● Truex and the No. 19 team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) set the tone for the season right out of the gate by winning the 150-lap feature in the non-points Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles. Truex won his heat race, then went on to lead the final 25 laps of the feature en route to a victory that gave him and the team much-needed momentum heading into the 2023 season. While the team had been knocking on the door over the next 10 races, the breakthrough points-paying win finally came at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
● 32 and Counting: Truex’s win at Dover was his 32nd career Cup Series victory, putting him 29th on the series’ all-time wins list.
● What’s Old is New Again: 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 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 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 has been revived. It had a soft opening last August with Modified and Late Model racing before its grand reopening this week 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 at 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday. 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 – is back, and the resto-mod of racetracks is ready for NASCAR’s return.
● Looking for the First: Truex will make his 12th All-Star start at North Wilkesboro on Sunday night but is still looking for his first All-Star victory. In 11 All-Star starts which have come at Charlotte, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Truex has a best All-Star finish of second back in 2010 at Charlotte when he raced for Michael Waltrip Racing.
● The More You Know: 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.
● All-Star History Lesson: Charlotte 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 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 All-Star Race for a two-year stretch. North Wilkesboro marks only the second time the All-Star Race has been held at anything other than a 1.5-mile oval.
● After years of complexity, the 2023 version of the All-Star Race has opted for simplicity. Two heat races on Saturday will set the starting lineup for Sunday’s main event – a 200 lapper with a competition break at or around Lap 100. All laps (caution and green flag) will count, and overtime rules are in effect to ensure a green-flag finish. Each team will start on sticker tires and have three additional sets to use. After the competition break, however, only one additional set of stickers can be used. The undercard All-Star Open, featuring drivers not previously eligible for the All-Star Race, will be 100 laps with a competition break at or around Lap 40. Three Open drivers will advance to the All-Star Race – the top two race finishers and the Fan Vote Winner. All-Star festivities begin Friday evening with a Pit Crew Challenge to determine the starting lineups for the heat races and Open. Each car’s qualifying time will be based solely on their pit stop time. Teams must complete a four-tire stop; timing lines will be established one box behind and one box ahead of the designated pit box. The 22 drivers already locked into the field will be split into two 60-lap heat races on Saturday night which will determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s All-Star Race. Results of the first heat will establish the inside row and results of the second heat will establish the outside row. The weekend will concludes Sunday night with the All-Star Open and All-Star Race. Technical rules for the cars will remain the same as other NASCAR Cup Series short track races. Those eligible for the All-Star Race include drivers who won a points event in either 2022 or 2023, drivers who won an All-Star Race and compete fulltime, and drivers who won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and compete fulltime.
● Truex left last weekend’s race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway sixth in the driver standings with 385 points, 44 out of the lead. The next points event will be the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
What are you expecting this weekend with NASCAR returning to North Wilkesboro for the first time since 1996?
“I think it’s going to be awesome. I’ve never been there before. I remember watching races there when I was growing up. For me, it’s going to be neat to be racing on that track that so many legends of the sport did. I remember back in races of the past and what it was like to watch and thinking about the asphalt that it’s still that old. It’s going to be pretty crazy. I’ve been trying to keep up with the late models races and the things that have been going on there in the past year and just trying to understand it a little bit and think about what we are going to need to do or what it’s going to be like for us. But I expect it to be fun. 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 checking it out and hope we can have a strong run there with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry TRD.”
Will tire management be a big part of the All-Star Race with the pavement being so old?
“It’s going to be really interesting. Really old asphalt and really wore out and that’s the kind of tracks I really love racing on. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us. Probably similar to Richmond, really hard on tires and you kind of have to take care of the tires a lot. I think it’s going to put on a great show. I’m really looking forward to going there because when I watched races there growing up, it was really fun to watch and happy I get the chance to race there finally. Hopefully this will be the perfect track for us to get our first All-Star win.”
The format for the All-Star Race is setup where it’s going to be important to save tires. Is that kind of format good for the All-Star Race?
“We’ll see. I think it could be, maybe it gets strung out but depends on how it works out. I don’t think any of us really know how it’s going to be. You’re probably going to see a lot of guys move up and down through the field, going forward and going backward. In the little bit I’ve seen over the last year since they had some late model racing back there again, there’s a crazy amount of tire wear and the guys just save their stuff and show up at the end out of nowhere. It’s going to be interesting just to know how hard can you go and how much do you actually have to save? It will be a learning experience for everyone.”