NASCAR Cup Series drivers praise setting for 1st street race in downtown Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) — Before NASCAR raced in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2022, Kevin Harvick thought it was going to be a disaster. It didn’t take very long for the event to win him over.
Heading into the Cup Series’ first street race, Harvick is keeping an open mind.
“Going through all these new types of events kind of changes your mindset to how you approach it,” he said, “because you see the enthusiasm, right, like you can feel it, you can see it.”
After months of hype and curiosity, the NASCAR Cup Series hits the streets of downtown Chicago on Sunday at the end of a big weekend for the sport that includes concerts and other entertainment.
The 12-turn, 2.2-mile course includes seven 90-degree turns. There are lots of ways to get into trouble, including manhole covers, and transitions from concrete to asphalt and back. Getting in and out of pit road in front of Buckingham Fountain could become an issue, and restarts also could be an adventure.
“It’s obviously narrow in sections. I think that’s going to be a hot topic of things to talk about,” said Chase Elliott, who is looking for his first win of the season. “I do think it’s going to be difficult to pass once everybody gets up to pace come race time. But I hope that we’re able to mix it up and do different things.”
As the drivers tested the course Saturday in practice and qualifying, and the Xfinity Series raced in The Loop 121, the noise from the stock-car engines rumbled past the skyscrapers around Grant Park. Smiling passersby on Michigan Avenue stopped and used their phones to record some of the action through a fence. Some spectators climbed on the roof covering a train station stairway to take a closer look.
The spectacle of racing in downtown Chicago was exactly what NASCAR was hoping to create when it agreed to a three-year contract with the city and announced the event a year ago.
“I think they told us that over 80% of the fans here this weekend will be people who have never watched a NASCAR race,” Harvick said. “If you’re gonna grow the sport, you’re gonna have to do stuff like this.”
The inaugural Cup Series street race returns NASCAR to a coveted market in its 75th season. It ran 19 Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, a 45-mile drive from downtown, but it pulled out four years ago.
NASCAR is hoping the change in location will help attract new fans, both in person and with the NBC broadcast. But moving downtown puts its drivers on a bumpy course with little room for error, and a crash in a narrow area could cause a pileup in a hurry.
“I think the biggest thing is just figuring out your braking marks and where you can go a little bit harder than other places, just because of the bumps and the different pavements and concrete,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
The Chicago Street Race is the 177th different track for the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s also NASCAR’s 100th race in Illinois.
It’s a return to downtown Chicago after the Cup Series stopped at Soldier Field in 1956. That race was won by Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts in a Pete DePaolo Ford.
Truex is on top of the Cup Series standings with 576 points, followed by William Byron and Ross Chastain with 558 points apiece. Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch close out the top five.
The top 16 in the standings make the playoffs. Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suárez occupy the last five postseason spots at the moment, but they are all looking for their first win of the season.
ODDS AND ENDS
Kyle Larson is the 5-1 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, followed by Kyle Busch at 6-1 and Truex at 7-1. ... Road course success could carry over to the street track in Chicago. Elliott is NASCAR’s active leader with seven career road course wins, followed by Truex with five. Tyler Reddick won at Austin and Truex finished first at Sonoma in the Cup Series’ two road course races so far this season.
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