NASCAR announced on September 8 that the All-Star Race will move to North Wilkesboro Speedway during the 2023 season. This is a significant change for the annual exhibition event, and it is one that two prominent voices applaud.
Former driver Bobby Labonte and former crew chief Larry McReynolds, who both work as analysts for FOX Sports, spoke to Heavy after the big reveal. They provided some insight into the tire wear that will take place during the All-Star Race. They also explained how the addition of a street course and a return to North Wilkesboro Speedway are both fitting moves for the sport’s 75th season.
“If you look at next year, even though we don’t have the schedule yet, we’re actually moving forward,” McReynolds said. “We’re going to do something that NASCAR has never, ever, ever done. We’re going to race on the streets of downtown Chicago. But you know what? We’re also taking a look back in the past, and we’re going back to a short track that ran its first race in 1947.”
“Yes, the Chicago thing — and I’m a big fan of the event — I’m not sure that the drivers will be as big a fan of it, but you know, they’re all racers,” Labonte added. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re racing toothpicks on a creek or stock cars on the street, you want to win, right? That’s a great venue, a great way to look at it. It’s cool. I don’t know that Rockingham will make a comeback, but it’s still there. I think that there’s ways to have special events.”
North Wilkesboro’s Unique History Could Impact the Outcome
The All-Star Race has featured a wide variety of formats over the years, including some that inverted the field multiple times and confused the viewers at home. Speedway Motorsports has not provided any details about the format just yet, but there are some things that both Labonte and McReynolds want to see.
First off, they want something longer than a 10-lap dash to the checkered flag. This worked at intermediate tracks, but 10 laps are not long enough at a short track. The drivers need more time to make moves, jockey for position, and deal with tire falloff.
Another thing they would like to see is a long green flag run. Labonte said that it could be 75 or 100 laps depending on how the race plays out. He just wants to see the tire degradation. McReynolds also pointed out that the short track had a surprisingly low number of cautions when the Cup Series regularly went there, with the exception of four races in 1989-1991, and this trend could continue in 2023.
This run of fewer cautions includes a race in the late 1980s when Goodyear and Hoosier took part in the tire wars. Drivers had the option to switch to a different manufacturer during the race, so McReynolds had his team put on a set of Hoosiers for qualifying, which put the Kenny Bernstein-owned car near the front row.
“I said, ‘We need to qualify on the Hoosiers, Kenny, because we don’t want to start in the back. First caution, we’ll go to Goodyears, and we’ll be good the rest of the race.’ So we qualified on Hoosiers — we actually qualified, I think, on the second row.
“Lap 100, we were getting lapped for the third time because we went the first 100 laps caution-free. Kenny tapped me on the shoulder by about the time we were getting lapped the third time, and he asked, ‘When you think that caution’s coming?'”
The All-Star Race Change Took Place at a Fitting Time
The future of the All-Star Race has been a hot topic over the summer. There were questions about whether it would continue at Texas Motor Speedway or move to a different location. Additionally, Denny Hamlin has been vocal about the need to increase the prize purse for the annual exhibition event.
No one knows whether moving the All-Star Race to North Wilkesboro Speedway will “fix” it. The format, tire wear, and the number of times shifting will all play a role. However, taking the All-Star Race away from intermediate tracks is a significant step.
“The reason we tried everything is we were trying to put a bandaid on something that needed surgery, the mile-and-a-half,” McReynolds said. “The All-Star race to me at a mile-and-a-half racetrack was a dying breed. If we kept doing that — again, my humble opinion — it almost made me believe when the new TV contract comes out that the All-Star Race was gonna probably go away. It was not doing anything whatsoever.”
Another factor that will play a role is how NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports set up the All-Star Race. There have been discussions about the Truck Series or the Xfinity Series also competing at North Wilkesboro Speedway that same week. However, there is another option available that could further support grassroots racing and bring out some racing legends.
“My final thing for the All-Star Race,” Labonte said. “If we can get a 75-lap Late Model and a 75-lap Modified Modified as a doubleheader before the All-Star Race. Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] can run the Late Model, and I’ll run the Modified.”