NASCAR Cup Series
LEGACY MOTOR CLUB Withdrawing No. 84 from Chicago Street Race
Jun 27, 2023
The marquee said Nashville Superspeedway, but the driving topic last weekend was unquestionably the Streets of Chicago – the location of this week’s inaugural NASCAR street race in one of America’s marquee downtowns, Chicago.
The drivers have been eager to talk about the Chicago race in the days and weeks leading up to NASCAR’s debut there, but they also have stressed there are simply many unknown factors until the series shows up and actually gets wheels on the ground.
As competitors do now in modern-day NASCAR, they have all used simulators and turned laps on iRacing to prepare; learning what the Chicago track layout will be and taking cursory mental notes on racing the 2.2-mile downtown street course around the city’s famed Grant Park and along Michigan Avenue.
Some have turned more simulation laps than others, but all are expecting to really put in the preparation time this week.
“It's going to be different,” said 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who is one of the series’ most accomplished road course racers and still in need of a victory this year to qualify for the Playoffs.
“From my understanding, the surface is pretty rough. A lot of 90-degree corners. I’m sure it’s going to be very hot. All those things certainly are a factor, but we’ll dive in next week and go to work.”
As with so many of his fellow competitors, the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet realizes learning the technicalities of the new circuit may pale in comparison to what he expects this event to do for the sport’s big picture. Ultimately what makes it a successful project may have as much to do with attracting new fan interest and producing good vibes as it does delivering a dramatic race product right out of the box.
“I think it depends on which hat you’re wearing,” Elliott said. “If you’re wearing a competitor’s hat – for me, it’s us going up there and trying to put ourselves in a position to win. From a fan standpoint, you’re tapping into a part of the country that I think has a lot of race fans, a lot of NASCAR fans, but into city limits that a lot those people might not typically come out to like Joliet or somewhere up there like typically would have been the case.
“For them [the fans], I think it’s about it being a good event and it being exciting for them; there being a lot of stuff going on for them and they feel like they’re at the event.
“That needs to feel like the event that weekend over a Cubs game or whatever it may be. I think that will make it successful from a promoter’s standpoint. From the racing side, I don’t think I have to leave the race track and think – oh wow, that was a really great race for it to be successful for the viewership or the people that show up in attendance.”
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series championship leader Martin Truex Jr. has similar expectations, and an open mind.
“It’s kind of a new ballgame for all of us, I’ve never raced on a street course or anything like it,” Truex said, adding, “I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a good time and it’s going to go off well. I have no idea about the logistics involved. I can’t even imagine what goes into it. It’s going to be interesting to see a street course with these cars, what the grip level might be in each corner.
“You just wonder what the difference is in each turn – that’s the competitor side of me thinking. On the race fan side, it seems like it’s going to be cool, so we will see how it goes.”
Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski recognizes and applauds the willingness of NASCAR to try something so new and untested. And he is hopeful a good weekend in Chicago would encourage NASCAR executives to continue thinking outside of the box.
“The good news is, we’ve seen this model with IndyCar and Formula One where you bring the race to the people,” the owner-driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford explained. “It has its strengths and weaknesses. You’re in the city center and it's easier access for people and the community gets excited. The difficult part is all the logistical things, how do you execute the race as a sport.”
Furthermore, Keselowski hopes the move is a harbinger of things to come – of a continued emphasis on keeping the schedule fluid and venturing to new markets.
“I’ve been pretty steady on this for a number of years, but I think we have to get to Canada,” Keselowski said. “There’s a big market for us there and we need to get to Canada and on an oval. I think that particular market is underserved and full of a ton of NASCAR fans that would help us branch out internationally while in a manner that would also help us control costs for the owners in a respectiful way.
“More than anything I’m happy to see NASCAR willing to try new things,” Keselowski continued. “That’s important for our sport. Schedule variability. I came into the sport fulltime in 2010 and the schedule pretty much looked the same for a while.
“So to see the movement we have now is really positive. There’s going to be wins and there’s going to be losses. There’s going to be events that we look at and say, ‘We’re proud of the results and proud of taking chances.’ And there’s going to be some we look back at and say, ‘Ugh, that one didn’t work out.’ And that’s okay. I hope Chicago is a win. I really don’t see how we can lose as an industry as a whole.”
-Photo credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images