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Is it Time to Return to Chicagoland Speedway?

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With NASCAR’s recent resurgence on 1.5 mile tracks, many people have begun looking to some tracks that are no longer on the schedule. Arguably the most popular track people are asking to return to is the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. Is it time that NASCAR make their return to Chicagoland Speedway?

Why Did it Fail in the First Place?

Chicagoland Speedway was opened in 2001 at 1.5 miles long with 18 degrees of banking. The track also featured a unique curved back straightaway. The track was a lot like many of the 1.5 mile tracks built during that time period, but those two characteristics set it apart a little bit from the competition.

The track was also the first permanent racing venue NASCAR ever raced at in the Chicago area. The track routinely filled the grandstands, and it got a prominent date on the calendar as the first race of the Playoffs between 2011 and 2017. The track also seemed to be hitting its prime with aging asphalt and two great races in 2018 and 2019.

The track was on the original 2020 schedule, and it seemed that the track was going to stay with the sport for at least the immediate future. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and strict guidelines in the state of Illinois meant that NASCAR had to cancel the race at Chicagoland. During this time, NASCAR was able to experiment with some schedule ideas they had floated in the past, and they began to reevaluate Chicagoland’s future.

The track sat around an hour outside of downtown Chicago and attendance had dwindled in recent years. Add to that, fans were clambering for less intermediate tracks. As a result, NASCAR left Chicagoland off of the 2021 schedule, and it has been off the schedule ever since. First, it was replaced by Road America and second by a Street Race in Chicago.

Why Could It Be Worth Going Back to?

Chicagoland Speedway is a track that has gained an interesting following in recent years. People look back on the recent races at the track, and they feel that the track was given up on just as it was entering into its’ best years. An aging track surface with multiple grooves combined with the 1.5 mile track product that the NASCAR Cup Series currently has with the Next-Gen car could make for an incredible show.

Truly, the proven racing product is the best thing that Chicagoland Speedway has going for it. On top of that, this is a track that NASCAR has not totally given up on. The track is opening up this weekend for a SuperMotorcross Playoff event. Julie Giese, the President of the Chicago Street Race, even made a comment about it to Michelle Gallardo of ABC 7 Chicago.

“Being able to diversify, and use the property is incredibly important and this just shows we’re able to do that,”

Julie Giese to ABC 7 Chicago

If NASCAR wants to go back there, all they need to do is just flip the switch. However, the biggest asterisk surrounding this event aside from the potential over-saturation of intermediate tracks once again is the Chicago Street Race.

The Chicago Street Race Conundrum

Was the Chicago Street Race a success? Well, the Cup race was exciting to watch, but the event itself was far from perfect because of circumstances far beyond NASCAR’s control. Torrential rain and lightning cancelled three of the four major concerts scheduled to happen that weekend, ended the Xfinity Race before halfway, and forced the Cup Series race to be shortened from 100 to 78 laps.

Oh, that goes before mentioning that the race’s popularity amongst local residents is shaky at best. This was true before the event happened, and nothing has happened to suggest that much has changed either.

So, this could go one of two ways. One way is that the weather difficulties convince NASCAR and the city to try this again once more. After all, the agreement was for three years, so why not continue to follow that agreement?

The second way is that the City elects not to move forward, which they have 180 days notice before the event to do so. Given the shaky public response, there is reason to believe that the City may elect to not renew the Street Race idea for another year.

So, the Street Race can either be the thing that convinces NASCAR to return to Chicagoland or it can be the thing that keeps NASCAR from there. Until the 2024 schedule is released, it is uncertain whether or not the Street Race actually happens. Even if it does not happen, then what is the guarantee they go back to Chicagoland?

Many would love to see Road America come back. However, the thing that may keep the race at Chicagoland is NASCAR trying to somewhat rectify that three-year contract by keeping the race in the Chicago market.

Could the Chicagoland Speedway return? It may be the most likely of the 1.5-mile tracks to return, but a lot needs to happen for it to return.

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