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What We Learned from the Chicago Street Race

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Joshua Lipowski

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It’s going to be a while before we can definitively say that NASCAR on the Streets of Chicago was a success or not. However, a few things can be taken away from the immediate fallout.

NASCAR Cup Series Cars CAN Run a Good Race on Street Circuits

One of the biggest question marks heading into this weekend was how the racing would be. The combination of the hit-or-miss next-gen road course product, combined with the tight streets meant that the race could go to one of two extremes. Either a single-file parade with no passing, or a wreckfest that would potentially embarrass NASCAR in front of a new fanbase.

Well, the response to the race this weekend was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, other factors such as the weather and shortening of the race did play into that, so it’s hard to definitively say that street racing is the next great thing in NASCAR. However, this race proved what these cars can do.

They can race on street circuits, and they can put on a good show. This is exactly what the Next-Gen car was designed to do. This car allows NASCAR to take their top series to places they have never gone to before, including street circuits.

Does that mean that NASCAR should go to every major city and stage a street race? Not necessarily. But it does prove what this car is capable of given a good street layout.

Grant Park Showed Potential as a Venue

I was in attendance this weekend, and I was able to gather a great perspective on how the fan experience at the race track was. Between that and the show that the layout put on, NASCAR picked a place with potential to stage their street race in Chicago. It truly is a shame that most of the events outside of the race itself did not happen because the setup had a lot of potential.

Lower Hutchinson Field, which was circled-around by turns 1-6 was the place to be for fans. The concert stage was there for between, and, during active sessions, fans would set up lawn chairs along the course to watch the cars. It was particularly smart to put turns one and six adjacent to each other, which allowed general admission fans a unique perspective if they got there on time.

Also the way they used Buckingham Fountain to put together all of the merchandise and concessions was smart too. It was unique, and it was a nice, open space where everyone could spread out.

Not everything was perfect by any means. The addition of more big screens on the outside of the track for fans to watch the race in addition to what they can see in front of them is definitely needed if NASCAR wants to come back. The NASCAR Tracks App was nice to have, but you cannot keep that running for the entire race and expect your phone not to die.

Eric Estepp went into more detail about some of the pros and cons of Chicago as a venue. There were good things, but it was definitely not perfect.

As far as the course layout, it provided a great show. The straightaways heading into turn one and turn six allowed for great passing zones, which allowed for some good racing all throughout the field. Also, the width of most of the streets allowed for cars to run side-by-side rather than simply yielding positions, which improved racing.

The layout produced a good show, and the setup at the track seemed to have the potential for a good event before rain ruined most of the surrounding activities. It has a lot of potential if it can be sustainable for NASCAR and the city.

Road Course Ringers Still Have Their Place in NASCAR

The “road course ringer” was seemingly a lost art in NASCAR. With NASCAR increasing the amount of road courses on the schedule, NASCAR Cup Series drivers were simply better at road course racing than in previous years. This meant that those racers with road racing experience found themselves struggling to find success.

Shane Van Gisbergen showed that, given good equipment, road course ringers can come and compete in NASCAR. Granted, Australian V8 Supercars have much more in common with NASCAR stock cars than something like an IndyCar or a Formula 1 car do, but that does not mean there is still not value in that road racing experience.

He won that race on speed and skill alone. He did not win with clever pit strategy or the top runners wrecking themselves, but he won on merit. Could this attract more road course drivers to “Project 91”?

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. However, this proves that the “Road course ringer” still has their place in NASCAR, and that they can expect to come in and run competitively given the right situation. Let’s not forget that Jenson Button showed some great speed during the week in practice as well.

Conclusion

A lot can be taken away from the event in Chicago yesterday. It is a forever thing, a one year thing, or a three year thing? Who knows, but the bottom line is that NASCAR did it. They staged a street race on the city streets of Chicago.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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