Yes, NASCAR did that

NORTH WILKESBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 20: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during qualifying heat #2 for the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 20, 2023 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Two years ago, if you had the NASCAR Cup series racing in the rain at North Wilkesboro Speedway on your bingo card you probably would have been called insane.

Yet Saturday night NASCAR did just that; holding two Heat races at North Wilkesboro, a track the NASCAR Cup series has not raced on since 1996 leading into Sunday’s All-Star Race. They also did those races on wet weather tires as light rain fell off and on.

In the first heat Chase Elliott led the first 26 laps of the scheduled 60. Daniel Suarez kept hounding Elliott though and was finally able to power by and took the lead on lap 27. The only caution of the race was a non-competitive one on lap 34. With the track drying but still damp in spots, under the yellow NASCAR said the cars would change to slicks for dry pavement racing, but polled the teams with only the Suarez and the Logano teams wanting to remain on the wet tires. After a lap or two NASCAR told the teams they would remain on the wet weather tires.

Suarez again took the lead on the restart on lap 41. Elliott on the high side fell back while Joey Logano took over the second spot followed by Chase Briscoe.

“It was fun to go through those transitions from a wet track and then kind of halfway dry. It wasn’t 100% dry, but it was halfway there,” Suarez said.

“We didn’t really know what to expect. The No. 9 (Chase Elliott) did a better job than myself. I don’t know if he was either more aggressive or his car happened to work out better in the wet conditions. The first 10 laps, I just didn’t have anything for him. I was trying to breakeven and around lap 15 is when I said – OK, he’s coming, and on Lap 20, I knew that I was better. “

Elliott was finally able to get in line and finished 7th.

“Yeah, Daniel (Suarez) was good before the pit stop, but I was already kind of starting to fall off,” Elliott said. “We had our stop, and we were trying to make it a little better. And then I thought maybe taking a chance for the top would have been a good move and it probably wasn’t a good move looking back on it.”

There was no more drama in the remaining 19 laps as Suarez took the win and the pole for the All-Star race.

The field for the second heat started the race with slicks and with parting clouds. Chris Buescher led all 60 laps, with the only caution coming on lap 25 after the clouds thickened and the rain picked up, forcing the field in to change to the wet weather configuration. From that point there was no drama at the front with only Austin Dillon passing William Byron; Dillon in the No. 3 Chevy and Byron in the No. 24. The move elicited a roar from the crowd.

“I had a lot of fun out there tonight,” Dillon said. “It was weird because the rain tires were so much better than the regular slicks that I didn’t know how hard I could go. I was kind of saving there for a minute and I saw the No. 24 (William Byron) starting to struggle, so I thought we could run down the No. 17 (Chris Buescher). When I got up there, the No. 24 started coming; he changed his line a little bit and picked up some speed. Have to go back and look at what he was doing. He seemed like he had a little wider arc than us. I was kind of running the low lane off of (turn) four. It’s cool when you can move around on the track and find subtle things and save tires. But the rain tires were very surprising. It was cool.”

With the win in the second heat, Buescher will start second in Sunday’s All-Star Race.

“I liked our Fastenal Mustang on slicks—I was really happy with it,” Buescher said. “I didn’t want to put ‘rains’ on. I felt like it was still pretty dry out there. I guess it was starting to drizzle a little.

“I was good on wets, too, so I’m not going to complain anymore.”

Sunday’s forecast calls for sunshine and no rain, but should the forecast change and the rain return, Saturday night proved that NASCAR won’t have a problem meeting the challenge.

Photos: NASCAR at North Wilkesboro Speedway Saturday May 20, 2023

NASCAR Cup Series Race – NASCAR All-Star Race Heat 1

North Wilkesboro Speedway

North Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Saturday, May 20, 2023

  1. (1)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 60.
  2. (3)  Joey Logano, Ford, 60.
  3. (5)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 60.
  4. (10)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 60.
  5. (4)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 60.
  6. (9)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 60.
  7. (2)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 60.
  8. (8)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 60.
  9. (7)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 60.
  10. (6)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 60.
  11. (11)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 60.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  88.641 mph.

Time of Race:  0 Hrs, 25 Mins, 23 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.529 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  1 for 8 laps.

Lead Changes:  2 among 2 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Elliott 1-26;D. Suarez 27-60.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Daniel Suarez 1 time for 34 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 26 laps.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – NASCAR All-Star Race Heat 2

North Wilkesboro Speedway

North Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Saturday, May 20, 2023

  1. (1)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 60.
  2. (2)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 60.
  3. (3)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 60.
  4. (8)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 60.
  5. (7)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 60.
  6. (6)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 60.
  7. (9)  Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 60.
  8. (5)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 60.
  9. (4)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 60.
  10. (10)  Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 60.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  85.878 mph.

Time of Race:  0 Hrs, 26 Mins, 12 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.670 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  1 for 9 laps.

Lead Changes:  0 among 1 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Buescher 1-60.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Chris Buescher 1 time for 60 laps.


Greg Engle