Smith: North Wilkesboro 'definitely has a place' in NASCAR's world, but unclear what capacity
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (AP) — Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith said North Wilkesboro Speedway “definitely has a place in the NASCAR world” moving forward, despite an All-Star race that lacked drama Sunday night.
In what capacity remains to be seen.
Smith was non-committal about how North Wilkesboro might fit into NASCAR’s schedule moving forward. There are no guaranteed dates on the Cup Series points race schedule and future All-Star sites haven’t been determined.
“That question’s on my mind as well,” Smith said. “I think when you see a successful week of events like we’ve had here it’s natural to think, ‘Boy, maybe we can come back here.’ So, I’m definitely thinking that way. ... It’s definitely something that we’re thinking about.”
Smith and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. spearheaded the effort to bring Cup Series racing bac k to the .625-mile track, a monumental task considering the dilapidated track sat mostly dormant since Jeff Gordon won the last Cup race there in 1996.
Hosting a Cup points race likely would mean Speedway Motorsports needing to take a a race away from one of its existing tracks on the regular NASCAR schedule. It's unclear if Smith would want to do that.
As for another All-Star race, that remains uncertain after the race fell flat in terms of entertainment value. While fans filled the grandstands at North Wilkesboro on Sunday night creating an electric atmosphere, the result was akin to a 51-3 blowout in football.
There was one lead change in 200 laps, and Kyle Larson dominated the race by leading the final 134 laps. At one point, Larson threatened to lap the entire field after taking an 11-second lead over second- place Bubba Wallace before a competition caution tightened the field after lap 100.
There were no wrecks and the few restarts provided no big moves.
About the only drama came after the race when Wallace appeared to make an obscene gesture on camera before a live interview with Fox Sports.
NASCAR spokesman Mike Forde said Monday there are no plans to penalize Wallace after discussing the matter with the 23XI Racing team. However, NASCAR plans to speak with Wallace about not using the gesture.
Representatives for Wallace's 23XI Racing team had no comment.
Tyler Reddick, who finished third, said the lack of competitive racing is more a result of NASCAR's ongoing issues with short track racing rather than a reflection of the North Wilkesboro worthiness as a track.
"It’s no secret that everybody in the industry and the fans have been vocal about wanting better short track racing, so I think what happened tonight goes along with what that narrative has been lately,” Reddick said. “NASCAR is working on it and we are all going to put our heads together and try to help make short track racing better.”
Reddick said racing should “absolutely” return to North Wilkesboro in some capacity. Larson, who won his third All-Star race, said All-Star venues should vary but he'd like to compete again at North Wilkesboro.
“Really, I just want to see us keep coming back here,” Larson said. “I think NASCAR has a lot of roots here, so it deserves a spot on our schedule, whether it be a non-points race or a points race, whatever.”
Smith will need to determine whether to repave the old track, something that hasn't been done in nearly four decades. He said Sunday night he's leaning toward not doing that right away.
Larson suggested patching the track in certain spots to make it more conducive to passing. Most of the drivers ran at the bottom of the track where some patchwork had been done leading up to the race.
“I don’t think they need to pave the whole thing," Larson said. "But just little patches here and there add character to the track and find grip. ... I think if they can introduce some patches in the middle to upper grooves, I think that’ll make the racing better.”
Tyler Gibbs wasn't a factor in the All-Star race, but enjoyed the track and wants to return.
"It's pretty special to be here,” Gibbs said. “I wasn’t alive when they raced here, but it’s really cool. It’s a worn-out race track, but it’s fun. Just kind of looking for patches, looking for grip.”
So now the question falls on Smith and NASCAR to determine the track's future.
“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," Smith said. "It’s like walking into a museum that is active and living and very special for the competitors and the fans.”
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