Don’t judge North Wilkesboro’s future off All-Star Race

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Fans along North Wilkesboro Speedway’s frontstretch grandstands stood as Kyle Larson completed his dominating run Sunday night.

Not since 1996 had the NASCAR Cup Series run at this historic track. The sport’s return was a week-long celebration that was part county fair, family reunion and tent revival. Only louder.

“I’ve never been to a NASCAR week where everybody was in such a good mood,” said Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the track.

If only the racing Sunday night could have been better and the finish more exciting. Larson won by 4.5 seconds after leading more than 70% of the 200-lap All-Star Race.

But don’t take what happened as a reason that the sport doesn’t need to come back to this track.

“A dominant performance should be celebrated as much as a close finish, in my eyes,” Chase Elliott said after his fifth-place finish. “They’re not always going to be barn burners and that’s OK.”

Joey Logano didn’t have the best night, finishing 10th, but he recognized what this event meant.

“Before a car hit the racetrack, it was a success for the sport,” he said.

While he struggled at times Sunday night, he also appreciated the challenge.

“You had to be a smart driver tonight, and I enjoyed that part of it,” Logano said. “There are so many races these days that the tire doesn’t wear out anymore and you can be a hammerhead and never pay the price. The smart racers don’t win as much. I like that this brought you back to your roots a lot.”

Erik Jones finished eighth and said fans got the true North Wilkesboro experience with a dominant winner.

“This is how it used to be,” he said. “If you go back and watch old races here, Geoff Bodine lapped the field (in 1994). That’s how it was. It’s a tricky place. It’s slick. One guy hits it right and they’re going to crush everybody.”

Jones said he enjoyed the challenge.

“As a racer, this is what you like and enjoy,” he said. “As a fan, if I was sitting in the stands, I would probably be a little underwhelmed.”

So what is next for this track? Have it return as an All-Star Race again next year? Make it a points race? Make it the Easter night race in 2024?

There’s some sentiment that the All-Star Race should move around, so keeping it here might not garner as much support. Making it a points race is enticing. Running North Wilkesboro next Easter — a night NASCAR seeks to own, similar to how motorsports dominates Memorial Day weekend and other sports have taken ownership of other holidays — could be an option.

Smith was non-committal Sunday night on what next year holds for North Wilkesboro Speedway.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Just as important of a question is when to repave this track, which was last repaved in 1981.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it weathers, and when it needs to be repaved, we’ll repave it,” Smith said. “I think I would lean towards not repaving until we absolutely have to.”

That decision can wait. Sunday night was about NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro. Enjoy it, relish it and remember it before looking too far ahead.

Read more about NASCAR

What drivers said at North Wilkesboro Speedway NASCAR All-Star results: Kyle Larson wins at North Wilkesboro Kyle Larson wins NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro in runaway

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