NASCAR to race in downtown Chicago in 2023 and beyond, my top takeaways from this announcement

For the first time ever, the sights, sounds and speed of NASCAR are coming to the streets of downtown Chicago on July 1-2, 2023. One of the most iconic cities in the world, Chicago will add another chapter to its illustrious sports history when a NASCAR Cup Series street race debuts against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and Grant Park, televised on NBC.

“A monumental day for the sport of NASCAR,” said Ben Kennedy. “We’ll be celebrating our 75th anniversary next year and we’ll be having our very first street race in our sport’s history here at downtown Chicago.

“Really such a special day. A big thank you to the city of Chicago, certainly Mayor Lori Lightfoot here, Cara Bachman at the Sports Commission, everyone that helped bring this to fruition.

“It was another vision that our team had a couple years ago, and it’s so great to see it here for the announcement.”

The first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street course race will take place on Sunday, July 2, 2023, and will be preceded by an IMSA sanctioned series race, which will run on Saturday, July 1, 2023. The specific IMSA series joining the NASCAR Cup Series in Chicago will be announced at a later date. Both races will be surrounded by music and entertainment options for all ages, truly making it one of the signature sporting and entertainment events of the year.

“Chicago’s streets are as iconic as our skyline and our reputation as a world class sports city is indisputable,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “I am thrilled to welcome our partners at NASCAR to Chicago for an event that will attract thousands of people to our city. Chicago’s world class entertainment and hospitality industries, coupled with our city’s history as a conduit for sports talent, make us the perfect hosts for this unique event.”

Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and select surrounding thoroughfares will be transformed into a 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course, with the start/finish line and pit road located along South Columbus Drive directly in front of Buckingham Fountain. The course will pass through the famed Grant Park, as well as approach the northern edge of Soldier Field, one of the most notable and recognizable sports venues in the country – and the site of the only other Cup Series race to take place in Downtown Chicago, in 1956.

“Welcoming yet another NASCAR event to Illinois just weeks after the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 Cup Series race is a testament to the strength of our tourism industry from Chicago to Metro East,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Illinois, with its longstanding tradition of innovation, is a fitting host for NASCAR’s first-ever street race, and we are thrilled to welcome this new series to America’s most iconic drive next summer.”

“Chicago is one of the world’s top sports and entertainment destinations. Year after year, fans from all over the world travel to our great city for high-profile sporting events,” said Kara Bachman, Executive Director, Chicago Sports Commission. “The 2023 NASCAR Chicago Street Race weekend will continue that legacy with another monumental sports moment and we look forward to welcoming fans to NASCAR’s first-ever street race.”

Tickets for the 2023 NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend will go on-sale later this year at NASCARChicago.com. Additional details and elements of the weekend will be announced soon, and fans can follow @NASCARChicago on social media for the latest real-time updates on all aspects of the event.

“Grant Park is really a no-brainer for us,” said Kennedy. “Again, with the great city streets that Chicago has to offer, the number of events they’ve had here. You think about the aerial shots when NBC covers this event next year, flying over Lake Michigan, flying over Grant Park, having that iconic Chicago skyline as a backdrop, it’s going to be nothing like anyone has ever seen before.

“A great city to be in for our first-ever street course race and I can’t think of a better location in the city of Chicago than Grant Park.”

NASCAR Spicing Up The Schedule Continues…

Ben Kennedy made it clear last year, they’re going to revamp the schedule and by doing so, add some spice to it. While the radical changes began during the COVID year of 2020, more changes came to light for 2021 with the addition of the Indy Road Course, Road America, Bristol Dirt and Nashville. This season, we saw the Busch Light Clash get moved from Daytona to the LA Coliseum and the addition of the World Wide Technology Raceway. We also saw some movement in the dates to which tracks host races.

NASCAR has found that they had to change the schedule up and it’s working. You can’t go to the same tracks, in the same places, in the same weekends each year. It gets dull and stagnant. Sometimes you need to change it up. We’ve seen how these new tracks are receipted by fans. NASCAR notices too.

“I think the biggest takeaway that we’ve seen is in particular with some of these new venues that we’ve introduced to the schedule, some of the changes in the schedule, is the amount of excitement and engagement we have for a lot of these new tracks,” Kennedy said last year.

Without a ton of change to come a year from now, NASCAR had to do something and that something was mega with the announcement of the Chicago street course.


NASCAR Continuing To Find More Urban Markets

Ben Kennedy has been pondering this since 2019 and now his vision is coming to light. NASCAR knows that with race tracks usually in the middle of no where, they’re hit a ceiling on their growth. There’s an untapped market of fans in urban markets that they’re seeking.

“I’d say the genesis for this idea was actually probably sometime around when we came up with the idea of the L.A. Coliseum in the fall of 2019,” Kennedy said. Kind of had this concept that we’d been working on for a little while, working to fruition for the virtual event last year.

“I would say the work really started probably a year or so ago. Really over the past 90 days I would say a majority of that work has happened, culminating in today’s event.

“Certainly, a lot of work that’s been done.”

Just look at where these new tracks are at. Nashville. St. Louis. Los Angeles. Now Chicago.

“Like the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, we seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race. The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport. We are very appreciative of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team, along with the entire City of Chicago for working with us to make this concept a reality.”

I think NASCAR has a clear vision on the future schedules now. The aim is bigger markets. In saying that, how do you bring fans in big metropolitan areas to your sport?

That answer they’ve now found simple – you come to them.

“I think to your point, it’s an opportunity to bring the racing action to our fans and to bring some new fans out to the track to sample our sport and sample the Cup Series that haven’t had the opportunity to do so before,” Kennedy said. “I think that’s part of the calculus.

“On top of that, as well, going to the Los Angeles market, but also going to downtown Los Angeles, which is another five- to 10-minute drive from the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“I think it brings an opportunity to really bring the racing action to the fans that are in these larger markets where you have a lot of fans and give them the opportunity to not only come out and experience the race but also come out for the first time to even see what it’s like.”

2023 will see NASCAR racing in downtown Los Angeles and downtown Chicago now.


This Car More Suited For Street Courses

Look I get the notion of a heavy 3,400 pound stock car on a downtown street course could put the diehard fans off in terms of the racing product. However, this race will be different in a sense that this new car can handle the tighter confines of a street course more than the past generation race car could. The turning radius’ will be easier to handle with this Next Gen and allow them to race better.

Also think about this, open wheel cars are more about finesse on street courses. They’re not designed to bump and bang the way a stock car with fenders is. They can force passes in areas that an open wheel car can’t which is why I feel like a street race will look like a short track next year.

“I’ll say it, when we head northbound here on Columbus, it’s going to be our widest portion of the track,” Kennedy said. “Seven lanes wide. I think a lot of passing zones there. The entire Chicago skyline as a backdrop, which is certainly going to be something remarkable.”

The other byproduct of this is, you’re going to get a large grouping of fans to come just because it’s an event downtown. Like it or not, an oval in Joliet wasn’t going to get more fans than they already had. Take the race downtown and you’re going to get people to come that wouldn’t drive out to Joliet. Hell, I’d say over half the fans if not a majority of that percentage even higher, won’t drive to any NASCAR race on the schedule. This likely will be their 1st NASCAR race that they’ve ever been to.

Same thing we saw for the Clash. Most of the fans were first time NASCAR attendees. This race will be the same. It’s more of a carnival type atmosphere than a race. Those fans there don’t care that the race may look like a high speed parade. Honestly, they’re not there for that anyways.

“I also envision is not only fans taking advantage of the stands that are going to be set up, but you’re going to see viewing parties that are going to be hosted in a lot of these downtown high-rises and hotels,” Lightfoot said.

“I think the opportunities for viewing, but also the opportunities for our hospitality industry, to really benefit from this great race are going to be off the charts.

“So, we’re excited and I think it’s nothing that’s happened before in the city of Chicago. I think it just opens up the innovation and boldness that NASCAR has really become known for.

“Again, it’s going to be a tremendous partnership.”

While it sounds like this weekend you’re turning your back on your fan base, you’re really not. You’re just adding more fans to it.


NASCAR Feels The Road Course Fatigue A Bit, Which Is A Big Part To Why Road America Was Dropped

With addition comes subtraction. You have 36 points paying races and adding 1 now. That subtraction?

Road America.

That’s controversial in a sense that the fans loved Road America. The 2 years they’ve been going there, they played host in front of packed houses. So why drop them?

One reason is over-saturation.

With the addition of Chicago and the loss of Road America, it’s safe to say NASCAR is no longer eyeing the road course expansion boon they once saw a few years ago. See, prior to the 2018 season, we had just 2 of them on the schedule (Sonoma, Watkins Glen). In 2018 they added the ROVAL in Charlotte. However, 2020 saw a change. The Daytona road course was added to fill in a gap. Fans were clamoring for more road courses to join the schedule. NASCAR listened.

2021 saw 7 road course points paying races and an exhibition race too. The Daytona road course hosted the Clash as well as the 2nd race of the season. Indianapolis was moved from the oval to the road course. Road America and COTA were also added to join Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the ROVAL.

This year it was down to 6 with the Daytona road course left off. Many fans felt like NASCAR expanded maybe too much too fast on the road racing and with today’s announcement, NASCAR agreed.

They replaced a road course with a street course instead of an oval. That’s by design.

“I think it’s also important as we think about the number of types of tracks we have on the schedule,” said Kennedy. “Something that we’ve heard is kind of the number of road courses, continuing to add road courses on the schedule. It’s important that we don’t oversaturate ourselves.

“I won’t say that’s the emphasis to the decision. There were a number of things that went into that decision. But certainly, really appreciate all that they’ve done up there, and we’ll certainly be in touch with them.”

Another reason for the drop of Road America is geography. Even though Midwest fans can support it, they don’t want to come to this part of the region twice in a short period of time.

“I think part of the calculus of the decision certainly similar kind of market, as you think about the proximity of the two venues from each other,” Kennedy noted.

1 had to go and it was Road America. They didn’t want 6 road course races on the schedule for 2023 with 2 of them within a couple of hours of each other.

Plus with the road racing being less than desired this year, there’s no reason to over expand again.

However, Road America may not have to wait 61 years between visits next though as Kennedy left the door open for a future return.

“We’ve had some great racing at Road America, certainly the past few years with the NASCAR Cup Series, much longer than that with the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been great partners. We’ve seen a great turnout from a fan perspective as well. We’ve seen some great racing there.

“That said, it is unfortunate we’re not going back in 2023. Just because it’s a no for 2023 doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a no forever. We’ve got some great partners up there. We’ll certainly share more about what other national series’ schedules look like in the future.”


The End Of Chicagoland Speedway

With this announcement, that signifies the end of the Chicagoland Speedway future. The Cup Series isn’t going to go to Chicago twice a year and with this being a multi-year deal, that puts the nail in the Chicagoland coffin.

That though to me is a shame since Chicagoland put on some great racing the last few years. Now though, Chicagoland is likely over.

The Cup Series came to Chicagoland Speedway 19 times. The problem is, the track is 45 minutes from downtown and it never truly drew the crowd they had hoped that it would. In 2011, they moved the race to a playoff event. That didn’t fully work. Then it was moved to July but during the heat of the day. That’s part of the blame with temps near triple digits in those years with heat indexes well into the 100’s.

So after the 2019 race, it appears that it will be the last.

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