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NASCAR’s wet weather tires kept the show going at North Wilkesboro

Steve Letarte shares his memories from the last time NASCAR raced at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996 and he went to victory lane thanks to Jeff Gordon's win. Letarte also previews the format for the All-Star Open.

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Instead of a drawn-out evening, fans at North Wilkesboro Speedway saw two heat races completed in less than 90 minutes Saturday night despite a wet track and rain.

Saturday night’s efforts — the first time Cup cars had been on wet weather tires on a short oval — allowed the night to continue as planned and maintain the electric atmosphere with NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro for the first time since 1996. Engines for the first heat were fired at 7:26 p.m. ET. The second heat finished before 8:50 p.m. ET.

Racing on wet weather tires was first tried during the Truck race at Martinsville in April. The night wasn’t perfect, but without running in those conditions, the race would not have been official when it was eventually stopped.

MORE: All-Star Race starting lineup; results of heat races

All 60 laps of Saturday’s first heat race at North Wilkesboro were run with wet weather tires. Only the second half of the second heat was run on wet weather tires after rain returned.

Ryan Blaney, who ran in the first heat, was encouraged by how the tire performed.

“If there was ever an opportune time to do it, it was now,” he said. “It wasn’t raining, the track was wet. Slow race track. Low grip. I was happy that they decided to do it. Let us go in the wet. Give us a shot. It had surprisingly more grip than I thought it was going to have.”

Chase Elliott, who also ran in the first heat, said the wet weather tires worked well.

“The tire felt fine,” he said. “Like it was actually going to fall-off and stuff. It almost had a better feel than our normal tire does, so that was interesting.

“Hey, if the (All-Star) Race sucks in the first half, we should put on the wet weathers for the second half and see what happens. It’s the All-Star Race. It might be worth the try.”

Denny Hamlin, who ran in the first heat, noted that how the wet weather tires performed Saturday can be taken for other races in dry conditions.

“I’m just more encouraged that Goodyear can build a tire that is really fast to start and falls off,” he said. “We got the blueprint. We really should spend some time working on this for other short tracks.”

Kyle Larson, who ran in the second heat, also was encouraged but raised a question about a particular track.

“I still would be scared to go to Phoenix, not that it’s going to rain out there ever,” he said. “That pavement is like this (pavement in the North Wilkesboro garage area). “It’s slick, so I don’t know if the tire will react the same as to an abrasive surface like here or Martinsville. I would be nervous, for sure, at Phoenix, but, hey, you don’t know until you try it.”

NASCAR learned more about wet weather tires on a short oval and it provided fans with racing they came to see.