As NASCAR’s elite Cup Series makes its highly anticipated return to historic North Wilkesboro Speedway this weekend, many of the competitors, including Harrison Burton and other members of the No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging team have never experienced a Cup race there.
“I’ve never even seen the place,” Burton told reporters on a Ford teleconference last week. “It’s going to be a challenge for sure.”
It’s a different story for his Wood Brothers team, which ran 46 races on the 5/8-mile track before it dropped off the Cup schedule in 1996. The Woods ran their first race at Wilkesboro in 1957 with Jimmy Massey starting fifth and finishing 10th behind the wheel of the No. 21 Ford.
The team went on to score two poles there, both by team founder Glenn Wood, who ran five Cup races at North Wilkesboro, with a runner-up finish to Junior Johnson in 1958 after starting from the pole and a third-place finish in 1960 behind race-winner Lee Petty and Rex White.
Wood had four top-10 finishes at Wilkesboro in five starts, and suffered a blown engine after starting second in the fifth.
The Woods have two North Wilkesboro victories, both by Marvin Panch, and a total of 14 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes at Wilkesboro.
Burton said it would be cool to be the winner of the inaugural All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, but he has other goals in mind too. To compete in the main event of the All-Star weekend, he’ll have to finish first or second in the preliminary Open or win the fan vote.
“Just making the show in general – it’s important,” he said. “Think about the amount of effort that goes into building these race cars for our guys at the shop, the amount of effort you put in preparing for these races. It’s important.
“It’s a big thing for the morale of everybody and a big thing for your sponsors. So, it’s always been important, especially when it’s a really cool event like this one I think will be. It makes it that much cooler.”
Practice for All-Star and Open drivers is set for Friday from 4 p.m. to 4:50. Qualifying, which will be determined by the Pit Crew Challenge (based on the speed of the pit stop), will begin at 5:45 p.m.
Two heat races for drivers locked into the All-Star race, are set to start Saturday at 7:20 p.m. and approximately 8:15.
The 100-lap Open is scheduled to begin just after 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with the 200-lap All-Star race getting the green flag just after 8 p.m.
FOX Sports 1 will carry the TV coverage.