Interstate Batteries Racing: Christopher Bell All-Star at North Wilkesboro Race Advance

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● Outrageously Dependable: Interstate Batteries – one of the most tenured team sponsors in NASCAR history – began its 32nd season as the founding sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) with an expanded presence that features the brand’s iconic green livery across all four of JGR’s NASCAR Cup Series entries. So far this season, Interstate has adorned the No. 20 of Bell at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, served as co-primary sponsor for Ty Gibbs in the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota at Circuit of Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas in March. Interstate returned to Gibbs’ No. 54 Toyota at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in April and will adorn his car four more times this season – June 25 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, July 2 at the inaugural Chicago Street Race, Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Oct. 8 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval. For Bell, after the NASCAR All-Star appearance this weekend at North Wilkesboro, he’ll have Interstate Batteries return to is No. 20 Toyota Camry TRD on Memorial Day weekend for NASCAR’s longest race – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Interstate will return to Bell’s Camry at Texas in September, as well as Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the penultimate race of the season.

Interstate Batteries Stands the Test of Time: With Interstate Batteries returning to the No. 20 Camry driven by Bell in Sunday’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, it’s important to note that the Dallas-based company was also primary sponsor of a car during the last race at North Wilkesboro way back in 1996. Bobby Labonte drove the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car to a 13th-place finish during the Tyson Holly Farms 400 on September 29, 1996. Interstate Batteries is referred to as Outrageously Dependable for a reason, as the brand has stood the test of time with NASCAR fans with one of the longest running partnerships in NASCAR history.

● What’s Old is New Again: The NASCAR Cup Series recently competed at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, which bills its spring event 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.

● The first laps Bell will take this week at North Wilkesboro won’t come in his No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry TRD. Instead, they will come in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry as he’ll be working double duty this weekend racing in both NASCAR national series races in NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro. Bell, the 2017 Truck Series champion, will compete in the No. 61 Toyota Tundra for Hattori Racing Enterprises.

● Bell will make just his fifth All-Star Race start on Sunday at North Wilkesboro. In his previous three starts, one at Bristol and two at Texas, Bell has a best finish of 10th, which occurred in last year’s All-Star Race at Texas.

● 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 the event returned 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 hosted it for the first of two years in a row. 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 NASCAR fan vote winner. All-Star festivities begin Friday evening with the Pit Crew Challenge to determine the starting lineups for the heat races and Open. Each car’s qualifying position will be based solely on its 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 All-Star Race field will be split into two 60-lap heat races on Saturday night, which will determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s main event. Results of the first heat will establish the inside row and results of the second heat will establish the outside row. The weekend 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.

● Bell left last weekend’s race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway second in the driver standings with 402 points, 37 out of the lead. The next points event will be the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Going back to North Wilkesboro with the old, worn-out surface, should we expect a bit of old-school, short-track racing during this weekend’s All-Star event?

“I’m really excited to be going to a new venue. North Wilkesboro has a ton of history and this is going to be a huge event, one the fans are not going to want to miss. As far as the racing goes, it’s going to be slick at North Wilkesboro. I don’t know what that means for good racing. Some slick tracks are good for racing and some race differently. I think everyone is excited about it because it’s something new. Kudos to NASCAR for adding new tracks, even though it’s an older one. Putting a venue on the schedule where we haven’t been for a while, that’s always a positive. I know the fans are excited and it’s going to be a great atmosphere this weekend. Really cool to have Interstate Batteries back on our 20 car this weekend, sort of fits in with the history of the sport. When you look at sponsors who have been around a long time, and even when we last raced at North Wilkesboro, not many are still around. Just tells you how committed they have been to our sport for so long.”

What does being an All-Star mean to you?

“It means that we are running up front and competing for wins. We’ve had a good year so far with the win at Bristol dirt, but we want to keep going and get more stage points and have a chance to set ourselves up for the playoffs. The All-Star Race is always fun, and we’ll see how the race goes this weekend. You don’t have to worry about points, you just do what you can to go for the win and see how things play out. Really looking forward to getting to North Wilkesboro with our Interstate Batteries Camry and hope we can get them to victory lane and take home the million dollars.”

What are some of the things your crew chief Adam Stevens has brought to you that has sharpened you?

“Adam has been able to instill confidence in me by giving me fast racecars and cars that I know are going to handle good enough for me. He’s probably the best leader that I’ve ever driven for. He knows how to manage the highs and lows of a season, and he definitely can bring out the best in me.”


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