News analysis: Chicago Street Race

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The significance of the Chicago Street Race and how its arrival will impact Road America and the 2023 NASCAR schedule.

Well, it’s officially official. NASCAR’s coming to the streets of Chicago.

The news

NASCAR announced, Tuesday, that the Cup Series will run its first-ever street course race on July 2, 2023. It’ll run on a 2.2-mile course in Grant Park. Furthermore, it’s on the schedule for the next three years.

NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy, Ben Kennedy, said that after the success of The Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the league “seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market.”

“This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race. The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport. We are very appreciative of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team, along with the entire City of Chicago for working with us to make this concept a reality.”

It takes the place of Road America, which won’t return to the Cup Series schedule.

The significance

CHICAGO – JULY 19: Bubba Wallace poses for a photo at Soldier Field in promotion of the NASCAR Chicago Street Race announcement on July 19, 2022, in Chicago. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

On a scale of 1-10, the Chicago Street Race is an 11.

For several reasons.

First, it’s the first time the Cup Series will run on a street circuit (if you don’t count the Daytona Beach course in NASCAR’s early days as a street circuit). Something I never thought I’d see happen. Every major racing series in the world runs a race or two on street circuits, but NASCAR lagged, in that department.

Second, it brings NASCAR back to Chicago, the third biggest market in the United States. A much-needed presence it’s lacked, since Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, fell off the calendar; due to COVID in 2020 and left off the 2021 schedule. The Chicago Street Race marks NASCAR’s fourth different track in the metro to host the Cup Series, after the aforementioned Chicagoland Speedway, Soldier Field and Sante Fe Speedway in Willow Springs, Illinois.

Unlike Chicagoland, however, the Chicago Street Race will run in downtown Chicago. Which NASCAR hasn’t done since the aforementioned race at Soldier Field in 1956. After the success of The Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, this new direction by NASCAR of taking the action to the doorstep of Chicagoans, rather than force people to drive miles and miles outside the Chicago area, is a winning move to drum up enthusiasm and reach a new audience.

CHICAGO – APRIL 20: A northbound empty Metra Electric stops to line a switch at the North end of Roosevelt Road, on Metra’s Electric Mainline between Millennium Station in downtown Chicago and University Park. Photo: Craig Williams/RailPictures.net

Third, Grant Park has excellent public transit connections. The park, alone, has two commuter rail stations. So race fans can take either the South Shore Line or Metra to the track. Millennium Station is less than a mile north of the park. The Chicago L has a subway station less than a third of a mile west of the park.

Furthermore, Grant Park has plenty of bus connections.

Outside of Portland Raceway and the LA Coliseum, no other track on any of NASCAR’s national series schedules has this level of public transit options. With the price of gas as high as it is, though is starting to decline, these are exactly the kind of transit options NASCAR needs for its events, going forward.

Finally, it means Road America leaves the Cup Series schedule, for the foreseeable future.

Questions left to answer

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – JULY 3: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 HighPoint.com Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Kwik Trip 250 at Road America on July 03, 2022, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

At press time, one question remains unanswered.

  1. What does Tuesday’s announcement mean for Road America’s future?

Kennedy told reporters, on-site, that he couldn’t say whether or not the XFINITY Series remains at Road America, as it’s done since 2010. We’ll find that out, however, when the schedules for every series drop in a few weeks.

As for the Cup Series, Kennedy didn’t rule out a return to the track down the road.

Furthermore, how conducive to good racing will the Chicago Street Circuit wind up? As we’ve seen at Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma Raceway and Road America, the road courses haven’t put on the best racing, this season. Time will tell.

TOP IMAGE: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images