Dale Earnhardt Jr. highlights need to fix NASCAR short track package

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It took 27 years, but the NASCAR Cup Series finally returned to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All-Star Race back in May and while a fine celebration of history and heritage, the on-track product that night was not the best foot forward for all involved.

It has been detailed ad nauseam but the second-year NASCAR Cup Series car, most known as the NextGen simply does not deliver a quality show for tracks like Wilkesboro, Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond.

NASCAR has tried numerous remedies over the past year, from downforce reductions to a modified splitter designed to create lift for a leading car and downforce for a trailing car, but nothing is producing results.

The car creates too much aerodynamic wake, while also having too much grip through its wider tires and larger brakes, in addition to simply not enough horsepower. It’s something the drivers all universally agree needs to change but NASCAR is reluctant for reasons both financial and competition.

North Wilkesboro Speedway will once again host the All Star Race in 2024 on a newly repaved surface, but speaking on his Dale Jr Download podcast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. says a major change needs to happen to create the show the track and event warrants.

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“All-star race is back at North Wilkesboro, it will be repaved,” Earnhardt said. “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 NextGen Car at the short tracks, any short tracks. 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.

“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?”

His point is that tracks like Martinsville, Richmond and Bristol are such modern legacy tracks that they will be on the schedule for years to come. Wilkesboro? It’s already in a market oversaturated with the other regional Cup Series tracks with a history that suggests longevity will be an uphill battle.

Earnhardt has also raced at Wilkesboro, behind the wheel of his Late Model Stock Car in the CARS Tour series that he co-owns with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks, and those races have been genuinely entertaining.

The same can be said for Super Late Models, Tour Type Modifieds and the NASCAR Truck Series. Every race on that surface over the past two years have been entertaining affairs except for the Cup Series.

It’s the car, and Earnhardt shares the same sentiments as his peers, that be it grip or power, something needs to drastically change with the NextGen to make a vulnerable track like North Wilkesboro a viable destination for years and decades to come.  

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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