Photo: Adam Fenwick/NASCAR

Up to Speed: Previewing the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The rebirth is nearly complete.

North Wilkesboro Speedway, which had sat dormant for many years until a groundswell of support emerged to bring the track back from the dead, officially makes its return to the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend with the running of the NASCAR All-Star Race.

First joining the circuit in 1947, the 0.625-mile oval served as a mainstay on the schedule for nearly 50 years before being shutdown following the 1996 season, as its race dates were shipped off to Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway following the track’s sale to Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

In the years since NASCAR departed the track, the facility fell into severe disrepair, but in recent years, a grassroots effort led by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Marcus Smith, and others led to a clean-up effort to get the track scanned for iRacing, which set the wheels in motion to bring racing back to the facility.

Last year, a series of late model races were held at the track and last September, it was announced that the All-Star Race would be held at the track. Tickets for the Cup Series return at the track went fast, with drivers, teams, and fans alike all circling the event as the must-watch race of the year.

The aging asphalt that has been patched enough to make it raceable and the track’s unique frontstretch and backstretch geometry, with the drivers charging downhill along the frontstretch and uphill along the backstretch, will provide a challenging locale to battle it out for the $1 million prize that awaits the ultimate winner.

By the Numbers

What: NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race

Where: North Wilkesboro Speedway – North Wilkesboro, North Carolina (Opened: 1947)

When: May 21, 2023

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 5:30 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 0.625-mile oval

Banking: Turns banked 14 degrees, straightaways banked three degrees

All-Star Race Format

All-Star weekend begins with qualifying for the All-Star Open and the heats for the All-Star Race on Friday evening, but this isn’t any old qualifying session. Instead of drivers making timed laps, the focus will be on the pit crews. The faster the four-tire pit stop, the better the starting position.

The 21 teams already locked in will be split up into two qualifying heats, with odd numbered times sending teams to the first heat and the even numbered teams taking part in the second heat race. In addition, the fastest pit crew will be handed a $100,000 bonus.

On-track action begins on Saturday with a pair of 60-lap heat races to set the field for Sunday’s main event. The odd numbered starting positions will be determined in the first heat and the even numbered positions set by the second heat.

Sunday begins with the All-Star Open, which will give three drivers a chance to make their way into the main event. Two of the 16 drivers entered will race their way in during the 100-lap race, while the third and final entry will go to the winner of the Fan Vote.

Then comes the moment everyone has been waiting for – Sunday’s 200-lap All-Star Race.

Teams will start on fresh tires, with three additional sets available to them prior to the “competition break” at or near the halfway point at Lap 100.

After the halfway break, just one of those sets will remain available, making strategy key on the aging asphalt that is sure to chew up tires throughout the night.

All-Star Race Entry List

  1. Christopher Bell
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Chase Briscoe
  4. Chris Buescher
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. William Byron
  7. Ross Chastain
  8. Austin Cindric
  9. Austin Dillon
  10. Chase Elliott
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Kevin Harvick
  13. Erik Jones
  14. Brad Keselowski
  15. Kyle Larson
  16. Joey Logano
  17. Tyler Reddick
  18. Daniel Suárez
  19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  20. Martin Truex Jr.
  21. Bubba Wallace

*Alex Bowman was eligible for the All-Star Race, but remains sidelined from his back injury suffered in a sprint car race earlier this year.

From the Driver’s Seat

“This place is old and worn out,” said Chase Elliott. “It’s going to be hard to get a hold of throughout the All-Star Race. I hope it puts on a good show. I think it has the potential to do that. They’ve done a lot of work on the track in some different areas so that’s going to impact the way the race looks, too. I think I know about as little as anybody else at this point but certainly excited to be here.

“It’s been a little while (since I’ve been here). I guess about 13 years ago, kind of hard to believe. It is cool to be back. It has changed a lot. Doesn’t look anything like I remember it. All the infield and everything has changed. Hats off to whoever has done all the work in here because they’ve done a lot in a short time. 

“It’s good to be back and there’s a lot of energy here obviously around this entire week. Not only from the spectators but as you can see there’s a lot of excitement to be here at a race as well.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Friday, May 19
    • NASCAR All-Star Race Practice (4:00 pm – FOX Sports 1)
    • NASCAR All-Star Race Pit Crew Challenge (5:45 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • Saturday, May 20
    • NASCAR All-Star Race Heat No. 1 (7:20 pm – 60 laps, 37.5 miles – FOX Sports 1)
    • NASCAR All-Star Race Heat No. 2 (8:15 pm – 60 laps, 37.5 miles –  FOX Sports 1)
  • Sunday, May 21
    • NASCAR All-Star Open (5:30 pm – 100 laps, 62.5 miles – FOX Sports 1)
    • NASCAR All-Star Race (8:00 pm – 200 laps, 125 miles –  FOX Sports 1)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.