It likely won’t be referenced in a history book, but when Tyler Reddick drove out of the North Wilkesboro pitlane for Tuesday’s Goodyear tire test, he was the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to do so at the historic racetrack since 1996.
“I mean, it wasn’t a competition, but yes, I was,” Reddick said with a laugh.
Reddick was the Toyota representative at the test, which is another step in the preparation process for the All-Star Race on May 21. Chris Buescher (Ford) and Austin Dillon (Chevy) were the other drivers in attendance.
“It’s pretty dang cool,” Buescher said of being at the test. “I made a few laps here in a pickup (truck) when we were cleaning the track with Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] and Marcus [Smith] a while back. It looks a little better now; definitely pretty nice out here.
“The track is wore out, just like everyone had hoped. The best thing I can compare it to is like a Berlin from my ARCA days, to where you don’t get a whole lot wide-open, but it definitely moves out a lot and you’re chasing it around.”
NASCAR has not sanctioned a race at the facility since ’96, and when the series returns in May, it will do so on the same pavement. While the track is undergoing modernization, keeping its historic feel has been key, and the rough pavement is a favorite.
Buescher was surprised, however that it wasn’t as bumpy as he expected. Dillon said it’s easy to feel how rough the track is with your hand, but when it comes to driving on it, described it as feeling like two inches of asphalt were taken off Homestead and Fontana and shaved like a cheese grater.
“That’s what it reminds me of, “Dillon said.
All three drivers noted there was significant tire fall-off throughout the day. However, it’s still unknown where Goodyear will land with the tire chosen for the All-Star Race and how it will affect the racing.
“It was slick out there,” Dillon said. “You really had to take care of the tires. But it was fun.”
Buescher said there were several seconds of fall-off during a run. Reddick said it was like driving on ice.
“This place has a lot of aging and character to it,” Reddick said. “You’re having to pedal it pretty good. The first lap, you have to kind of be careful squeezing the gas down and as you run, it’s hard to get back to wide-open throttle, but I think we were seeing a second and a half fall off or so over 50 laps. And that was kind of surprising. I figured we’d have more fall-off.
“But one little miscue into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car. And that’s with no traffic and no mistakes. So, maybe with more traffic and everything, the fall-off will be more. But we’re out of control from lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car.”
Another unknown is the format of the All-Star Race, as those details are expected in the new few weeks. As much as Reddick, Dillon, and Buescher had at the test, they aren’t sure what it will produce in race conditions with a pack of All-Star Race drivers.
“It’s not easy to drive, I’ll tell you that,” said Dillon. “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to be in trouble. You really have to try and make those four tires live. I think it’s going to be one of those races where the line really matters; it seems like if you come off the bottom a foot, then it’s hard to get the car to cut back left. You’re just kind of hanging out there.
“It reminds me of a dirt car on a really slick dirt track, going down the backstretch, just the wheel spin. You can light the tires up at any time. I got talked to all day by Andy Petree about how soft I have to be on the throttle when we come back. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty decent on some weird tracks in my life – the shorter tracks, the smaller tracks. We’ll figure it out.”
The three drivers did run together during the test. However, Reddick said there isn’t much to take from it because they weren’t on equal tires.
“We didn’t go out there on fresh tires and race,” he said. “The track is slick enough, and the lack of grip will make handling important, and the people who hit it right are going to be strong, and the people who don’t will be off. And depending on how strategy plays out with who gets tires and who does, you could see a lot of comers and goers on the long run. Other than that, I don’t know.
“There are a lot of unknowns. I had a lot of run racing on it all by myself that’s for sure. I haven’t had that much fun testing in a while.”
All three drivers are expected to be back on track at North Wilkesboro on Wednesday, weather permitting.