Speedway Motorsports Sees Bright Future for North Wilkesboro

Getty NASCAR fans celebrate racing's return to North Wilkesboro Speedway.

NASCAR just completed its first week back at North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996. There are no concrete plans for upcoming NASCAR events, but Speedway Motorsports sees a bright future.

SMI CEO Marcus Smith and All-Star Race Executive Director Jessica Fickenscher met with media members after Kyle Larson’s win and discussed a potential return in future NASCAR seasons. Smith, in particular, said that a return has been on his mind and that it is natural to think about it after such a successful week where “everyone was smiling.”

“We just started working on next year’s schedule with NASCAR, so we’ll see,” Smith said during the session. “I think that — not speaking to next year specifically, I do think that there’s definitely a place in the NASCAR world for North Wilkesboro Speedway, and whether it’s a special event like All-Star, maybe one day it’s a points event, I don’t know.

“I think it’s a very important place for short track racing, the late model races, the modifieds, you name it. It’s a special place. It’s like walking into a museum that’s active and living and very special for the competitors and the fans alike.”

Questions Remain About Potential Repaves

GettyCup Series drivers race in front of a full house.

Bringing the national NASCAR series back to the historic short track is certainly in the conversation, but there are some things that will need to be addressed. One of the biggest is whether the track will have a new racing surface.

The last time North Wilkesboro Speedway underwent a repave was in 1981. The short track then hosted numerous races before ultimately sitting idle for nearly 30 years.

Once Speedway Motorsports decided to bring back the track, there were plans put in place for a summer of racing in partnership with XR Events. The first portion of events would take place on the aged asphalt while the second would be on a dirt surface.

The situation changed with the announcement that NASCAR would make its return to North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2023. SMI held off on tearing up the old surface and instead made some repairs.

This surface lasted throughout a packed week of racing that featured the CARS Tour, ASA STARS National Tour, the Craftsman Truck Series, and Cup Series. Now there are conversations about whether there will be any work done in the immediate future.

“I talked with Darrell Waltrip earlier before the race, and he said, ‘You’ve got to repave this thing,'” Smith added. “I talked with the King [Richard Petty], and he said, ‘Let them race on this old pavement.’ There are a lot of different ways to think about it.

“I think for — what I think is that our team has done an amazing job at preserving the track, keeping it together. They’ve learned some new things on the surface and kind of managing it, keeping it together, and creating a really varied surface that I think challenges the teams. It’ll be interesting to see how it weathers, and when it needs to be repaved, we’ll repave it. I think I would lean towards not repaving until we absolutely have to.”

Another Question Focuses on Cup Series Action

GettyFans watch the Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

With Smith leaning away from repaving the aged surface, the conversation now focuses on the action on the track. There are questions about whether NASCAR will further address the Next Gen product on short tracks.

The full week of racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway had several bright moments. The CARS Tour and ASA races both delivered, as did the Craftsman Truck Series race. These events were very competitive with passing opportunities, natural cautions, and late battles for the win.

The Cup Series race was something else entirely. It provided entertainment, albeit in a different way. There was only one natural caution, which flew when Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 Chevrolet spun harmlessly off the nose of Erik Jones’ No. 43 Chevrolet. The other caution was the mid-race break at Lap 100.

Only two drivers led during the event. Daniel Suarez led 55 laps after starting from the pole and then Kyle Larson led the final 145 laps after rebounding from a speeding penalty on pit road. Larson had a lead of more than 12 seconds before the mid-race break and then he built it back up to four seconds during the final run to the checkered flag.

“Truthfully, this car at every short track has kind of struggled,” Chase Briscoe said after the race. “I think a lack of grip didn’t really fix the issues. I don’t know. It was fun. I still think this has a great opportunity to be an incredible event, but it would be different if every other race on short tracks had been really good.

“I think we just need to keep continuing to work on the car. I feel like we made it better on short tracks than what it was last year, but we just need to get it better. We’re slipping and sliding around and doing the things we need to do, but, truthfully, I just feel like this race would have been really, really good if the track had more than one lane.”

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