By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. – The return of the NASCAR Cup Series to North Wilkesboro Speedway produced a dominant performance in the All-Star Race for Kyle Larson akin to those of the 1990s, 2000s, and early 2010s. One driver that recognized the Sunday night domination for what it was, was Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.
Larson took the lead in the exhibition race after on Lap 55. That was after he stormed through the field due to a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 18. One of the 23 drivers that Larson stormed past was Elliott.
Once the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion took the lead he never looked back. In total, Larson led 145 laps in the 200-lap race. This level of domination in the All-Star Race was reminiscent of races at the end of North Wilkesboro’s first tenure on the Cup schedule in the 1980s and 90s.
Elliott, along with the rest of the field, had no challenge for Larson. In the caution-free second half of the race, the Dawsonville, GA native battled with Chase Briscoe throughout the second segment. Ultimately the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 took the checkered flag in fifth.
“A dominant performance should be celebrated just as much as a close finish,” Elliott explained. “In my eyes some weeks, they’re not always going to be barn burners, and that’s okay. It still doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still very difficult and these races are very hard to win, so that should always be celebrated regardless of what the race looked like.”
Elliott has had his share of dominant performances in the Cup Series. In six of his 18 victories the 2020 Cup Series champion led about half of the laps in the race. That includes a 2019 Watkins Glen race where Elliott led 80 of the 90 laps en route to victory lane.
With only one natural caution and one planned caution in the 2023 running of the NASCAR All-Star Race, the domination by Larson was unabated. Only two restarts and the worn racing surface, last paved in 1981, allowed the field to spread out quickly.
Though there was only one preferred groove on the inside of the track, Elliott didn’t expect much chaos. The patched pavement created grip that missing the line cost two or more seconds in lap time. Getting close enough to move someone out of the way often meant missing the line and hurting yourself in the process.
“I didn’t think it was going to be very chaotic, personally,” Elliott admitted. “It’s more [that] you can’t get close enough to somebody most of the time to hit them without just really hurting yourself. I’m sure everybody would have been very willing to punt people out of the way if they could have gotten close enough to do it. It was difficult to do and not hurt yourself in the process.”
The fifth-place finish is the fourth top-five for Elliott in the All-Star Race. It is also his sixth top-10 finish in the exhibition event in his eighth appearance.
Next for Elliott is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 28. In 11 starts at ‘America’s Home for Racing,’ the 27-year-old has one victory, five top-five, and six top-10 finishes. Elliott’s best finish in the crown jewel event is second in 2020 and 2021.
The Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET on May 28 on FOX. The race will also be broadcast on the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.