NASCAR: Time to rule out a major schedule change?

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Chicago, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Chicago, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite the weather disruptions, the inaugural Chicago Street Course event turned out to be a smashing success for NASCAR, with praise coming from both drivers and fans.

Leading up to last weekend’s inaugural Grant Park 220 at the brand-new Chicago Street Course, many NASCAR drivers and fans expressed several concerns regarding the event, ranging from the overall layout, the lack of passing zones, and the tight turns leaving no room for error.

However, after Sunday’s event, which saw intense racing and plenty of passing zones, the opinions of most skeptics of the event shifted. NASCAR received predominantly positive feedback regarding the racing product, even amid the multiple weather-related disruptions.

Thanks to the success of this event, the calls for eliminating the Chicago street race from the NASCAR schedule can be put to bed.

From the day the street race was announced, some fans were immediately upset over it and wasted no time writing it off as a potential one-off.

One point of frustration stemmed from the fact that the Chicago Street Course replaced a fan-favorite track in Road America on the schedule. Other fans who had yearned for the return of Chicagoland Speedway saw the addition of the street race as the final nail in the coffin for the oval.

However, the Chicago race weekend put NASCAR in the national spotlight.

It captured the attention of many who had otherwise not given much thought to the sport. Thanks to the historic nature of the first ever Cup Series street race, there was a lot of attention generated among fans and outsiders alike.

Some of the outsiders complained about the road closures and other annoyances caused by the course’s construction. However, those complaints were short-lived, and they soon turned into praise regarding the race weekend.

Additionally, the event became one of the first races to be truly marketed to the “casual” fans, fans who might have been interested in the sport but hadn’t been properly exposed to it to become regulars.

Ahead of race weekend, NASCAR expected that roughly 70% of fans in attendance would be attending their first ever NASCAR event.

It’s a figure that opens up the door for more growth for the NASCAR fanbase. More events like this one could help the sport build a much stronger following in areas where they currently struggle.

The overall TV ratings for the race were historic, with the race being the most watched race on NBC since the 2017 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On top of this, the Chicago market, a market which is usually not in the top 10 in terms of race viewership, led all cities by a wide margin (of note: no local blackout).

It goes to show just how big of an impact the event had on the Chicago market, and how it could lead to further growth for the sport nationwide.

Should NASCAR retain even a fraction of the viewers they gained this weekend, it would highlight the potential that such events have, and how more such events could further bolster viewership numbers.

And on top of all of this, one of the major unique selling points of the event, the concerts, were canceled entirely due to the weather. Had the weather not interfered and these concerts gone ahead as planned, the praise for the event would have been even more widespread.

Should the event return in 2024 with a fresh set of concerts and be run without weather interference, we will almost certainly hear even more praise and see more interest in both the event and NASCAR itself.

There will almost certainly be some schedule changes for the Cup Series in 2024, whether we’re talking about simple date swaps or the addition of new tracks and events.

However, after the massive success that we saw this weekend in Chicago, the need for the Chicago Street Course to be featured among the changes for 2024 can be ruled out.

And for those hoping to see Road America and/or Chicagoland return to the schedule, the possibility still exists that one or both could soon come back also.

As for Road America, there is a possibility that the Brickyard weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is run on the oval in 2024 instead of the road course, which was introduced in 2021.

That would leave a slot open for another road course on the Cup schedule, and should NASCAR opt against adding another street course to the schedule, Road America could find itself back on the schedule at the expense of an oval.

And as for Chicagoland, should TV ratings remain high in the Chicago area throughout the rest of the 2023 season, there is no reason why the Chicago area can’t play host to two races at two very different venues.

Nevertheless, the past weekend’s events have made it clear that changes do not need to be made to the Chicago street race, even amid early speculation that the event could be a one-off since NASCAR’s three-year deal with the city includes two option years.

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The success of last weekend is extremely significant and has the potential to open doors for additional street races in other regions of the country.