NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — William Byron planned to go to a hockey game. He wasn’t prepared for a marathon.
An ardent Carolina Hurricanes fan, Byron traveled to Raleigh by helicopter — courtesy of team owner Rick Hendrick — to watch the ‘Canes play the Florida Panthers in Thursday night’s opener of the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals.
After three periods, the game was tied 2-2 and headed for overtime. The first OT ended without a score and Byron had to leave with the game still in the balance.
“Unfortunately, we had to leave early,” he said Friday as he prepared for the NASCAR All-Star Race (8 p.m. Sunday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I was there through the first overtime and watched the end of the game (at home). That’s why my voice sounds the way it does. I watched it and it was tough. Four overtimes, and it was about 2 in the morning. We’ll move on to the next game, I guess. They played really hard. I got some inspiration from watching that, definitely.”
The game didn’t end the way Byron would have liked. With 12.7 seconds left in the fourth OT, Matthew Tkachuk slapped home the game winner for the Panthers, ending the sixth-longest game in NHL history.
–Farewell tour hits home for Kevin Harvick at North Wilkesboro
Before this weekend, Kevin Harvick had never raced a NASCAR Cup Series car at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Nevertheless, when he arrived at the 0.625-mile short track for his final NASCAR All-Star Race, Harvick felt the reality of his final season in NASCAR’s top division set in.
It wasn’t the track itself that gave Harvick pause. It was the car number he is driving through an agreement between Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Harvick is behind the wheel of the No. 29, the car number he drove to his first Cup victory in 2001, just three weeks after taking over the RCR ride following the death of Dale Earnhardt.
“Yeah, I think this is the first one where I was like, ‘Oh, man. This is a big moment,'” Harvick said. “Just with the 29 and seeing how excited Richard is to see it on the track and all the things that come with those 14 years with RCR and being able to actually do this is a pretty big moment.
“I think that the coolest part about it is the fact that the two companies worked together and being able to have the respect of Richard and everyone there to be able to actually let them have us do this is something that means a lot.”
Harvick drives a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Childress fields Chevrolets and controls the number 29, which historically has been in his stable.
“It’s more the car than the track for me,” Harvick said. “I’m honored to be here, and I think it’s a great event, but to understand and see how important this particular number and paint scheme, I mean it really caught me off guard, too. …
“I know that car on the racetrack one more time is important to a lot of fans, so it’s a great moment for the car and the track to do all of that together.”
–Who says there’s no grip in the North Wilkesboro asphalt?
Conventional wisdom would have you believe there’s very little grip in the worn-out asphalt at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Ryan Preece would beg to differ, and his opinion is based on a modified race he ran at the track last August.
“I mean, this place had a ton of grip,” said Preece, who finished fourth in the modified event. “A lot of a people will compare Myrtle Beach as one of those tracks we had on the East Coast that has no grip. If you decide to go, you’re just going to burn your stuff up, but it never had grip.
“This place, it has tons of grip. But you’re going to pay the price if you choose to go after it. So that’s what I thought was very unique about this race track. It just destroys tires. But at the same time, you can, if you choose to go. Hard. You can go hard.”