North Wilkesboro will host the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race - the first time the legendary track has hosted a NASCAR event since 1996. The 0.625-mile track first hosted a NASCAR race back in 1949; Richard Petty won there 15 times, while Dale Earnhardt Sr. won five times. It sat empty for decades after NASCAR left following the '96 season - a move that was made in large part because the sport wanted to transition from smaller, rural tracks to bigger cities. Not so shockingly, it angered die-hard fans and ultimately didn't work. The sport began suffering big time toward the end of the 2000s and spent years in steady decline before somewhat steadying the ship recently.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. helps bring NASCAR back to North Wilkesboro
Of course, a big reason why ratings have leveled off and attendance is starting to tip-toe back in the right direction is because those in charge started tinkering with the schedule a few years ago. We've seen dirt races at Bristol, road races in Austin and Road America, and, earlier this season, a race inside the LA Coliseum. Returning to North Wilkesboro - which came back to life earlier this year thanks to a big push from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and funds from North Carolina's $5.7 billion share of the American Rescue Plan - is just the latest scheduling shift the sport has made. OK, now that we're all caught up ... let's get to this good stuff.
Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt battle
Jeff Gordon was the last driver to go to North Wilkesboro Victory Lane back in 1996 after he held off Dale Earnhardt in an epic game of cat and mouse. For those who need a refresher (and that's why we're all here, right?), this wasn't a great stretch for Earnhardt. He hadn't finished in the top-five in the past 11 races and had fallen from first to fourth in the points. The Intimidator needed a win in the worst possible way, and was at a track he'd won at five times over the years. Earnhardt was also chasing down Gordon - by far his biggest rival during the mid-to-late 1990s.