NASCAR Cup Series
Inaugural Chicago street-course race latest bold move by NASCAR
NASCAR Cup Series

Inaugural Chicago street-course race latest bold move by NASCAR

Updated Jun. 26, 2023 11:38 a.m. ET

NASCAR Cup Series drivers have grown accustomed to turning left and right as the number of road-course events has increased over the past several years.

But what they will do this coming weekend while racing the streets of Chicago around Grant Park is nothing they are accustomed to doing.

In the latest bold move by NASCAR brass, it will conduct its first-ever Cup street-course race with images of Chicago skyscrapers, the city's iconic Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan in the background of the 12-turn, 2.2-mile course.

It hasn't come without some struggle in navigating the Chicago political scene with the prospect of closing heavily used streets — Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive — by a waterfront that is a popular destination on a holiday weekend, although the hope is that business traffic will be lighter than usual.


Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!   

But NASCAR, which owns the 1.5-mile oval Chicagoland Speedway in not-so-nearby Joliet (50 miles from Grant Park), hopes the headaches are worth it as it tries to bring its style of racing to people who might not typically see it. NASCAR's Julie Giese, who oversaw the construction and expansion of its Daytona and Phoenix facilities and now serves as president of the Chicago event, said Sunday that 80 percent of ticket buyers for Chicago are new to the NASCAR-track database.

"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 of those people might not typically come out to Joliet," said 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott, the sport's most popular driver.

"For them, I think it's about it being a good event and it being exciting for them. ... 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 racetrack and think, ‘Oh wow, that was a really great race' for it to be successful to the viewership or the people that show up in attendance."

NASCAR will spend millions to put together the course as well as to hold the event. It is paying the city parks department $500,000 (increasing to $550,000 for the 2024 race and $605K for the 2025 race) plus $2 per ticket and 15% of net commissions on concessions and merchandise (increasing to 20% in 2024 and 25% in 2025).

The race is only part of the weekend as NASCAR will produce a festival that features The Black Crowes prior to the Xfinity race Saturday and The Chainsmokers afterward. Charley Crockett will open for Miranda Lambert, who will perform a 90-minute concert prior to the Cup race Sunday. Lollapalooza founder Charlie Jones' Four Leaf Productions is handling the concerts and the grandstand build for the event.

Chase Elliott on what will make the Chicago race successful

This is not rare for other forms of motorsports. Formula 1 races in Austin have featured big-name acts. The Indianapolis 500 even has a big concert in the infield during the race.

But it is a first for NASCAR to try to put on a show with the race being the anchor but possibly not the main attraction. There is a limit to 100,000 people in the footprint of the festival/race-course grounds, but NASCAR is expecting closer to 50,000 at any one time.

For many of the drivers and teams, it will be nothing like they have ever experienced. Even former Formula 1 champion Jenson Button, who will make his second Cup start, said he has never competed in a race that he would consider to be in a metropolitan center.

"Monaco is a principality, so I wouldn't class it as a city," Button said about the iconic F1 circuit. "This will definitely bring in a different fan base. I know that true NASCAR fans might think it's a bit of an unusual type of track, so why do we bother with it?

"But why not? I think it's great that they're willing to attract something different, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's one race on the calendar."

Former F1 champion Jenson Button on driving the streets of Chicago

It is also a race for which NASCAR has needed the help of those with street-course racing expertise.

The track fencing is being erected by the group that runs the Nashville street race for IndyCar, a group that also just built a temporary circuit for IndyCar on the streets of Detroit. NASCAR is using a company that develops the race control system for the F1 race in Monaco to do its race control system for the event.

NASCAR is putting its pit road camera equipment on city light poles. 

Much of the course construction is coming down to the final days, which is by design. Most of the streets in the area have remained open until this week. Additional closures were scheduled for Monday and some of the through streets will actually remain open until Friday night.

Those late road closures — part of the agreement with the city — means Xfinity teams won't get on the track until just hours before their race Saturday and Cup teams will get a short practice before qualifying Saturday for the Sunday race.

Teams typically would get a test session at a new track, and manufacturers would get a test to collect data for their simulators. There have been no tests of the track, and any scanning for iRacing or other simulation programs possibly don't have any areas of streets that have been repaved for the event.

The cars also will be equipped with mufflers. During the preseason Clash, where NASCAR built a quarter-mile oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, mufflers were used and drivers complained about the heat (which was expected). Those mufflers came from Borla, a well-established high-performance muffler company that could produce the pieces in time for the Clash.

The mufflers being used this weekend come from Pro Fabrication, a racing exhaust company that was NASCAR's single-source vendor for tailpipes and now had the time to develop a muffler system to go with the parts they already supplied. They are a little different in size and shape, and with the time on-and-off the brake for the Chicago street course, the hope is it won't heat the frame rails as much as it did for the Clash.

Joey Logano "abso-freakin-lutely" concerned about Chicago heat

Joey Logano discusses heat issues for the Chicago street course as the cars will also have mufflers, but the forecast is relatively mild and he said the Chicago layout should help.

One other new aspect for the drivers is they will restart prior to making the turn to the straightaway on Columbus Drive that has the start-finish line. Restarting in what is in essence a short chute will hopefully allow for more separation before drivers go to a tight 90-degree Turn 1.

NASCAR also will change the rule requiring drivers to stay in their lane until the start-finish line. Instead, they will have a line on the main frontstretch well before there, allowing drivers to maneuver and hopefully be in a position to make that 90-degree turn without many drivers attempting daring passes on the inside (that typically cause accidents).

"That was all of the industry coming together trying to create some separation going into Turn 1," said Cup driver Austin Dillon. "It could be a challenge, but I think it's the right move."

Denny Hamlin on what will make the Chicago race successful

Denny Hamlin said he will look at ratings and exposing the sport to new fans in determining whether Chicago is a success. He also likes the restart zone prior to the turn on the main straightaway.

Much of the course is tight. There are portions that are wider as far as racing surface than some of the permanent road courses such as Road America that NASCAR competes on, but only two turns have an area where if drivers misjudge the turn, they won't hit the wall.

"It's a big unknown as far as how next week is going to go," said Trackhouse Racing owner and avid road racer Justin Marks. "I think street racing requires a lot of restraint. It requires a lot of patience and intelligent race craft.

"My hope is we have an event where there's a lot of green-flag racing. I think the potential is there that we don't. I think all the competitors in the sport, everybody, is going to have to do a lot of work this week to make sure that everybody is prepared to race in a forum like that, in an environment like that."

Marks knows his team will have to adjust to not having garages and just navigating a city, with many just walking to the event from area hotels.

Teams have told their mechanics that the sport needs this type of atmosphere and event.

"We're living in a time where we have to make what we do as a sport, as a business, we have to make that as accessible and easy to as many people as possible," Marks said. "We can't have people work hard to try to find us, try to come to our races, do what we do.

"When you go street racing, you take your product to the people. You take it right to a city."

NASCAR is planning a week of festivities with an iRacing event and fan event Tuesday at Navy Pier. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only full-time Black driver in the Cup Series, is having a block party Wednesday at The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center.

Wallace's sponsor, McDonalds, will sell a special Wallace meal in the city. It is one of several Chicago-based companies that NASCAR has struck sponsorship deals with in hopes of creating an event that has strong Chicago ties.

"I know a lot of people in Chicago love fast cars and like to drive really fast," Wallace said. "And so it's a perfect connection that we're able to bring in and teach a little bit about our sport.

"We're going to have our pit crew [at the party and] they're doing some rehearsal drills and pit stops to show there's different avenues. Aside from driving, there's a lot of professional athletes that make up some of our pit crews these days on the cup side. And so to be able to share that wisdom and that knowledge and that that path to get there is huge."

Julie Giese on planning the inaugural Grant Park 220

NASCAR’s Julie Giese, President of the Grant Park 220, describes the biggest hurdle in getting ready for the event and how she will evaluate success.

With the Chicago Cubs home against the Philadelphia Phillies during the middle of the week and the Cleveland Guardians over the weekend, NASCAR drivers are expected to make some appearances at Wrigley Field.

NASCAR also is working with various youth groups and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs from local schools to provide opportunities to see the race. 

So how will NASCAR determine success?

"First and foremost is minimizing those disruptions in and around the community," Giese said. "And for us, making sure everybody in Chicago is aware of what's happening and how to move around. That's critical for us. ... And then obviously I think things like TV viewership and attendance and those types of things are obviously incredibly important and making sure that we are showcasing the city.

"I feel confident that … from the images to the broadcast to just the coverage in general, I think the beauty of the city is going to shine through."

Thinking Out Loud

NASCAR might want to reconsider the wording of the rule for the penalty when a tire comes off a car because the lug nut wasn't tightened.

The rule was changed this year that if the wheel comes off on pit road, it is a pass-through penalty under green or restart at the rear of the field under yellow. If it comes out on the racetrack — where it is a more dangerous situation — the penalty is two laps plus two-race suspensions to two crew members.

The idea when it was announced was that if a driver or the crew realized the wheel was loose as they left the pit box and therefore stopped on pit road and lost the wheel, it would be less of a penalty.

But when Tyler Reddick spun with a loose wheel through the infield grass, the wheel didn't come off until he got to pit road. So it wasn't a two-lap penalty even though he had been back on track after his pit stop. 

NASCAR's ruling was correct by the words of its rule book because the wheel came off on pit road. But in the spirit of the rule, this probably should be changed to a two-lap penalty. 

In The News

-- Noah Gragson cheered his hometown Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup title a couple of weeks ago, which also served as part of his recovery from concussion-like symptoms because doctors wanted him to experience loud, sensory-intensive environments. Gragson said Friday after practice at Nashville that he feels as good as he did before his crash three weeks earlier at WWTR Gateway. He missed the race at Sonoma with the concussion symptoms, which Gragson compared to a really bad hangover that lasted several days.

-- Legacy Motor Club will appeal the 60-point penalty to Erik Jones for the greenhouse violation NASCAR found at Gateway. The appeal is set for Wednesday. Crew chief Dave Elenz, who sat out Sonoma for the first of his two-race suspension, had the second race of his suspension deferred pending appeal.

-- Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks will return to the driver's seat — but not for Trackhouse. He will drive for Kaulig Racing in its No. 10 car this weekend at the Chicago street course.

Social Spotlight

Stat of the Day

Ross Chastain finished second in four races during his 42-race winless streak.

They Said It

"It's a Cup win. I don't care what happened last month [or] the rest of my life, it's a freaking Cup win." —Ross Chastain after snapping his 42-race winless streak Sunday night

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

Top NASCAR stories from FOX Sports:

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Xfinity Series
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Get more from NASCAR Cup Series Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more