Chase Briscoe wheels the No. 5 late model stock car during CARS Tour practice at North Wilkesboro Speedway. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

Can North Wilkesboro Speedway Withstand 1,045 Laps?

It’s been 42 years since North Wilkesboro Speedway was last paved.

Since then, the .625-mile oval has earned a reputation for its aged pavement, slanted frontstretch and backstretch, and ability to aggressively wear tires. And for the better part of the last 27 years, it has sat dormant. Until now.

Over the next week, the speedway will be asked to withstand 1,045 race laps split among eight events — including an ASA STARS National Tour feature, two CARS Tour events, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, two All-Star heat races, an All-Star Open and the All-Star Race itself.

The track surface has become a topic of concern, particularly with Cup Series drivers, as they prepare to contest the first premier class NASCAR race in North Wilkesboro since 1996.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe was one of a handful of Cup Series stars hoping to add some knowledge to his notebook by competing in Wednesday’s CARS Tour late model stock feature ahead of Sunday’s All-Star Race. But after making his inaugural laps around the oval — which were also his first laps wheeling a late model — Briscoe made a few adjustments to his plan.

“Before I came here, it was more trying to figure out tire-wise what I could handle and what pace (for the All-Star Race),” Briscoe said. “But honestly, these cars don’t drive anything like a Cup car, they don’t have the power and things. So, I don’t know if I can learn a whole lot.”

His new focus will be finding speed on the race track once tire falloff occurs, in hopes that it will translate to his No. 14 Ford Mustang on Sunday.

“I know in practice I was moving around a lot, trying to run some lanes that a lot of guys probably weren’t even thinking of running, just to see if I could find anything,” Briscoe said.

He’ll have 125 laps of what he calls “wiggle room” during Wednesday night’s Window World 125 to attempt to find an edge for Sunday.  

Ross Chastain will wheel the No. 28 late model stock in the Window World 125. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

He’s not the only NASCAR star entered in the LMS class.

Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain is another, and if his first lap at North Wilkesboro Speedway is any indication of how his week will go, competitors beware.

“I was smiling and I was more and more wide-eyed as I went around and got up to speed,” Chastain recalled. “A lot of sliding, and I expected that, but it still catches you off-guard. You expect the car to have grip and it doesn’t.” 

Compared to the late model, he expects the Next Gen car to be a “handful,” due to the slick nature of the track surface. As such, he’s determined to learn his way around the patches of new asphalt that sprinkle the .625-mile oval during his CARS Tour start.

“I’m kind of going patch to patch, new asphalt to new asphalt, sliding to the next patch and letting that catch me. Learning that now is incredible,” Chastain said. “I’ve already been talking with my crew chief and engineers to tell them what I’m feeling for the Cup car.”

Other Cup Series drivers racing in the LMS class include Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez.

On the other hand, North Wilkesboro Speedway presents nothing new for most of the full-time late model drivers, including reigning NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion Layne Riggs.

“Us late model guys, we’re pretty much used to here. About every track we go to, it’s not freshly repaved, it’s just like this race track,” Riggs said. “Today, it feels like a big Hickory Motor Speedway and I really like the character of it.”

While he enjoys the tire-preservation strategy that North Wilkesboro requires, Riggs admits the track is more abrasive than what he likes.   

“It’ll be tough as a race car driver to hold the reins back and I think experience is what’s going to pay,” Riggs said.

As the 20-year-old was able to log some race laps during the CARS Tour race at North Wilkesboro Speedway last August, he feels more than ready to roll onto the patched pavement for round two.

The late model stocks will take the green flag at approximately 7:30 p.m. for the Window World 125.