Kyle Larson (5) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the...

Kyle Larson (5) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR All-Star Cup Series auto race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in North Wilkesboro, N.C. Credit: AP/Matt Kelley

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — NASCAR is hoping a repaved track and some softer tires will make for more competitive short track racing for Sunday night’s All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

It can’t get much worse than last year.

After months of hype leading up to the first race at the renovated track since 1996, the All-Star race turned out to be a snoozer, with Kyle Larson running away with the victory and the $1 million prize. He was in front for 145 of 200 laps and at times led by nearly 11 seconds, or more than half of a lap on the .625-mile short track.

That caused Larson to boast afterward “that was an old school (butt)-whipping, for sure.”

And it didn’t make for compelling television.

But William Byron is optimistic that this year’s race will be much closer, with NASCAR experimenting with softer tires on the short track in what has been a rain-soaked weekend at North Wilkesboro.

“This place is so different and unique, we almost need a couple more practices to get everyone closer," Byron said. "I think there will be a lot of comers and goers, and the gaps will be closer because the pace is up and there is less falloff. But I still think it will be tough to complete the passes.”

HARVICK STEPS IN

Larson is still hoping to race Sunday night after spending the week preparing for the Indianapolis 500.

In the meantime, Kevin Harvick came out of retirement to drive Larson's No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during practice, something he never anticipated happening.

“It’s definitely not the attire that I thought I would be wearing this year," Harvick quipped as he wore the Hendrick Motorsports fire suit.

But Harvick, who now works in the broadcast booth, said it has been a fun week.

His former employer, Stewart-Haas Racing, even helped out by sending the seats and seat rails Harvick used while he was racing for it so he would fit better.

“Sometimes there are phone calls that you react to different than others,” Harvick said. “When Rick (Hendrick) called and said what he needed and I said, ‘OK,’ everyone at Fox was kind enough to let us take the day to do what we needed to do.”

FILL OUT YOUR BRACKET

Chase Elliott said he's intrigued by NASCAR's experiment next year with an in-season bracket-style tournament, similar to what the NBA did this season.

“It sounds interesting, especially starting at Atlanta (Motor Speedway) with it now being a speedway thing,” Elliott said. "But yeah, I think it has potential to add some excitement to our year and doing something a little different. I don’t have any issues with that.”

BUESCHER VS. REDDICK

There could be some bad blood this weekend between Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick. Buescher went after Reddick on pit lane after last week's race at Darlington, where Reddick drove him into the wall, ruining his chances of winning the race.

"When you are racing for the win, you are racing for the win," Reddick said. “In that moment I was trying to think how I could take my car that was in second place to first place.”

Reddick explained that "the obvious thing is I drove in so deep that I needed the entire racetrack. I didn't have enough tire left to keep the outside lane open. So I'm just trying to learn for next time.”

BETTING LINE

Denny Hamlin is a 19-4 favorite to win the All-Star race, a slight favorite over the three-time champion Larson, according to BetMGM.

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