Indianapolis 500 Practice Wednesday May 17 2023 Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M79991
Josef Newgarden straps in for Wednesday's practice session at IMS. (Joe Skibinski photo)

KERCHNER: Friday Morning Heat Race

Hot Laps: North Wilkesboro Speedway

Hats off to the Speedway Motorsports team on what it has accomplished in resurrecting North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Reconstruction, new plumbing, fresh coats of paint and the additions of multiple temporary structures have the 66-year-old facility sparkling ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race at the track that hasn’t hosted a NASCAR event since 1996.

While modern amenities were certainly part of the upgrade, the throwback theme to rebuilding the five-eighths-mile track was apparent, from vintage signs, to reworked buildings designed to replicate the previous structures on the property and even a vintage, hand-operated scoreboard clearly gave visitors the nostalgic feeling that fans wanted in a return of racing to North Wilkesboro.

It’s a job well done.

Qualifying: The Future?

That said, North Wilkesboro is what it is! For a lot of reasons, it will never again be a regular stop with the NASCAR Cup Series. It remains a track you can see, but can’t easily get to with roads in that are not sufficient for NASCAR Cup Series events.

Is there a future for short-track racing and NASCAR at North Wilkesboro? Absolutely. But there won’t be any playoff races here either. Many of the reasons NASCAR left the track behind still exist. Special events such as the All-Star Race and maybe the occasional Xfinity Series or Craftsman Truck Series event should be expected.

It would be a fantastic home to an annual short-track racing spectacular featuring asphalt late models and tour-type modifieds.

The First Heat: Cup Drivers Impress

Bubba Pollard, who may be the best late model driver on the planet, won Wednesday’s ASA STARS National Tour race at North Wilkesboro, but the skills of the NASCAR drivers in the field were clearly on display.

Hendrick Motorsports Cup Series drivers William Byron and Chase Elliott battled with Pollard before finishing second and third, respectively. Xfinity Series rookie Sammy Smith was fourth, and Cup Series veteran Daniel Suarez came home fifth.

Second Heat: Three-Time Winner?

Takuma Sato could turn a fast lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a school bus. Put him aboard a Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car and you just might have another three-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

Third Heat: Where’s The Money Coming From?

Perusing a lot more streaming coverage of racing recently, one question comes to mind frequently, how are they paying these purses?

The Dash: Tunnel Needed

When they repave North Wilkesboro Speedway in preparation for next year’s calendar of events there, a pedestrian tunnel definitely needs to be included.

The C Main: Silly Season

For sprint car racing fans keeping track.

Buddy Kofoid is back in the Indy Race Parts No. 71. Cory Eliason replaced him in the No. 11. Parker Price-Miller is driving the No. 26 — temporarily until Zeb Wise is cleared to return from a concussion. Oh, and Sye Lynch is now wheeling the No. 29 McCandless Motorsports machine.

Better standby, though, more silliness is on the way.

Last Chance Race: Getting Back To The Future

The Beatles recorded “Get Back” in 1969. This weekend three notable series are Getting Back to Where They Once Belonged. NASCAR is returning to North Wilkesboro Speedway, NHRA is back at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., and the USAC midgets race at the famed Belleville High Banks in Kansas.

Feature: Four-Lap Qualifying Runs

It’s interesting how things change over time. For decades, Indianapolis 500 drivers talked about how a four-lap qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most stressful thing they do all season.

With this year’s qualifying format for the 500, the pole winner will have made a minimum of three four-lap runs, and very likely will make more than that before qualifying concludes late on Sunday afternoon.

That’s a lot of pins and needles, and holding your breath.

Parting Shot: Talking Hats

Has Ross Chastain been fitted for his black hat? If so, who will wear the white one?