NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher will start on the front row for Sunday night’s All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway after winning their respective 60-lap heats.
Suarez beat out Joey Logano in the first heat at the .625-mile renovated track on a night in which NASCAR experimented with its wet weather tire package for the first time on the Cup Series cars following a light, but steady rain. Buescher won the second heat after leading all 60 laps as drivers started on slick tires before NASCAR had them switch to the wet weather tires for the second half of the race after some drizzle.
Joey Logano and Austin Dillon will start on the second row, while Chase Briscoe and William Byron will be on the third row.
The 21 drivers who qualified for the 200-lap All-Star race by virtue of their past accomplishments were divided into two heats as part of a unique format for this year’s race. They will be joined Sunday night by the top two finishers from the All-Star Open, which precedes the actual All-Star race, and the top fan vote getter.
Suarez, driving the No. 99 Chevy, passed Chase Elliott on lap 27 and led the rest of the way in heat one.
“It was fun to go through the transitions and learn about the tire and learn about the track,” said Suarez, who has never won an All-Star race. “I’m proud of our team and we have had a lot of speed lately.”
Buescher has not won an All-Star race, either, but dominated the second heat despite the mid-race change in tires.
“I think we are in a good place for tomorrow,” Buescher said.
There were no crashes in either of the heats as drivers were careful to save their cars for Sunday night.
NASCAR used the heats as a way to experiment with their wet weather tire package, something they’ve wanted to do for some time.
They threw a caution flag halfway through the first heat requiring a non-competition pit stop, and all but one of the drivers radioed in that they were wanted to stick with the wet weather setup for the remainder of the race.
“I felt like we had more grip with the wet weather tires,” Suarez said.
Logano said the drivers could have raced on the slick tires because the track wasn’t that wet, but he said he understands the decision and NASCAR taking advantage of the opportunity to see how they performed.
“I thought it went pretty good,” Christopher Bell said of the wet weather tire experiment.
Like many Cup drivers, Bell ran the Truck Series race earlier in the day and said he learned something about the track.
“This place is very unique,” Bell said. “There are a lot of patches that you can manipulate your car to get it to do certain things.”
North Wilkesboro, which hasn’t hosted a Cup Series event since 1996, was restored with help of Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. for NASCAR’s 75th year anniversary season.
“It’s character,” Buescher said of the asphalt track, which hasn’t been paved in more than three decades. “There are patches everywhere, there are cracks in the track, the aprons rub. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Although it will be a non-points exhibition race, Logano said drivers will be geared up Sunday night.
“There’s a million dollars on the line and I’m coming in relaxed for that,” Logano said. “It matters to me. I know points matter as well, but there are not many races where you can race for a million bucks and you probably need to take that pretty serious.”