NASCAR close to major schedule change for 2023?

NASCAR, Cup Series (Photo by Mark Humphrey/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network)
NASCAR, Cup Series (Photo by Mark Humphrey/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network) /

NASCAR is reportedly close to adding a street race in Chicago to its 2023 Cup Series schedule, which would be an important addition for the sport and its drivers.

With the NASCAR Cup Series nearly halfway through the 2022 season, it appears that the sanctioning body is close to a key schedule change for 2023.

Sports Business Journal (SBJ) has reported that NASCAR is getting closer to announcing a new race on the streets of Chicago, Illinois.

“SBJ reported in February that NASCAR remained in talks with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Sports Commission and others on a street race,” wrote Adam Stern. “The deal is not yet completed, but sources say there are concerted talks working toward an agreement for the race to start next year.”

The article also cited recent comments from NASCAR’s Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell, hinting that the sport is working on one big schedule change.

The addition of a Chicago street race would be an important move for NASCAR. It would put the series in line with the other two major racing leagues, Formula 1 and IndyCar, which already have multiple street races on their schedules.

Formula 1 has seven street courses on its 2022 schedule, including an inaugural event in Miami, Florida which took place on Sunday, May 8. IndyCar has five street courses on its 2022 schedule, with four in the United States and one in Canada.

While Formula 1 does not race on ovals, IndyCar does, which makes it the only major series to race on three types of tracks – ovals, road courses, and street courses. As the top level of stock car racing, it would be noteworthy for the Cup Series to do the same.

The addition of a street race in Chicago would also mark the return of NASCAR to that major market. The city’s website lists a population of 2,716,450 residents, noting that it is the third largest city in the United States.

NASCAR’s last race in the area was held nearly three years ago at Chicagoland Speedway. That track is located in Joliet, which is about 35 miles southwest of the city center.

The sanctioning body added a new exhibition race at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 2022 and now 2023, so a larger presence in major markets appears to be a priority. It should certainly help introduce the sport to new audiences looking for something to do in their city.

The addition of a street race in Chicago for 2023 would be a good move for NASCAR, even though it would mean that another track would lose its spot on the calendar.

NASCAR has hinted that it is open to dropping a road course from the Cup Series schedule, according to SBJ, which would make sense, given the similarities between road courses and street courses.

The article also reported that Road America’s president recently mentioned that the track doesn’t have a deal with NASCAR for 2023.

Road America would make the most sense as a track to replace on the Cup Series calendar. Prior to last year, the Xfinity Series had been the only national touring series to race there, with the Cup Series returning in 2021 for the first time since 1956. This year’s Road America Cup Series event is scheduled for Sunday, July 3.

It would also work well to replace Road America with the Chicago street race geographically, with the former located in neighboring Wisconsin, making it about a two and a half hour drive north of the city.

While this schedule change would make a lot of sense for NASCAR’s governing body, it would also be a good way to showcase the versatility of the drivers.

There aren’t many active Cup Series drivers with street racing experience. Michael McDowell competed in a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at the Long Beach Street Circuit, but that was back in 2006.

Road course ringers Boris Said and Joey Hand have recent street racing experience in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with both drivers having raced at Long Beach, most recently in 2017 for Said and 2018 for Hand.

While the street racing experience will be new for most drivers, they have proven to be versatile on many occasions.

The number of road course races increased from two in 2020 (three in recent years before that) to seven in 2021. Additionally, the first modern-era dirt race was added last season, and the series raced on a quarter-mile short track inside a football stadium earlier this year.

Tracks on the schedule vary from superspeedways to 1.5-mile intermediate tracks to short tracks to two-mile ovals to the unique triangle configuration of Pocono Raceway. There have also been re-paves, including a new surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway prior to this year, and the 2022 season is the first season with the Gen 7 car.

As one of the top racing series in the world, the sport has some of the best drivers in the world. Adding a street course to the calendar would showcase the skills that these drivers have, giving them another opportunity to display their talents.

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If these are some of the best drivers in the world, then surely they should be able to race on this type of track, just as Formula 1 and IndyCar drivers do.