Facts & Stats Friday: NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway

Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle
14 min readMay 19, 2023

19 May 2023
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News

North Wilkesboro, NC — For the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, the sport is going back to its roots at North Wilkesboro Speedway. This will be the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has returned to North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996. It will also be first time, the NASCAR All-Star race and the All-Star Open will take place at 0.625-mile paved oval located just five miles outside North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. This Sunday, May 21, the All-Star Open is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. ET and the main event, the NASCAR All-Star Race, will follow at 8 p.m. ET — both will be broadcast on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio — with over $1 million dollars up for grabs.

The NASCAR All-Star Race was introduced in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the first All-Star race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond. Waltrip led 27 laps in the 70-lap inaugural All-Star event en route to the win driving the №11 Junior Johnson & Associates Buick. It was Waltrip’s only career All-Star win.

This weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race will be the 39th running of the prized exhibition race and North Wilkesboro is the fifth different track to host the event; joining Charlotte Motor Speedway (34 All-Star races: 1985, 1987–2019), Atlanta Motor Speedway (1986), Bristol Motor Speedway (2020) and Texas Motor Speedway (2021–2022).

North Wilkesboro Speedway (Photo Credit: Zack Albert, nascar.com)

The second NASCAR All-Star Race in 1986 was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the event was dominated by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who set the record for the most laps led in a NASCAR All-Star Race by a driver that won the event, leading 82 of the scheduled 83 laps (98.8%). Elliott started the event in the second starting position. Twice the NASCAR All-Star Race has been led by one driver flag-to-flag and both occurred at Charlotte; Dale Earnhardt led all 70 laps in 1990 and Davey Allison led all 70 laps (100%) in 1991.

The next 33 All-Star events would be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway until the 2020 season due to the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic the race was rescheduled and moved to Bristol Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott grabbed his first NASCAR All-Star Race win at Bristol that season. The win made the Elliotts (Bill and Chase) the second father-son duo to win the NASCAR All-Star Race all-time, joining the Earnhardts (Dale and Dale Jr.).

Then in 2021, the special non-points event was moved to Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. And for the second straight season, the NASCAR All-Star Race was won by a Hendrick Motorsports driver — Kyle Larson. Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Cup Series in NASCAR All-Star race victories with 10 wins among five drivers — Jimmie Johnson (four: 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013), Jeff Gordon (three: 1995, 1997, 2001), Terry Labonte (1999), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021). It also was the second consecutive season the NASCAR All-Star Race winner went on to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the same season. The feat has occurred 12 times since the inception of the All-Star race in 1985 by seven different drivers — Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001), Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).

Kyle Larson won the 2021 NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway (Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Last season’s NASCAR All-Star race at Texas Motor Speedway was won by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. Blaney dominated the event once getting out front leading 84 of the 140 scheduled laps (60%). It was his first victory in the special non-points event and the fourth for Team Penske — Blaney (2022), Joey Logano (2016), Kurt Busch (2010), Ryan Newman (2002).

Ryan Blaney won the 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway (Credit: Getty Images/nascar.com)

In total, the 38 NASCAR All-Star Races have produced 26 different winners, led by the recently retired Jimmie Johnson with four All-Star wins (2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013). Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick (2007, 2018) and Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson (2019, 2021) lead all active drivers in NASCAR All-Star Race wins with two each. In total, eight former NASCAR All-Star Race winners are entered this weekend:

The 38 NASCAR All-Star Races have also produced 18 different pole winners; four of the 18 are active this weekend:

The NASCAR All-Star Race has been won from the pole or first starting position six times by five different drivers, the first three came in consecutive years — Dale Earnhardt (1990), Davey Allison (1991, 1992), Kurt Busch (2010), Denny Hamlin (2015) and Kyle Larson (2021).

The on-track activity for the NASCAR Cup Series at North Wilkesboro Speedway will begin on Friday, May 19 with practice for both the All-Star Open and the NASCAR All-Star Race from 4 p.m. — 4:50 p.m. ET directly followed by Qualifying — The Pit Crew Challenge — for the NASCAR All-Star Race & Open at 5:45 p.m. ET — both events will be televised on FS1.

2023 All-Star Open and NASCAR All-Star Race Formats

This season’s NASCAR All-Star Weekend will have a simplified format — featuring two heat races to set the starting lineup, a 100-lap All-Star Open and a 200-lap main event — putting the spotlight of the weekend on the historic 0.625-mile track, North Wilkesboro Speedway, which will host its first NASCAR competition since 1996.

The NASCAR All-Star Race & Open Qualifying (Pit Crew Challenge) formats are as follows:

  • The Pit Crew Challenge on Friday (May 19) will determine the starting lineups for the two Heat races and the Open.
  • Pit Crew Challenge order is determined by current driver point standings in reverse (going from last to first).
  • Each car’s qualifying time will be based solely on their pit stop time from the Pit Crew Challenge.
  • Timing lines will be established one box behind and one box ahead of the designated pit box.
  • Teams must complete a four-tire stop during the Pit Crew Challenge.

NASCAR All-Star Heat Race format is as follows:

  • The 21 drivers already locked into the NASCAR All-Star Race field will be split into two 60-lap (37.5 miles) Heat races on Saturday night (May 20) which will determine the starting lineup for the All-Star Race.
  • All laps (caution and green flag) will count.
  • Each Heat race will get one chance at overtime if needed.
  • Results of Heat 1 will establish the inside row, results of Heat 2 will establish the outside row.
  • The remaining teams not already locked into the NASCAR All-Star Race will compete in the All-Star Open.

NASCAR All-Star Open format is as follows:

  • The All-Star Open on Sunday (May 21) will feature drivers not previously eligible for the All-Star Race.
  • The All-Star Open will be 100 laps (62.5 miles).
  • All laps (caution and green flag) will count.
  • The Open will get one chance at overtime if needed.
  • A competition break at or around Lap 40.
  • Three Open drivers will advance to the All-Star Race — the top two race finishers and the Fan Vote Winner.

The NASCAR All-Star Race format is as follows:

  • Technical rules for the cars will remain the same as other NASCAR Cup Series short track races.
  • The NASCAR All-Star Race will be 200 laps (125 miles).
  • A competition break at or around Lap 100 (halfway).
  • All laps (caution and green flag) will count.
  • NASCAR Overtime rules are in effect (unlimited attempts).
  • Each team will start on sticker tires for the All-Star Race and have three additional sets to use.
  • After the competition break, only one additional set of stickers can be used.
  • All-Star Race winner earns over $1 million in prize money.

Who’s already locked into the Main Event — the 2023 NASCAR All-Stars

Heading into this weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway, 21 different drivers have earned their spot in the NASCAR All-Star Race on May 21 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

All-Star Eligibility for 2023: Those eligible for the NASCAR All-Star Race include drivers who won a points event in either 2022 or 2023, drivers who won a NASCAR All-Star Race and compete fulltime and drivers who won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and compete fulltime.

Of the 21 drivers already entered in the NASCAR All-Star race, seven have previously scored wins in the annual exhibition event, led by Kevin Harvick (2007, 2018) and Kyle Larson (2019, 2021) with two All-Star victories each. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney is the most recent NASCAR All-Star race winner, bringing home the victory from Texas Motor Speedway last season.

“I’ve only ever driven by North Wilkesboro and known it as a closed racetrack,” said Ross Chastain, one of the 21 drivers currently eligible for the NASCAR All-Star Race. “There has been a lot of hype over this race weekend and obviously Marcus Smith and a lot of others have put a lot of effort into making it happen. It will be fun to go up there and check it all out. I’m going to get my feet wet with the late model race and hopefully get more comfortable with the track, and then the truck race on Saturday afternoon before going for the million dollars on Sunday night.”

In total, 24 drivers will make a start in this season’s NASCAR All-Star Race — the 21 drivers that earned a spot in the event and three additional positions will be added to the NASCAR All-Star Race field following the All-Star Open — the All-Star Open Winner, the All-Star Open runner-up finisher and the Fan Vote Winner.

A glimpse into the NASCAR All-Star Open

The NASCAR All-Star Open was first introduced into the All-Star format on May 11, 1986, at Atlanta Motor Speedway; the non-points special event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Benny Parsons with crew chief Cliff Champion, but it did not grant the team entry to the All-Star Race; that started the following season. Parsons won the first All-Star Open driving a Jackson Brothers Racing’s Oldsmobile in 1986. This season, three drivers from the NASCAR All-Star Open will move on to compete in the NASCAR All-Star Race — The All-Star Open winner, the All-Star Open runner-up finisher, and the Fan Vote Winner.

There have been 40 NASCAR All-Star Open events, one per year since 1986; except in 2000, 2001 and 2002, it was held as two events with both of the winners moving on to the All-Star Race. Starting in 2015, the All-Star Open was broken up into segments and then in 2017 it was divided into stages and each winner of the segments, or the stages earned a spot in the All-Star Race.

The All-Star Open has featured a field that has ranged from 36 drivers from 1994–1996 to 14 drivers in the inaugural event in 1986. Last season’s All-Star Open field at Texas had 16 participants and this weekend’s event at North Wilkesboro Speedway is also anticipating 16 participants.

A total of 29 different drivers have won the NASCAR All-Star Open from 1986–2022, and six of the 29 former All-Star Open winners are active this weekend, but two of them already earned spots in the All-Star Race this season (Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.).

Here are the 16 All-Star Open drivers vying for the three available positions in the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday:

NASCAR.com’s All-Star Fan Vote is still underway

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race is this Sunday, May 21 and is approaching fast, but the Fan Vote is still going strong for the big event at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Voting will be open until 9 a.m. ET on Sunday May 21.

Fans can vote here for one eligible driver once a day per unique email address.

The Fan vote began in 2004 with Ken Schrader earning the first accolades during an All-Star Weekend. In total, 16 different drivers have won the NASCAR Fan Vote during All-Star Weekend.

In 2008, Kasey Kahne became the first driver to get into the NASCAR All-Star Race by the Fan Vote and go on to win the event. Kahne started 24th (last place) in the All-Star race and won. He led the final 17 laps to win.

Danica Patrick became the first driver to win more than one Fan Vote into the NASCAR All-Star Race (2013, 2015). She also is the only female to win the Fan Vote into the All-Star race.

Chase Elliott became the first driver to win the Fan Vote in consecutive seasons (2016, 2017, 2018), and also the first driver to win it three times — Elliott leads the series in Fan Vote wins.

Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Carl Edwards are the only five drivers who have won the NASCAR All-Star Race and the Fan Vote in their careers — Kahne won both in 2008, Earnhardt Jr. won the All-Star Race in 2000 and the Fan Vote in 2011. Logano won the Fan Vote in 2009 and the All-Star Race in 2016. Edwards won the Fan Vote in 2010 and the All-Star Race in 2011. Elliott won the Fan Vote from 2016–2018 and the All-Star Race in 2020.

Additional Notes for All-Star Weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series

North Wilkesboro Speedway is a gem worth polishing — What better place to hold a NASCAR All-Star Race in the 75th anniversary of the sport than the track that has sat idle since 1996 and is enjoying its revival through the advocacy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the enthusiastic cooperation of Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith.

“There’s something about it, it’s just got a special place in our history,” Earnhardt said. “And I’m so excited to see what can happen beyond this. The All-Star Race is a great thing, but going forward North Wilkesboro can continue to contribute to our lives and to our family’s lives.”

The 0.625-mile oval was part of NASCAR’s foundation in its earliest years, joining the Modified Division schedule in 1948. The track hosted the year-ending race for the Cup Series — then called Strictly Stock — in its first season in 1949. It became an annual stop on the schedule, hosting two races a year starting in 1951. North Wilkesboro became popular amongst competitors and fans for its close quarter racing but also its unique layout with the frontstretch running downhill and the backstretch going uphill. In total, North Wilkesboro Speedway has hosted 93 Cup Series points-paying races from 1949–1996. North Wilkesboro Speedway was originally a dirt track, with the first 14 of the 93 races being run on dirt before the track was paved between Cup Series races in 1957.

Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith purchased 50 percent interest in North Wilkesboro in 1995, after the death of track developer and owner Enoch Staley. In 1996, then New Hampshire Motor Speedway owner Bob Bahre bought the remaining 50 percent from the Staley family.

After 1996 track sat mostly dormant — except for a brief revival 12 years ago — until an $18 million allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan moved through the North Carolina state budget recently. Those funds were designated for infrastructure improvements and helped to rejuvenate the track this year. An agreement was also struck for an additional $4M grant from the general assembly for additional facility upgrades for the All-Star weekend. The total for the revitalization project is now north of $22 million.

“North Wilkesboro is going to remain historic, and it will remain authentic, but it will also be modern, and that will be a great thing to see,” Earnhardt said.

Big names serving as dignitaries at North Wilkesboro — Expect the spotlight to shine extra bright this weekend at the recently revitalized North Wilkesboro Speedway for NASCAR All-Star Race week.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers in North Wilkesboro Speedway history, will serve as co-Grand Marshals for the prestigious race. Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who won the last NASCAR Cup Series race held at North Wilkesboro in 1996, and his then crew chief, Ray Evernham, will also serve in special roles — as honorary Pace Car driver and Honorary Starter — to help get the NASCAR All-Star Race underway on Sunday evening (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio).

On Saturday, former NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champions Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner and two-time Cup Series champion crew chief Jeff Hammond will help count down to the green flag by serving in various pre-race roles for the Tyson 250 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Meanwhile, a host of the hottest talent in country music will be performing throughout All-Star week on the Fan Zone stage and during pre-race ceremonies, including Dierks Bentley, Midland, Chase Rice, Kameron Marlowe, Hannah Dasher, Tim Dugger and rising stars Josh Ross and Alex Key.

Multi-platinum entertainer Bentley, a fan-favorite country performer with a smooth delivery and a catalog full of popular songs, including 21 №1 hits, will command the stage during the pre-race concert on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. just hours before the start of the All-Star Race.

Fans who attend All-Star Friday presented by Raymer Oil Company will be treated to performances by two of the hottest country acts, Midland and Chase Rice. Texas-based Midland will crank out their top hits with their distinctive groovy sound and will be followed by Rice, an Asheville, N.C. native who played football for the University of North Carolina and also served as a pit crew member for Hendrick Motorsports, where he was a part of two championship winning teams with Jimmie Johnson.

North Carolina native Marlowe will perform Sunday’s National Anthem. The former contestant on NBC’s The Voice and former Kannapolis resident is now one of Nashville’s most promising singer-songwriters.

Most recently added to the NASCAR All-Star week dignitary lineup, Dasher is a country music performer and social media influencer. Critically acclaimed by Rolling Stone and Billboard, Dasher is known for her 1.5 million TikTok followers through her “Stand By Your Pan” viral cooking and music series. She will perform “God Bless America” during Sunday’s pre-race ceremonies prior to the start of the NASCAR All-Star Open (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association