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All-Star Race Preview: NASCAR Returns to North Wilkesboro

Jay Arnold previews NASCAR’s All-Star Race as the Cup series returns to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the first time since 1996.

image via Charles Duncan

Sparks flew again at Darlington as late-race drama involving Ross Chastain unfolded once more. This time Kyle Larson left the race with a bone to pick from contact with Chastain in the Goodyear 400. Will that drama carry over to NASCAR’s All-Star Race? With $1,000,000 on the line at a revitalized short track, you can bet that even if it doesn’t carry over there will be some hard feelings when the checkered flag waves.

NASCAR produced excitement for a second straight week. Once again, the NextGen car made for good, hard racing at an intermediate-style track in Darlington. The aforementioned incident between Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson opened the door for William Byron to find his way to Victory Lane for the 3rd time this season.

Now NASCAR heads back to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the first time since 1996. A track that was on death’s doorstep just two years ago has found a new lease on life with NASCAR returning for the All-Star Race. No points will be at stake but with a massive purse on the line, you can bet these drivers will be pushing hard for the win.

NASCAR All-Star Open Entry List

NASCAR All-Star Race Entry List

With this being the NASCAR All-Star Race, the format switches up just a little from the typical points-paying race. For starters, you’ll notice two separate entry lists above. 21 drivers locked themselves into the main event by winning since last year’s event at Texas or by winning the All-Star Race itself. The final way to lock into the main event is by being a Cup champion and full-time driver.

The rest of the field will hope to race their way in through the Open. 16 drivers will participate in that race with the top two finishers in the 100-lap battle advancing to the big show. Joining them will be the winner of the fan vote from the field of 16. Substitute drivers Josh Berry in the #48 and Ryan Newman in the #51 are ineligible for the fan vote as they did not race in the Daytona 500. Josh Bilicki and JJ Yeley are also ineligible to receive the fan vote for the same reason.

North Wilkesboro Speedway History

The All-Star Race is always a special event but this year’s particular feels like a major event given the history. Opening in 1947 – North Wilkesboro Speedway actually predates the beginning of NASCAR. From 1949 onward it became a fixture on the NASCAR schedule until 1996 when it fell victim to NASCAR’s ambition to expand beyond it’s Carolina roots.

The 0.625-mile track at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains would close that same year. Attempts to re-open the historic track would happen in 2009 and 2010 with little success. However, hope for the track sprang anew in 2019 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. pressed for the inclusion of North Wilkesboro Speedway in the iRacing simulator. The track surface would be cleared of growth and scanned and NASCAR and iRacing announced the inclusion of the circuit in 2020.

Thanks to this attention and an allocation in the North Carolina State budget, owners of the track Speedway Motorsports elected to really begin revitalizing North Wilkesboro. Races were held at the circuit once more in 2022 and in September of that year an announcement was made that a repaved and modernized North Wilkesboro Speedway would host the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race.

How will this weekend play out? Truthfully, your guess is as good as mine. With this being the first NASCAR race on the circuit since 1996, there is an air of unpredictability about it. However, if I had to make a guess – I’d say the track should run somewhat similar to Richmond and I’d expect Kyle Larson to be near the front of the field.

Check out the schedule below to make sure you don’t miss any on-track action this weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway!

Friday 05/19

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (All-Star Pit Crew Challenge) – 4:45 p.m. CT on FS1

Saturday 05/20

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying – 9:30 a.m. CT on FS1

Tyson 250 (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) – 12:30 p.m. CT on FOX

All-Star Race Heat No.1 (NASCAR Cup Series) – 6:20 p.m. CT on FS1

All-Star Race Heat No.2 (NASCAR Cup Series) – 7:15 p.m. CT on FS1

Sunday 05/21

All-Star Open (NASCAR Cup Series) – 4:30 p.m. CT on FS1

All-Star Race (NASCAR Cup Series) – 7:00 p.m. CT on FS1

Stay locked into Apollo for more NASCAR and F1 Coverage throughout the racing season! Follow @CoachJayArnold and @ApolloHOU on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest!

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