NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR navigates ups and downs during inaugural Chicago street race
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR navigates ups and downs during inaugural Chicago street race

Updated Jul. 3, 2023 10:34 a.m. ET

CHICAGO — The only thing missing from the NASCAR Chicago street race footprint was a roller coaster.

But it wasn't needed for those in attendance to feel plenty of ups and downs. And in the end, it was a thrill.

"Of course, there were a lot of things that went according to plan [and] there were some things that didn't go according to plan obviously with the weather," said NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy.

"We're going to have a lot of takeaways from this weekend which I think will be really good. What I've seen so far, certainly from the fans and from a lot of folks in the industry, has been positive."


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With 24 hours of rain that was more than what the city typically gets during the entire month of July, NASCAR's inaugural street racing festival saw its two primary musical acts canceled, one race rain-shortened and another one rain-delayed.

Once the Grant Park 220 got started Sunday, a little more than an hour later than originally planned — first on a wet surface and then on a mostly dry surface — it was a decent race.

A series of cautions did force NASCAR's hand to shorten the race because of darkness. On Lap 46, NASCAR decided to reduce the scheduled distance of the race from 100 laps to 75 laps.

"We're more than comfortable with the way the decision was made in this case," NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O'Donnell said. "Certainly it can be second-guessed any time you have to do this, but I feel like the process played out well.

"We would have liked to get all 100, but we wanted to be as fair as possible for the fans and also not put ourselves in a position where we're getting questions of why are you racing in the dark."

The race actually went into overtime thanks to a caution on Lap 73, and by the time Shane van Gisbergen crossed the finish line on Lap 78, it was about as dark as NASCAR could have run anyway.

FINAL LAPS: Shane van Gisbergen wins the Grant Park 220 in Chicago

That wasn't the only mild controversy as NASCAR had its first blocked track issue on the street course when a couple of drivers wrecked and the rest of the field had to momentarily stop. Instead of NASCAR trying to determine who blended in when, NASCAR just used the lineup from the previous scoring line — which it would use to determine the lineup and then decide if everyone continued at a reasonable speed — and made that the order. 

It frustrated some drivers, but Kyle Larson put it best: "It is what it is, and eventually I was just like, ‘Screw it, let's just go back racing at this point. We're wasting daylight.'"

This wasn't a race where they could waste laps with that debate and sorting out the order. And as the daylight began to vanish and the laps ticked away, van Gisbergen made it a thrilling finish.

For fans of the sport, they watched in amazement as the New Zealander passed cars on his way to winning his Cup debut. For those who maybe didn't know too much about the sport, they saw a pass for the win on a restart with two laps to go.

"What an experience in the crowd out here," van Gisbergen said. "This was so cool. This is what you dream of."

"This is what you dream of"

Shane van Gisbergen reflects on becoming the first driver since 1963 to win his first career start. 

NASCAR probably couldn't ask for much more considering the circumstances. Nice weather would have certainly been preferable, but it got through this race without any major issues with the track and no huge controversies.

Certainly, NASCAR has a little bit of a public relations challenge on its hands on how to handle the fact that The Chainsmokers concert Saturday night and the Miranda Lambert concert Sunday afternoon were canceled due to the weather. The reason ticket prices were $269 and higher was because of those concerts. Whether NASCAR will do anything for ticketholders because of those cancelations was still being determined Sunday night.

Part of the frustration of the weekend also stemmed from there being two different views of how to handle the lightning Saturday during the Xfinity race. NASCAR policy is to resume activities 30 minutes after the last strike within eight miles. But the city parks department wanted the facility evacuated because of the threat of more lightning, according to NASCAR officials. It resulted in security telling fans the race was canceled and they had to leave before NASCAR could figure out what to do, eventually postponing to Sunday morning (and then never resuming because of the heavy rains).

"Certainly this is brand new to us," Kennedy said. "This is the first time we've done something like this. Naturally we'll have a lot of learnings out of this as we think about the future."

The deal with the city is for three years with two additional option years. But there is a termination clause that allows either side to walk 180 days prior to the event (which would be Jan. 1).

Fast Thoughts with Bob Pockrass

There is no indication that the race won't return in 2024. While NASCAR had its challenges in doing the deal with the mayor's office that frustrated some aldermen in Chicago, it seems to have a good relationship with new Mayor Brandon Johnson and his administration.

NASCAR did its best to incorporate as many elements of Chicago as it could, including using local artists to design the trophies. NASCAR also got support from local businesses — the president of McDonald's attended his first NASCAR event.

Whether the $50 million spent on the weekend was worth it will be determined in the years to come. Much of that will depend on whether the event increases the fan base that will watch races on a regular basis and will consider coming to more events (which could then also impact sponsorship revenue and broadcast revenue).

"It's important to take the product to the fans and to be able to take it into these cities and expose a lot of new fans to it," said race-winning owner Justin Marks, known for his outside-the-box thinking.

"I've been a huge fan of the Chicago street race, the concept of NASCAR going street racing from the get-go. I'm a huge supporter of it, and I think that they knocked it out of the park."

Thinking Out Loud

NASCAR's decision to call the Xfinity race official two laps prior to halfway could have been controversial, but none of those who might have had a chance to pace race-winner Cole Custer seemed to complain.

The drivers already knew the race had been postponed a day. NASCAR could have asked them to complete those two laps under caution, but if that was the plan, just calling it seemed just as easy — and more safe considering the standing water on the track.

Was it unfortunate? Yes. But this was an instance where NASCAR's decision to deviate from its rules made sense and most likely wouldn't have changed the outcome.

In The News

-- Legacy Motor Club lost its appeal on the 60-point penalty to Erik Jones and $75,000 fine and two-race suspension to crew chief Dave Elenz for a greenhouse violation found following the race at WWTR Gateway. Elenz served the second race of the suspension at Chicago and will return for Atlanta this weekend.

-- Ryan Blaney said he felt groggy and was suffering from concussion-type symptoms after his hard hit into a concrete wall last week at Nashville. At the care center following the crash, NASCAR asked him to follow up with Dr. Micky Collins as part of its procedure. Blaney said he didn't visit Collins in person and they never got to the point where they thought he would have to sit out, but Collins didn't like some of what he saw in Blaney's eyes and suggested some exercises and things Blaney could do to recover more quickly. Blaney said he felt he was 100 percent Friday.

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Stat of the Day

The last time a driver won in his series debut was 1963, when Johnny Rutherford won a qualifying race at Daytona that was a points race. 

They Said It

"He put on a show and it was cool to see, and I think when a guy like that can come in and kick your ass at your own game, it shows that we all have room to improve." —Kyle Larson on Shane van Gisbergen

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.

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