The highly anticipated Chicago street race is nearly upon us, and the historic weekend will be significant in many ways for NASCAR.
As NASCAR descends upon the streets of Chicago for the inaugural race at the new Chicago Street Course, a new chapter in the sport’s 75-year history will be written.
This won’t just be the first street race NASCAR has run in Chicago. It will be the first street race that the Cup Series has ever run. And on top of that, the atmosphere surrounding the event will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen at a Cup Series event.
Aside from the race, there will be a full festival with concerts ahead of both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series races, featuring The Chainsmokers, Miranda Lambert, the Black Crowes, and Charley Crockett. Additionally, there will be a NASCAR village which will be open the general public.
The event will be extremely crucial to NASCAR, well beyond the racing on the 12-turn, 2.2-mile (3.541-kilometer) street course itself.
NASCAR expects that roughly 70% of the fans in attendance will be fans who have never previously attended a race. With this influx of new fans in attendance comes the potential for the sport to significantly grow their following and redefine what a race weekend could look like.
This is one of the first races that will truly cater to the “casual” followers of the sport, while also giving more hardcore fans the opportunity to experience something new.
Can this particular new element last, or will the beginning of street racing be the end of it? While there is a three-year contract in place between the city of Chicago and NASCAR to run this race through 2025, there is a possibility that the two sides could reach an agreement which shortens the deal.
That said, there does not appear to be any serious talk of doing that at the moment.
If the NASCAR event in Chicago is a success, it opens the door to potential new street race events in other major city centers.
In the past year alone, NASCAR has mentioned the possibility of running street races in both New York City and Los Angeles, should the Chicago event be deemed a success.
Plenty of other cities could make a case for hosting a street race weekend as well. Would NASCAR and IndyCar ever run a doubleheader race weekend at Nashville or Long Beach? Would NASCAR consider a street race in its hometown of Charlotte? Could an international city try to lure NASCAR to run a street race?
There are possibilities galore and each of them presents a unique opportunity to spread NASCAR to new audiences and cater events to more casual fans.
With the successes that street racing has seen in the United States in IndyCar, it’s not that hard to imagine NASCAR having more than one street race on the schedule down the road.
Aside from the uniqueness of the race, there are plenty of other storylines for the more hardcore fans to keep their eyes on.
For starters, several one-off/part-time drivers plan to be in the field this weekend. Three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen is set to make his NASCAR debut in Trackhouse Racing Team’s PROJECT91 entry this weekend, and both Jenson Button and Andy Lally are expected to compete for Rick Ware Racing.
There is also an unpredictability factor that will come with this event. Who will be the main contenders? Could we see a surprise winner who shakes up the playoff picture? With plenty of unknowns, there are many outcomes that could unfold on Sunday.
A dark horse could certainly surprise everyone and take the checkered flag. There is also a good chance that one of the usual contenders, such as Tyler Reddick or Kyle Larson, picks up another win. And lastly, there is good a possibility that one of the “road course ringers,” such as A.J. Allmendinger or Austin Cindric, picks up a huge win to likely lock into the playoffs.
It will be a historical and exciting weekend on the streets of Chicago, and everyone from NASCAR to the city of Chicago to the fans will benefit. The Grant Park 220 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from the Chicago Street Course starting at 5:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, July 2. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it.