those unknowns this weekend?

“I think they are exactly that, pretty big unknowns. I know Ty (Gibbs) tested there and the lap times were really fast, you throw in the options of tires and it definitely could make it interesting. Obviously when you repave these places, it tends to make them one-groove for a while until the pavement wears out, so we’ll see how the tire selection comes into play and just keep try to learn every lap the entire weekend.”

This year, Toyota had a change in the body with the Camry XSE coming in. How has Toyota adapted so well over the years with big changes?

“We always feel like the guys at Toyota and our race team do a really good job of adjusting when there are big changes. We are always, like, throw some more stuff at us and make some big changes because it always seems to help us. We built a new Camry XSE in the offseason and that’s been great, but we didn’t know how the short-track package would work with that, but it’s been really good. Across the board, our cars have been really consistent with all the tracks and all the different packages. That’s a really good feeling for the rest of the year.”

Did you guys feel like you were starting over a bit with the new Camry, or do you feel like it’s been a tweaking of what you already had during the first two years of the NextGen car?

“It’s definitely been different, but I think it’s been good for us. It’s the third year now in the NextGen car and just working on figuring out what it takes to make that thing work at all these tracks we’ve been to. We have short practice sessions, still, and not a lot of time to try things and test things. It’s been good to be able to go to the track and have something close each and every week. My team has done an awesome job of giving me fast cars and I feel like, if we can just execute some things a bit better here and there, we are going to start putting together some race wins, where we’ve been in a position for already and a couple of caution flags have hampered us a bit from getting that win, like at Richmond and at Kansas, as well. We hope to take on a new challenge with the repave at North Wilkesboro this weekend, it’s going to be fast, and try to get my first All-Star win with our Bass Pro Shops Camry.”

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