Cup’s Return To North Wilkesboro Was An All-Star Clunker

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 22 2023

Kyle Larson celebrates in Victory Lane at North Wilkesboro on Sunday evening. The race had lots of stars but not many thrills. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star race in North Wilkesboro, N.C. will go down in history as one of the most-hyped events in the history of the sport.

But from a competition standpoint, it will be remembered as one of racing’s all-time clunkers.

After struggling opening laps of Sunday night’s 200 lapper, pitting for fresh tires on lap 15 under caution and being forced to start at the rear of the 24-car field for a speeding violation, Kyle Larson proceeded to march to the top of the leaderboard and lap half the field during the first 100-lap segment.

Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet started on the pole in the second 100-lap segment, which ran caution free, and was never challenged for the lead. He pocketed $1 million for the victory, his third in the past five All-Star races.

Considering the lack of passing by drivers not named Larson, the California native’s impressive burnout around the entire .625-mile oval afterwards was, arguably, the most exciting on-track moment of the event.

From a competition standpoint, the race will rank right up there with Jeff Burton’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000 when he led every lap.

So, what went wrong on Sunday night at North Wilkesboro Speedway?

How could a driver, who was mired in the back of the field during the opening laps, pit for tires and suddenly transform from Clark Kent to Superman?

And once every driver was on a level playing field with Larson by pitting for fresh rubber on lap 100, the beat down continued.

Should Larson’s incredible feat be credited to the fact, according to many experts, he’s the best driver of this generation?


But even the novice fans noticed where he was gaining an advantage each lap: he was hugging the inside strip of concrete exiting the corners to gain additional grip.

Why were none of the other 23 drivers in the field able to duplicate Larson’s line? Is he simply super-human?

Was the culprit the four-decade old, aging racing surface that was last paved in 1981? If so, why was Larson the only driver able to adapt?

There’s also the continuing conversation that Cup Series short tracking racing since the beginning of last season has been less than stellar since the introduction of the current Next Gen car.

Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith was immediately asked following Sunday night’s event if it’s time for North Wilkesboro Speedway to be repaved.

Larson was asked the same question.

No one seemed to have an answer.

Complicating matters is the view of current and former drivers when it comes to racing on extremely worn asphalt.

The drivers drool over that type of racing and brag about the skill needed to wheel a car that is constantly sliding and on the brink of spinning out of control lap after lap.

While it does sound quite thrilling to drivers, the reality is that type of racing product often results in a snooze fest for fans.

There is no doubt last week was a historic moment to see North Wilkesboro Speedway rise from the ashes and draw huge weekend crowds in the process.

However, with North Wilkesboro likely to be on the Cup Series schedule in 2023 in some form or fashion, NASCAR and SMI have to address the issue that was evident on Sunday evening.

Otherwise, the “wow factor” will erode in a couple of years and, in the process, fans will discontinue flocking to the facility in Wilkes County, N.C.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 22 2023
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