NASCAR Cup teams navigate ‘old school’ North Wilkesboro at tire test

Three teams spent much of Tuesday testing tire compounds as part of a one-day Goodyear tire test on the historic 0.625-mile oval, which last hosted a Cup race in 1996.

The track, which has been reopened by Speedway Motorsports and undergoing renovations, returns to the Cup schedule this year as the site of the May 21 NASCAR All-Star Race.

Truck teams were the first to hit the track Monday in a tire test in preparation for a race May 20 during All-Star weekend.

Participating Tuesday were Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Chris Buescher in the No. 17 RFK Racing Ford and Tyler Reddick in 23XI Racing’s No. 45 Toyota.

“When you’re on the race track, the surface, the elevation, it feels really old-school. It’s very much different from a lot of the race tracks that we have on the circuit, and I really enjoyed it,” Reddick said.

“We didn’t do any sim work. We went in with the team’s best guess, I came in with an open mind and we went about taking on the day. I just really enjoyed making our 20- and 50-lap runs. “You really have to respect the race track and think long-term (with tire conservation).

“For me, more than anything, just the energy that will be here, I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick

Photo by: William Brown

In recent months, the entire infield area has been paved, renovations made to the track’s suite boxes, a portion of pit road has been torn up and replaced and SAFER barrier installed. A 5,000-seat temporary grandstand is in the process of being added.

However, for now, Wilkesboro’s storied, abrasive surface remains the same.

“It’s so cool to see the progress made, and the mix of the old and the new. I know the fans are going to love it,” Buescher said. “I imagine everybody’s going to be pumped to come out here, and you’re going to have a very loyal fan base for this track, for a long time.

“It’s going to put on a good race, too. It was a lot of fun in the race car. We got to make several hundred laps in our race car, went through different tire options and learned a lot. It’s a track that’s rough around the edges. It’s got a ton of character.”

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Dillon said it was “cool” to see the track come “alive” again.

“There’s so much history here. The track’s still the old track. It just teaches you short-track racing (techniques), being easy on that gas pedal and trying to take care of the rear tires,” he said.

“Just finally getting here was cool. This place was dormant forever and now it’s alive, and you can feel the energy and the momentum that’s building. It’s going to be electric (in May).

“It’s going to have that feel they had in the 1990s here, when they were packed out and fans were getting to enjoy a race near home. It’s rough out there. It’s gritty. It’s North Wilkesboro.”

Chris Buescher

Chris Buescher

Photo by: William Brown

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