On wet-weather tires, Daniel Suárez fashioned a convincing victory at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the first of two qualifying heats for Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
With the win in damp conditions on Saturday night, Suárez earned the pole position for the 200-lap All-Star Race, which pays over $1 million to win.
Chris Buescher won Heat 2 wire-to-wire in a race that started on slick tires before switching to the wet-weather variety when rain started to fall on Lap 25 of 60. Buescher’s margin of victory over runner-up Austin Dillon was 1.670 seconds.
Buescher will start to the outside of Suárez on the front row for the All-Star Race main event, as Heat 1 ordered the inside row or odd-numbered positions, and Heat 2 set the order for the outside row or even-numbered starting spots.
The races were a NASCAR first using wet-weather tires on a paved oval.
Suarez started from the pole in Heat 1, thanks to the performance of his pit crew on Friday night. The Pit Crew Challenge set the starting order for the heats, and Suarez’s crew was fastest among teams already qualified for the All-Star Race field.
Starting on the outside, however, Chase Elliott took the top spot from Suarez and led the first 26 laps before Suarez repassed him to the inside on Lap 27. On Lap 33, NASCAR called a caution because of changing track conditions but again mandated treaded wet-weather tires for the completion of the race.
Joey Logano finished second, 1.529 seconds behind Suarez, followed by Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin. Elliott faded to seventh after falling back on the Lap 42 restart following the competition caution.
“I think we had more grip with the wets than we did with the drys,” Suárez said of the tire choice for his heat. “These tires, for some reason, they had so much forward drive… I feel like our car was pretty damn good.”
With the entire race run on wet tires, Suárez said his team learned nothing of use for Sunday’s race.
“It was fun to go through those transitions, learn a little bit about the tire and learn about the track,” Suárez said. “Unfortunately, (Sunday) is going to be nice and sunny, so everything that we learned today—maybe it’s going to work for the future, but not for tomorrow.”
Logano maintained pace with Suárez for five laps after the restart but then fell off and protected the second position.
“I burnt everything up, and then I was playing defense for the rest of the race,” Logano said. “It’s fun, because you’ve got to play it smart inside the car. You’ve got to have a strategy, and if you make the wrong decision, you pay the price.”
William Byron finished third in Heat 2, followed by Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Buescher wasn’t thrilled with the switch from dry to wet tires—until he built a lead on the latter.
“I liked our Fastenal Mustang on slicks—I was really happy with it,” Buescher said. “I didn’t want to put ‘rains’ on. I felt like it was still pretty dry out there. I guess it was starting to drizzle a little.
“I was good on wets, too, so I’m not going to complain anymore.”