The NASCAR Cup Series is celebrating its 75th year, and what better way to honor its heritage than by lining up for another dose of nostalgia at the NASCAR All-Star Race. The race is set to be held at the North Wilkesboro Speedway, which last hosted a Cup Series event in September 1996.
The All-Star Open and Race are part of the weekend’s events with Cup Series regulars racing for a $1 million prize, the second highest payout of the year, after the Daytona 500. The racing weekend is also planned to include some of the elements from past events that NASCAR fans have come to know and love, such as past champions’ cars and retro paint schemes.
NASCAR All-Star Race Format
Twenty-one Cup Series regulars, who have either won a race in 2022 or 2023, won a previous All-Star Race, or won a Cup Series championship, have automatically qualified for the 200-lap All-Star Race. The remaining three spots on the grid will be determined by the top two finishers of the 100-lap All-Star Open and a fan vote.
Previously held as a single 50-lap qualifying race, the All-Star Open this year will consist of two heat races similar to the Daytona 500 twin qualifying races. The pit stop competition on Friday night will determine the starting grids for the two 60-lap heat races scheduled for Saturday night. One heat will determine the inside lane starters for the All-Star Race, and the other will determine the outside lane.
Cars will start the All-Star Race on brand-new, sticker tires and will only be able to use one set after the competition caution.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway opened in 1947 and, from 1949 to 1996, annually held at least one Cup Series race. At 0.625 miles, it had a unique profile with a downhill front stretch and an uphill backstretch. NASCAR last held a Cup Series event at North Wilkesboro in September 1996, with legends like Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Rusty Wallace in attendance.
Fan Vote Provisional
The NASCAR All-Star Open and All-Star Race will have fan-elected provisional drivers. The entry list for All-Star Open included these drivers who qualified through the fan vote provision- Ty Dillon, Ryan Preece, and Aric Almirola. The fan-elected provisional drivers for All-Star Race are Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, and Josh Berry. Gragson and Berry won their respective segments of the Open, while Gibbs was a popular choice of the fans.
The Best Bets
Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are the two drivers with multiple All-Star wins and both have the best odds of winning the race according to BetMGM. Larson, who has won on two short tracks earlier this season, is +600 for the win, while the retiring Harvick is +800. Best further bets come from Chase Elliot and Ryan Blaney, whose driving style could make them stand out in the shorter tracks.
Weather and Forecasts
The forecasts for Friday and Sunday are cool and clear with temperatures in the 70s, but thunderstorms could interfere with Saturday’s running. While the Craftsman Truck Series is scheduled before the All-Star Race heats, the weather forecast could make scheduling dicey.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series marks the 75th year of the sport. The All-Star Race will commence festivities highlighting stock car racing’s past and present at the North Wilkesboro Speedway, heralded for its unlevelled track. The inaugural North Wilkesboro Speedway Cup race was held in 1949, and the last one was videotaped and viewed by millions at the time in 1996. Ever since, the speedway has been a decaying relic of a once-vibrant era.
The speedway’s revival is significant because despite a rich heritage, the tracks are magnets for controversy. NASCAR‘s limited inclusion of the sport’s pioneers and its lack of a touring series for short tracks have often sparked debates on its authenticity. However, the celebration at the North Wilkesboro Speedway is a step in the right direction as it pays homage to the trailblazers of racing.
Years of declining attendance and profitability contribute to NASCAR‘s challenges. The sport is looking to expand its urban fanbase working and attracting a more diverse audience by embracing technology and investing in the younger generations. The 2022 season finale at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway was an example of NASCAR‘s efforts to attract young people, with an atmosphere more like a music festival than a sporting event.
However, there is a need to balance the race and the experience, and NASCAR seems to have hit that balance right with the Heritage Celebration. The All-Star Race allows the inclusion of drivers’ rock-star lifestyles, their entourages, and team intros to be part of the show to attract new fans, while the retro paint schemes, past champions’ cars, and short-track racing pay attention to the sport’s rich history and appeal to long-time fans.
At a time when the sporting world is heading towards digitalization and the emergence of technology, it is commendable to see NASCAR embracing its heritage by looking back even as it seeks
<< photo by Robert Linder >>
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