The roar of engines returned to the hills of North Wilkesboro this week as the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series held Goodyear tire tests at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway on Monday and Tuesday, the latest step in proving the reality of the upcoming NASCAR All-Star Race weekend and the long-awaited return of North Wilkesboro is coming nearer every day.
With a freshly paved pit road and infield and construction ongoing to the grandstands, cars and trucks hit the racetrack as teams worked closely with Goodyear throughout the test session to find the right tire combination for the series’ return to the historic track on NASCAR All-Star Race week, May 16-21.
Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 team with Austin Dillon, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s No. 17 team with Chris Buescher, and 23XI Racing’s No. 45 team with Tyler Reddick were the three NASCAR Cup teams that took part in Tuesday’s Goodyear tire test.
"It's so cool. There's so much history here,” said Dillon. “The track's still the old track. It just teaches you short-track racing (techniques), being easy on that gas pedal and trying to take care of the rear tires. We had a blast and I can't wait to come back. Just finally getting here was cool.
“This place was dormant forever and now it's alive, and you can feel the energy and the momentum that's building,” he said.
It's going to be electric (in May). It's going to have that feel they had in the 1990s here, when they were packed out and fans were getting to enjoy a race near home. It's rough out there. It's gritty. It's North Wilkesboro.
The drivers and teams spent the afternoon working closely with Goodyear to determine the best tire setup for the May event, which included making long runs around this historic facility.
“When you're on the racetrack, the surface, the elevation, it feels really old-school. It's very much different from a lot of the racetracks that we have on the circuit, and I really enjoyed it,” said Reddick. “We didn't do any sim work. We went in with the team's best guess, I came in with an open mind and we went about taking on the day. I just really enjoyed making our 20- and 50-lap runs today. You really have to respect the race track and think long-term (with tire conservation). For me, more than anything, just the energy that will be here, I'm really excited to be a part of it."
Buescher was impressed by all of the on-going work done to revive the speedway, and knows the fans will be impressed when they show up for NASCAR All-Star Week in May.
“I imagine everybody's going to be pumped to come out here, and you're going to have a very loyal fan base for this track, for a long time,” he said. “It's going to put on a good race, too. It was a lot of fun in the race car. We got to make several hundred laps in our race car, went through different tire options and learned a lot. It's a track that's rough around the edges. It's got a ton of character."
The Cup Series drivers were not the only ones to put the historic facility to the test this week, as defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, Niece Motorsports driver Carson Hocevar, and TRICON Garage driver Corey Heim took part in Monday’s Goodyear tire test for that series.
The three drivers - none of whom were born at the time of the last NASCAR Truck Series event at North Wilkesboro in 1996 - understood the importance and significance of their involvement in Monday’s session.
Rarely do you have a test where you are smiling the whole time you are out there going around the track.
“It was a lot of fun to be out there today slipping and sliding around on this historic track. It sounds silly, but this is our ‘Field of Dreams’ … This is just like that, this is our deal,” said Hocevar, driver of the No. 42 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet. “Everyone has high expectations and hopefully we meet it. It felt like I was walking into a track where we weren’t supposed to be. I’m just really glad that NASCAR, Dale Jr. and the CARS Tour kept picking at it."
Defending series champion Zane Smith hopes track widens out a bit during the race, saying handling will be key to success and if a driver misses their mark in Turn 1 and 2 they are going to be in big trouble.
“It’s going to be a cool event, it’s so crazy to see this place come back to life,” said Smith. “It’s the perfect place for a throwback race. The infield is beautiful and it’s surrounded by a track with so much history. We are trying to figure out our truck and trying to see where we can be better and what adjustments we can make to it.”
NASCAR All-Star Race week will include six days or nights of entertainment including:
Tuesday, May 16: ASA Stars National Series
Wednesday, May 17: CARS Pro and Late Model Stocks
Friday, May 19: NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck and Cup Series practice; Concerts by Midland and Chase Rice
Saturday, May 20: NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series qualifying and Tyson 250; NASCAR Cup Series qualifying
Sunday, May 21: Dierks Bentley pre-race concert; NASCAR All-Star Open and NASCAR All-Star Race
Schedules are tentative and subject to change. Specific on-track schedules and the All-Star Race format will be released at a later date.