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Suárez and Buescher Clinch Front Row Spots for NASCAR All-Star Race

Daniel Suárez showcased his grit and might in Heat No. 1 on Saturday night. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Daniel Suárez showcased his grit and might in Heat No. 1 on Saturday night. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. – Prior to Sunday night’s battle for $1 million, the NASCAR All-Star Race field duked it out for their starting positions in two Qualifying Heat races on Saturday night at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The heats, each set to 60 laps, did more than decide the starting spots for the All-Star Race field. It marked the first instance of Cup drivers and teams competing at the beloved 0.625-mile short track since the Tyson Holly Farms 400 on Sept. 29, 1996.

Although the heats and Sunday night’s showdown do not involve championship points, the honor and glory prevalent with battling at this North Carolina short track were just as fervent and relevant.

However, it is safe to say that even the most ardent believers of North Wilkesboro’s return to NASCAR Cup Series competition did not envision a couple of races to involve wet weather tires, windshield wipers and brake lights.

Much like Daytona’s qualifying duels, Heat No. 1 decided the inside row while Heat No. 2 set the order for the outside row. While showers delayed the first qualifying heat, the action picked up from jump street as Chase Elliott rocketed from his second starting spot to lead the opening 26 laps.

Daniel Suárez, the pole sitter for Heat No. 1, kept in striking distance of Elliott, eventually using an efficient bump and run maneuver in Turn 4 to take the lead on Lap 27. Even with a caution on Lap 34 to allow drivers and teams to switch from wet tires to slicks in noncompetitive pit stops, Suárez was in a different zip code.

Suárez drove onto a convincing 1.529-second victory over Joey Logano with Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top five while Elliott slipped to a seventh place result.

As with some Cup competitors, Suárez made his way to North Wilkesboro earlier in the week to partake in the late model races. Besides learning a great deal about the track, he has embraced the turnout and ambiance of the historic venue.

“Yeah, it’s been fun,” Suárez said. “I’ve been here since Monday, so I’ve been living here for awhile. But you know it’s been a lot of fun to see the fans – so loyal since Monday or Tuesday. It’s been a lot of fun to see that.

“This place has so much history. Just look at the walls.. there’s so much history everywhere you look. For me, to be a small part of this and have the opportunity to put on a show for all these fans, our race teams, NASCAR and all the fans at home – it’s quite special. Overall, just very happy to be here.”

Likewise, Suárez sang his praises for his No. 99 team, the same crew who tallied the fastest pit stop time during Friday afternoon’s pit stop competition that determined the starting positions for Saturday night’s heat races for the All-Star Race field and Sunday evening’s All-Star Open grid.

“I feel like the car was very good,” he said. “My car worked very, very well for those conditions. I have some experience in the rain in go-karts, but it’s completely different. It’s completely different. I feel like our team did a good job. The car adapted well.

“The first handful of laps after the restart, I don’t feel like I was the best. The No. 22 (Joey Logano) was better than me there for five laps. Once I was able to get a little gap, I was able to drive away and after 10 laps, it was game over. My car was just a rocket ship.”

Once the second qualifying heat was underway, Chris Buescher decided to throw it back to 1991 in terms of the No. 17 car dominating at the North Carolina short track. Unlike the prior heat, Buescher was uncontested for the lead and second starting position in Sunday night’s big dance.

Buescher decided to make it the "CB17 Show" in Heat No. 2 at North Wilkesboro. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Buescher decided to make it the “CB17 Show” in Heat No. 2 at North Wilkesboro. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Try as they might, Buescher’s competition did not have any answers in terms of responding to the bell. Buescher continued to showcase RFK Racing’s incredible turnaround with a 1.67 second victory over Austin Dillon with William Byron, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace tallying top five results.

“It was a lot of fun, Buescher said. “It’s awesome and so cool to be back here. It’s so special to see how much has changed since the Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. clean-up day here and thinking that was the demise of the racetrack. That was its last savior and it was destined to be bulldozed and here we are.

“Marcus Smith and his group have done such a fantastic job. The track is a blast to run. It just brings me back to Saturday night short track racing. The track has a ton of character – more fall off than most places.”

Above all else, besides having his eyes on the $1 million prize, Buescher may have given a rousing endorsement for North Wilkesboro Speedway’s return to the Cup schedule as a championship points paying venue.

“I’m a big fan of that,” he said. “I would love to see it and I would have said that before I knew we were gonna be fast tonight. I love tracks with this much character.”


Heat No. 1: Suárez, Logano, Briscoe, Bell, Hamlin, Blaney, Elliott, Harvick, Cindric, Stenhouse Jr. and E. Jones

Heat No. 2: Buescher, A. Dillon, Byron, Keselowski, Wallace, Truex Jr., Busch, Larson, Chastain and Reddick

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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