North Wilkesboro was last paved in 1981. Is that concerning for NASCAR All-Star Race?
Step into North Wilkesboro Speedway, and you’re struck by all that’s new — from the racetrack’s lights to its safety barriers and WiFi accommodations and grandstands and cars on the track and more.
But one “old” aspect of the speedway will be center stage for the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday night.
And that’s the track itself.
North Wilkesboro Speedway’s track, a 0.625-mile oval, hasn’t been repaved since 1981. It has come a long way since a few years ago. No more weeds are poking up through the cracks, like some were back when the track laid in abandoned disrepair. And some pockets of the track have been laid with fresh epoxy resin where parts were crumbling.
But the pavement is still undeniably slick, Cup drivers said.
“The paint’s new, everything is pretty new except for the 40-year-old asphalt we’re racing on, so I like that element,” Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie told reporters on Friday afternoon in the speedway’s media center. “But also I’m not going to be that upset when they dig it up and put a new, fresh layer of pavement on this thing so we can really put on a race where we can hammer down and spin some guys and run close together.”
Said Denny Hamlin: “This is definitely the definition of racing the racetrack, so you gotta be patient. But also, when you wanna go run a lap, you can, which is good.”
All the on-track action has substantiated how slippery the action Sunday could be.
Wednesday’s three Late Model races featured a ton of sliding. Kevin Harvick, who raced on Wednesday in a CARS Tour Late Model Stock race and will run on Sunday night as well, told The Charlotte Observer that the track is “pretty slick,” adding that it’ll “be a lot slicker with twice as much horsepower and a much heavier car” when the Cup Series car takes the oval.
Friday’s Truck and Cup practices saw a lot of sliding, a lot of running into walls. Daniel Suarez spun just a few laps into his practice run.
Some drivers expressed that the limited grip was ultimately a good thing: After all, the slicker the track, the more reliance on tire strategy — and the more responsibility the driver takes in ensuring that he hits his marks, that he doesn’t burn his tires too much too early.
Brad Keselowski called the lack of grip “really interesting in a number of ways.”
“One is that it really favors removing some of the aero stuff that we’ve had problems with as a whole,” Keselowski said. “And I think that’s probably going to be really good for us, to put the racing a little more in the drivers’ hands.”
Keselowski added: “The drivers have fallen into a routine of racing where the cars have been fairly easy to drive. And I think generally when you go backward (on that grip knob), you see a lot of spins and accidents and things like that. ... So this is a step backward on the grip knob, which is welcomed by me at least. And we’ll see what it does to drivers who need to find that limit without going too far and having a bunch of accidents.”
Back in March, Cup driver Chris Buescher was one of three drivers who participated in a tire test. He posited that it would be difficult to get wide open — as in pushing the throttle to the floor — because there’s not a ton of straightaway length and it’s “a challenge just to hit a turn” with the limited grip.
Buescher also added that there wouldn’t be much shifting. This insight is valuable because no opportunity to shift means no opportunity for cars to erase mistakes by simply shifting to a different gear.
That assessment has appeared to hold up, per Cup Series star William Byron.
“The length of the straightaways will have a lot to do with it as well,” said Byron, whose win at Darlington last weekend marked his series-leading third win of the 2023 season. “Martinsville being tight corners and long straightaways, it just gets you in that RPM range that you have that other gear to work with. I don’t think we’re going to shift this weekend.”
When he was asked what specifically the tire fall-off looks like — which quantifies how much slower the car moves as the tires wear out — Kevin Harvick said that in 30 laps “the fall off was about a second.”
“I would say it would be triple that, at least double,” Harvick said.
He then smiled and shrugged, “But I’m guessing.”
When it comes to what to expect on the slippery North Wilkesboro Speedway track — aren’t we all?