North Wilkesboro has long been a fan-favorite track on the NASCAR circuit and, when the track was scrapped from the schedule following the 1996 season, many fans feared the ultimate demise of the historic OG NASCAR facility.
However, after the a call to action to clean up the racing surface of North Wilkesboro by NASCAR Hall-of-Famer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the subsequent Pro Invitational event there in 2021, a new life was breathed into the landmark track. Now again a fan-favorite and driver favorite, many within the NASCAR sphere are calling for the track to remain on the schedule.
Aside from the typical argument that the track is a throwback, many fans and drivers alike are liking the track for just how difficult it is to get around there. Here are just a few of the reasons North Wilkesboro is one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks to handle.
It’s A Short Track
The most obvious point here is the track’s length. Short tracks in NASCAR go back to the very beginning. They are as NASCAR as Apple Pie is American. Even today and throughout the cookie-cutter boom of the mid-to-late ’90s and early 2000s, the short tracks on the NASCAR circuit have been some of the best races on the season, though being few and far between.
The primary reason drivers and fans like short track racing so much is that it’s almost entirely a talent-based kind of racing. The obstacle course that is “dirty air” isn’t as much in effect, meaning drivers can call on their natural talents to drive their way through the field. That doesn’t make it easy, though. Just because you have a fast car doesn’t mean you’ll be able to just work your way up.
Short track racing in its nature requires a lot of patience and natural skill. The driver not only has to race the car in front of them for position, but they also have to wherever the leader is on track so that they do not get put a lap down. Once a lap down, it’s hard to fight your way back to the front on a short oval.
With North Wilkesboro measuring in at 0.62 miles, it is, indeed a short track. It’ll be interesting to see how the short track ace’s of today tackle the classic short track of yesteryear in North Wilkesboro.
Something else that will really affect how a driver’s car handles is the track surface. This is the same track surface that Jeff Gordon raced and won on back in 1996. It’s abrasive and it chews Goodyear rubber and spits it out.
Tire falloff will be a huge factor this weekend and expect many drivers in the back to be saving their tires early in order to make a run late. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. who championed for NASCAR to keep this racing surface for the All-Star race said on Wednesday after his Late Model run in the Sun Drop No. 3 that the surface will not be sustainable for future Cup races.
The track surface has a similar rough trademark Carolina quality as Darlington and the recently (and sadly) demolished Myrtle Beach Speedway. It’ll be tough for drivers to handle this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how the old asphalt will affect the handlings of the NextGen cars.
Tight Racing Groove
As with most short tracks, the racing surface is tight, especially in turns 1 and 2 due to its unique design and lopsided shape. It’s pretty much a one-groove track with many of the drivers opting to run on the newly repaved aprons than the abrasive track itself. This means that there’ll be a lot of follow-the-leader which means it’ll be hard for the drivers to pass.
This could mark the return of the infamous and fan beloved bump-and-run. Regardless of who your favorite driver is, the ends of these races ought to be exciting as everyone in the field will be fighting for very tight real estate.
The Rise And Fall In Elevation
The most unique part of this track could also provide the most unusual obstacle for drivers and that is the odd (but awesome!) rise and fall layout of the course. Unlike most NASCAR short tracks that are built on practically level ground, North Wilkesboro is built on somewhat of a slope. The front stretch is down hill, which means more speed carried by the drivers heading into the first and second turns, while the back stretch is completely uphill which could lead to slower corner speed in turns three and four.
This unique layout means that the corners will have to be driven differently. While this wouldn’t be an issue for a seasoned veteran of the track, none of the drivers in the All-Star field have actually ever race at North Wilkesboro enough to obtain a rhythm for the short track oddity. Racing out a fast, short oval, it’s easy to get lost and forget which corner of the track you are racing in.
Will this lead to some driver error mistakes when it most counts in the latter stages of the races this weekend? Only time will tell.
Due to popular demand from fans and drivers alike, NASCAR is returning to its roots this weekend at the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway. It is a short and rough track that will surely challenge all the drivers who take it on with its unique layout.
What do you think, Daily Downforce readers? Are you looking forward to seeing the greatest drivers in the world take on a track they most likely never had to before, especially one with NWB’s level of difficulty and oddballs? Let us know and follow us on social media to stay up to date on all your NASCAR news and discussions.