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“How Long Can North Wilkesboro Hang on?”- Dale Earnhardt Jr Calls Out NASCAR’s Short Track Disaster, Snubbing Latest Solution

Published 10/18/2023, 5:01 PM EDT

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The iconic North Wilkesboro Speedway, abandoned for 27 years by NASCAR, made a triumphant return this season by hosting the NASCAR All-Star race. However, as NASCAR embraces this classic venue, concerns have emerged regarding the quality of racing at short tracks, notably with the Next Gen car. In a recent episode of his podcast, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighed in on the situation. While he applauds NASCAR’s decision to repave North Wilkesboro, Junior expresses deep concern about the subpar racing experience.

Back in 2019, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team embarked on an ambitious project to restore North Wilkesboro Speedway. Overtaken by weeds and decay, the track had become a ghost town. With determination, it was cleaned and preserved for iRacing’s digital platform. Less than four years later, the iconic venue welcomed the NASCAR All-Star race, rekindling the spirit of North Wilkesboro. Undoubtedly, NASCAR’s decision to repave the track is a positive step. However, the quality of short-track racing remains a major concern.

Dale Earnhardt Jr urges NASCAR to fix the short-track problems with the Next Gen cars

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The previous generation NASCAR Cup Series car (Gen 6) delivered thrilling short track and road course racing. However, the Next-Gen car has not maintained the same level of excitement. Dale Earnhardt Jr acknowledges that repaving the track is not a panacea for the issues plaguing short-track racing with the Next Gen car.

On emphasizing the same, Dale Earnhardt Jr said, “All-star race is back at North Wilkesboro, it will be repaved. I think that the repave is great, I am glad they tried the old asphalt. I don’t think the old asphalt is why we had such a sort of lackluster race in terms of action and racing. And I don’t know if the repave is entirely the answer.”

“NASCAR has a serious problem with the Next Gen Car at the short tracks, any short tracks,” he added. “That to me is… I am putting something on NASCAR here, man. I am really trusting them and hoping that they’re gonna fix this. They got to! And it’s not so much like look man, it took forever for Wilkesboro to come back. There were a lot of people who thought it will never happen. And now it’s here, and the product is so bad. We got to fix the product. How long can North Wilkesboro hang on?”

But how did NASCAR even find itself in this hole? Why are the Next-Gen cars so inefficient on the short tracks?

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Here’s why the Next-Gen car failed to produce good racing at short tracks

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To fully comprehend the challenges NASCAR faces in revitalizing short-track racing, it’s crucial to explore how the sport arrived at this juncture. The Next-Gen car, inspired by Australian Supercars, has introduced significant changes to the racing landscape. Its sealed underbody and aerodynamic enhancements have improved performance on larger tracks but created issues on short tracks.

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The Next-Gen car generates excessive downforce and disrupts airflow, particularly on tight, short tracks. Coupled with changes in tire design, brakes, and reduced RPMs, the car drives exceptionally well but stifles overtaking opportunities. The trailing car encounters dirty air, pushing it off the optimal racing line.

NASCAR has made attempts to address this challenge by reducing the overall downforce, shortening the rear spoiler, and altering the underbody. However, these efforts have not yielded significant improvements, with drivers like Chase Elliott noting little to no change in the quality of short-track racing, increasing the consensus among drivers about horsepower being a solution. But NASCAR remains committed to restricting engines for cost reduction.

This issue underscores the complexity of restoring the glory of short-track racing.

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As North Wilkesboro Speedway enjoys its resurrection, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s call for better short-track racing resonates across the NASCAR community. While repaving the track is a positive step, addressing the challenges posed by the Next Gen car is paramount.

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Written by:

Veerendra Vikram Singh

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Veerendra Vikram Singh is a NASCAR Author at EssentiallySports. A Motorsport fan at heart, he has been following NASCAR and Formula 1 for over a decade now and has covered the on and off-track life of some of the best in the sport. He is a big fan of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch but never lets that get in the way of authentic and fact-based reporting.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh