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Analysis
NASCAR Cup Chicago Street Course

NASCAR celebrates 'remarkable' and 'historic' Chicago race

Despite multiple weather challenges, NASCAR still managed to successfully pull off its first street course race weekend, both logistically and with competitive action on the track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, JTG Daugherty Racing, Mariano's/SunnyD Chevrolet Camaro, Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Menards/Dutch Boy Ford Mustang

Both the Xfinity and Cup Series raced on the 2.2-mile, 12-turn course created through Grant Park in downtown Chicago and the biggest hurdle faced by NASCAR ended up being battles with the weather.

In the end, championship contender Cole Custer won Saturday’s rain-shortened Xfinity race – which was finally declared official on Sunday – while NASCAR newcomer Shane van Gisbergen took a dramatic victory in his Cup debut in Sunday’s race.

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The participation of the three-time Supercars champion came as part of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91, which provides an opportunity for international motorsport stars to compete in the Cup series.

The weekend did see its share of issues.

Surrounding the two days of racing were torrential rains, lightning, flooding and several canceled concerts, which were an important part of what was billed as a festival-like weekend.

Still, NASCAR showed – again – it could literally take its show on the road, even to the streets of one of the country’s biggest cities.

Tyler Reddick, 23XI Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Camry and Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Yahoo! Toyota Camry

Tyler Reddick, 23XI Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Camry and Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Yahoo! Toyota Camry

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

“I think certainly a remarkable weekend, a historic weekend for us,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “We talked about this a lot, first in 75 years to celebrate a special year for us, obviously cap that with a special moment.

“I would say first of all a huge thank you to the city of Chicago. The city showed up so well from the backdrop on NBC to the energy among the fans in the city and the crowds. It was certainly remarkable to see.”

The logistics and coordination required to pull off a successful weekend for stock cars on city streets was always going to be a challenging one.

Construction of the final parts of the course was not possible until less than 24 hours before cars hit the track on Saturday morning.

Throw in a record rainfall and the complexity of repeated lightning holds, which forced the grandstands to be emptied, and the potential existed for a disaster of a debut for NASCAR’s version of street racing.

As it turned out, neither race went the full distance – the Xfinity race was declared official just short of halfway while 25 laps were cut off the scheduled 100-lap Cup race due to impending darkness.

 

Fans, however, sloshed through the issues to remain on hand and NASCAR teams did what they have always done well – adapt on the fly.

“One of the best events I’ve seen, a testament to the drivers out there, the crew members, getting these cars ready across the board, Xfinity Series, Cup Series,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer.

“What that garage group went through to put on a show for the deserving fans in Chicago who turned out, were excited, got everybody in the industry excited. I think you could all see that, as well.

“A proud moment for all of us in the industry to be in Chicago, an incredible welcome mat rolled out for us, and hopefully we delivered for the fans, as well.”

 

As with the successful two-year run of the preseason Busch Clash held inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a made-from-scratch track, last weekend’s street races in a large city have opened a myriad of possibilities for future NASCAR races.

The victory in the inaugural event by an internationally known motorsports star like van Gisbergen only expands the potential map of future venues.

“I think we’re all confident at NASCAR that we could take the Cup Series anywhere we want, and we do that with the industry,” O’Donnell said, “And I think – I don’t think, I know, the race we put on (Sunday) would sell and would be embraced globally for sure.”

 

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