NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. – Unlike most of the NASCAR Cup Series field, Ryan Blaney has some experience competing at the 0.625-mile North Wilkesboro Speedway.
In fact, it was during a championship season for the 2011 PASS South Series, a late model division that Blaney cut his teeth in as a 17-year-old third generation racer.
Although time has passed him by in terms of his recollection of those times, he recognized the significance of North Wilkesboro’s return to NASCAR Cup Series competition, especially as he defends his 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race victory when it was previously held at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It should be great,” Blaney said in a Ford Performance press release. “That place is really historic. I ran a late model race there in 2009 or 2010, but I can’t remember much of it. I’m sure it’s gonna get tons and tons of people out there and tons of attention, which it already has been getting as it rightfully should.”
Blaney, a lover of racing history, has embraced every moment of NASCAR All-Star Race weekend. From sporting a bit of an old school look reminiscent of drivers from the 1970s to his wide eyed enthusiasm with returning to one of NASCAR’s charter tracks, he has been supportive of stock car’s annual exhibition being hosted at this venue.
“You bring a track like that, one that has meant a lot to the sport for a long time and it’s kind of been sleeping for a little while and you put a bunch of effort and money behind bringing it back and I think it’s good for the All-Star Race,” he said. “I look forward to getting there.
“It’s gonna be really cool and I’m sure it’s gonna be packed. I think it’s good that we’re going back there, so I’m excited for it.”
On Saturday night, Blaney, who started ninth in Heat No. 1, tallied a sixth place result, logging an 11th starting position for the 200-lap NASCAR All-Star Race. Prior to his heat’s start, NASCAR elected to start the race with the wet weather tires.
Despite the track having some damp spots, it looked like any other stock car, short track race. Drivers continued to gain comfort and confidence with racing around the track with the wet weather tires comprised of treads similar to passenger vehicles.
“If there was ever an opportune time to do it, it was now,” Blaney said to Dustin Long of NASCAR on NBC. “It wasn’t raining. The track was wet, slow racetrack, low grip. I was happy they decided to do it and let us go in the wet. It surprisingly had way more grip than I thought it was going to have.”
While wet weather tires seemed like an unlikely sight to beholden at North Wilkesboro, Blaney was appreciative of NASCAR’s decision logging the first competitive laps with this new package, especially if inclement weather may slightly dampen the track surface.
“We fired off, I accelerated off of 2 and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I got more grip than I did yesterday in the rear. It was crazy,'” he said. “I’m happy they did it. I wish they let us put slicks on it.
“It was dry enough to put slicks on it there at the pit stop. At least we said we did it under good circumstances and every track is situational. I’m happy we gave it a shot, at least.”