By Dustin Albino

Over the offseason, NASCAR announced it would have a wet-weather package for select oval races under one-mile in length should the track be damp. That notion came into play for the first time in Cup Series action during Saturday night’s heat races for the All-Star Race.

Shortly after 6 p.m. ET, just over an hour before the scheduled green flag for the first heat race, rain began to spray on North Wilkesboro Speedway. It didn’t stop, but was light enough for teams to bolt on the rain tires and hit the track.

Daniel Suarez led the first heat to the green flag and was passed immediately by Chase Elliott. Suarez eventually got back by the No. 9 Chevrolet and didn’t look back.

On lap 33, a caution flew for steady rain and teams would have a non-competitive pit stop and remain on the wet tires. The race went green to the end with Suarez checking out for the win and All-Star pole.

After the event, all the talk was regarding the wet weather tires coming into play for the first time. Most drivers were in favor of how much grip the tire had, though it wore over the course of a run.

“The tires have way more grip than the slicks,” Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth in the first heat, said. “We saw it at Martinsville and now we saw it here where, you can run rainish tires on dry tracks and potentially have the racing that your looking for.

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

Hamlin said that the drivers in the opening heat went all out and weren’t cautious on the wet tires. But he did get a little nervous when he saw how deep the rows in front of him drove into the opening corner for the first time.

But he is encouraged of the showing that the wet tires had.

“That just shows you how much room they have to make those tires softer,” Hamlin noted. “They could just split the middle and say they are going to make a compound between the slick and rain and you will probably have way more fall off.”

The second qualifying heat saw Chris Buescher lead all 60 laps from the pole. While his No. 17 Ford dominated, the field of 10 began the race on regular Goodyear tires. On lap 25, a caution flew for rain, which forced NASCAR’s hand for another non-competitive pit stop for teams to go to wet tires.

Buescher, who had a lofty lead, disagreed with the call.

“I‘m going to sit here and say I don‘t think we needed to put them on for our race at all,” Buescher said following the race.

However, Buescher credited NASCAR for moving the show along and putting the rain tires on for the opening heat. It capped off a full day of racing at North Wilkesboro.

“[The rain tires] work fine and we saw that in the first heat,” Buescher said. “I don‘t want to do this every week; I don‘t want to race in the rain. I don‘t want windshield wipers turned on in our cars. But the fact that so many fans came out to support this event at North Wilkesboro, how appreciative we are for them to show up in these massive numbers, I‘m glad we were able to keep the show going for them.”

Towards the end of the second heat, Brad Keselowski moved up four positions to finish fourth. Despite thinking it would be hard to run the rain tires during a points-paying race on an oval because of how quickly they wear when the track gets dry, he thought it was a solid first step.

“It was the perfect scenario for the wet weather tires,” Keselowski said. “They were made for this, where you got that really light, annoying drizzle. Really good for short runs, too. If there ever was a scenario, that‘s what it should be.”

With no rain in the forecast for the All-Star Race on Sunday evening, Chase Elliott had a suggestion should it be difficult to pass because of the abrasive track surface.

“If the race sucks in the first half, maybe we should put on the wet weather tires for the second half. This is the All-Star Race, so it might be worth a try.”

Suarez and Buescher will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s 200-lap All-Star Race. Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Chase Briscoe round out the top five.

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